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Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We have decided to take the plunge and require teachers to develop inquiry based learning plans for their upcoming professional development.

In our system, teachers are required to submit a plan at the start of each year that outlines how they will improve over the course of the year. Within the Alberta framework (of which we are accredited) these are called Professional Growth Plans (PGPs). Different systems have different names for them but they all tend to have the same weaknesses.

Traditional PGPs

Static – they are created at the start of the year, submitted, then forgotten.

Predictive – since the teacher must identify their strategies and their evaluation methods, it assumes that the teachers already knows how to improve and how much they have to do to deem themselves successful.

Isolated – teachers create them individually and share/submit them to an administrator. Autonomy is a good thing but not if it leads to isolation

Add-On – traditional PGPs tend to ignore the current teaching environment of the teacher and the overall goals of the school. A professional learning community may be a strategy of a traditional PGP but it tends to not to be collaborative.

Recently we decided that we would model our adult learning on what we know works for student learning. With a emphasis inquiry based learning in our school, we have been overwhelmed with the learning that occurs with students when placed in an inquiry based environment.

We are not aware of any other models out there that uses inquiry based professional development but our hopes for this model are high.

Inquiry Based PGPs

Dynamic – inquiry is based around a key question and the journey involved in finding/exploring the answer. Initial steps and resources may be noted but final answer is unknown. It is anticipated that the PGP will be revisited throughout the year and will grow and change.

Emergent – being comfortable with the unknown and encouraging teachers to take risks, we hope that the learning will be emergent.

Collaborative – the PGP is the individual component of our collaborative professional learning communities. Teachers are encouraged to dove tail the two. The Inquiry Based PGP will be a catalyst for discussion during the reflection time that occurs after classroom observations (part of our coaching model).

Practice-Embedded – Some might call it job-embedded but I like the  use of the term “practice”. It’s not just about our job or our current teaching assignment – it’s about improving ourselves as professionals. Time will be given to developing our PGPs and working through them. Our traditional PD days will provide PLC time and time for teachers to reflect on their progress.

How about you? What do you think about using an inquiry model for teacher learning?

Follow Up: @L_Hilt asked for a template for an Inquiry Based PGP. Our teachers are able to represent their PGP however they want. Last year we used these templates from the University of Lethbridge. They are not fully inquiry based but they are a great start.

PGP Pilot – Teacher

PGP Pilot -Principal

My own PGP start is on this site on this post.

Many of our new staff have just completed their first full week of having their own classroom! Congratulations. Others are in a new grade level this year or in their second year of teaching. I hope your first week started off great.

I love the lead up to the start of the school year. I get anxious and excited. I’m unable to sleep at night. But once the week actually begins, the adrenaline starts to wear off as I run into small road bumps and realize that even the best oiled machine needs to be fine tuned.

As a beginning teacher, you will face a continuum of emotions this year. David Ginsburg provides this light-hearted visual about the phases that first year teachers go through. You can read more about them on his blog.

Janet Moeller-Abercrombie points out in her presentation that this curve looks a lot like the stages of culture shock:

As beginning international school teachers, some of you are thinking

“OMG, what I have I gotten myself into this year?”

Don’t worry, it’s not as dark as you think. Here are some ideas to help you out:

  • Spend some time reflecting on the stages
  • Talk with your mentor about your experiences and feelings
  • Celebrate the victories
  • Take some pictures – you are going to want to remember this in the future
  • Find someone to laugh with
  • Practice serendipity. Don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.

Remember, it’s a roller coaster. It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. It’s better experienced together than alone. It’s a ride. Enjoy the ride.

Inquiry #1

What are effective models of providing meaningful feedback to teachers and staff?

“The purpose of educational leadership is to ensure quality learning experiences: every student, every day, no exceptions.” College of Alberta School Superintendents, Alberta Leadership Framework

Rationale: I am convinced that meaningful feedback, in a environment of continual school improvement and through a relationship built on trust, is essential for teachers and staff. That being said, I have to acknowledge my own reluctance in this area. This is why it is such an important goal for me.

Possible Resources:

Marzano’s Observation & Feedback Protocol (@robertjmarzano) – we created a mobile documentation tool that used Google forms and could be done on the iPad or iPhone but we are putting this on hold as teachers were getting nervous seeing us taking notes during initial walk throughs

Manager Tools Feedback Model: Mark Horstman (@mahorstman) and Mike Auzenne (@mauzenne) podcasts are great

First Steps:

  • Scheduled formal teacher observations and follow up feedback times
  • Commit to daily walk throughs
  • Play with “No Office Days”

Inquiry #2

What are the key strange attractors that influence the emergence of meaningful and effective professional learning and collaborative inquiry leading to enhanced teaching and improvement in student learning?

Rationale: Our Professional Learning Communities have matured beyond the topic based and facilitator led model. This year we want teachers to develop their PLCs – their own groups and collaborative inquiries. These align with their inquiry based professional growth plans. Giving up control is scary. However, we know that teachers who are empowered and supported are the key to enhancing the individual classroom and the overall system.

Possible Resources:

Rick & BeckyDuFour (@SolutionTree)  – great summary of teacher led, job embedded, PLCs (article)

Michael Fullan‘s Work -specifically, The Six Secrets of Change

The Essential Equation by Townsend and Adams – PLCs as process that should be embedded through the culture and practice of the school.

