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This year we have decided to take our collaboration a step further. We are committing to engage in professional instructional rounds.

What are instructional rounds?

Instructional rounds involves a group of teachers visiting a colleague’s class and using the visit to have a professional conversation about professional practice.

It takes a lot of trust to allow people into our classrooms and to have them talk about what they observe without feeling that we are being judged.

Purpose
– provide teacher team with opportunities to observe peer practice and for the observation to be a catalyst for professional discussion
– the purpose is to celebrate and disseminate best practices as well encourage collaborative discussions of professional practice and provide opportunity for personal reflections.
– not for evaluative purposes and nonjudgmental

The Host (person being observed)
– completely voluntary
– will be asked in advance
– can provide the team with a context or introduction about their classroom, students, curriculum, etc. Not mandatory.

The Visitors
– people who have no teaching time during the scheduled visit will be invited to attend
– optional and voluntary

The Visit
– meet in the staffroom beforehand to share the context and discussion expectations
– the visit may be 20-40 minutes in length
– visitors are encouraged to observe class routines, student learning, the environment, the interactions between the teacher and students

The Discussion
– after the visit, the team will discuss their observations
– this discussion will be facilitated by a member of the school leadership team

Follow Up
– brief write up will be shared with all of the staff to celebrate

After round 1, here’s what happened:

Instructional Rounds #1 – Starting the Day Off Right

During period 1 today, we visited TM (SK) and AS (Gr1). I’d like to thank T and A for agreeing to be our first hosts. Inviting people into your classroom takes a considerable amount of trust.

As it was a Monday morning and P1, not many teachers were available to join the rounds this time. I only notified teachers that had preps during P1. Here’s what we saw:

Kindergarten – a very kinesthetic and active classroom that uses well established routines and cues to provide structure. T brings her wealth of PE experience