This video by Fablevision and Partnership for 21st Century Skills articulates the importance of  emergent, inquiry based professional learning:

First Steps:

  • Allow teachers to develop their own PLCs
  • Provide a structure for them to plan, report, and celebrate their learning.
  • Share their success stories and challenges with the rest of the staff.

Inquiry #3

To what extent does the financial model used by schools influence the development and effectiveness of the learning programs?

Rationale: Since become the School Head, getting my head around the enormity of the school budget has been essential. As a rapidly growing school our annual budget continues to grow and it is becoming more and more important to develop a capital expense budget. Our income comes from 3 key sources: student tuition, government subventions, and corporate donations.

Inquiry #4

Articulate the vision.

Rationale: I came to Macau to build the best possible Alberta-curriculum school in the world. We have succeeded in building a highly effective school. It is now time to set the vision and course for the next few years. As we break past the 1000 student mark, we need to questions our own basic assumptions, take a heading, and develop the necessary systems to stay on course. Alongside this, the development of Phase II (600 additional students) and the Boarding School are important.

Lyn Hilt’s (@L_Hilt) recent post, Out With Professional Development In With Professional Learning, inspired me to document our school’s movement towards Inquiry-Based Professional Learning.

It started at an Apple conference in HK. As part of the conference, we needed to come up with a way of teaching our staff back home about the technology integration that we had been learning about. Inservices and training have historically been ineffective. They are top down, the participants rarely see the immediate connection to their classrooms and even the instructors apologize for taking up the teachers’ valuable time. It may not be death as Ron Houtman suggests in the photo, but it’s not certainly not effective.

As teachers, we should know how to TEACH and how to do it effectively. So we spent some time brainstorming about our most effective strategies. Very quickly we hit upon our inquiry based projects. In our inquiry based projects, we have seen students extend their learning far beyond the original anticipations of the teachers. These projects allowed the students to be highly individualized and differentiated. If it worked for students, why wouldn’t it work for teachers?

It wasn’t long before we realized that we shouldn’t be just focused on inquiry based learning as it pertains to technology integration. We have a great Tech Coordinator who does a fantastic job of meeting teachers where they at technologically and encouraging them to move beyond their comfort zones. We are committed to reducing top down training sessions and increasing our just-in-time training.

However, we still had very static professional development. As part of our accreditation system, all teachers have to develop a Professional Growth Plan. Teachers identify areas to improve, develop strategies and resources to meet those needs and then provide a means to assess their learning. While noble in principle, in reality most are merely written and then quickly forgotten.

Our lived Professional Development tended to be better – a series of PD days during the year that relied mostly on internal speakers to provide sessions for the other teachers. In the past year we had recently provided PD funds for teachers to access for conferences, Master’s courses, etc. As an international school in Asia, the number of conferences in the area are significantly lower than back in Canada. Further, we didn’t want our PD to be reduced just going to conferences. Both models – PD Days (Sit and Git) and Conferences (Go and Git) serve a purpose but are not ideal. We had experienced considerable success with Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). But these had been limited to interest based meetings that were led by a handful of teachers.

We began to brainstorm what it would be like to change our Professional Growth Plans (PGPs) into inquiry based professional learning plans. These would be flexible and highly individualized. They would continue to grow during the year. They would act as the umbrella through which our PD (now called Professional Learning) would be defined and be tied into our PLCs (more emergent and dynamic this year).

Our Professional Learning will be split into 3 levels:

  • Individually – Inquiry Based Professional Growth Plan
  • Small Groups – Collaborative Inquiry through Professional Learning Communities
  • Corporately – through our school plans and goals and PD Committee

I’m looking forward to this fundamental shift in professional learning.

I recently came across a very good blog article that summarized many of the thoughts that I have had over the past year.

http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/10-ways-to-become-the-leader-people-follow/

In this article, Dan Rockwell quotes Jim Quigley that “people want to be led”. I don’t know about you, but that rubs me the wrong way. It conjures up an image of mindless masses following some self-imposed leader. That’s not us. I don’t want that to ever be our style. However, the article underlines the need for the leadership imperative. As principals, coordinators, and managers, you are leaders. People look to you (and to me) for guidance and direction. I will let you in on a little secret – that scares me.

Who am I to tell people how to improve their teaching? Who am I to challenge a teacher to move from being good to being great? Who am I to point mistake that staff make and then challenge them to fix them (instead of fixing it myself)? I am content to sit in my captain’s chair and send emails, write policies and handbooks, and lead meetings. But I am reluctant to really challenge people. I think our people want more and deserve more. If you don’t give them feedback, who will? If we don’t challenge them to be engaging and effective, who will? If we don’t lead our staff to improve the finer details of the organization, who will?

All the people on my team have been chosen for this year’s role because I believe that they have this capacity in them. I believe that they are passionate about students, education, and our organization. I believe that they have the clarity of vision to see what it is going to take for us to become a world-class school. I believe they have the initiative and the personality to help our people achieve greater purpose and effectiveness this year.
Let us constantly challenge each other to push the boundaries of our leadership comfort. To move beyond the reluctant leader.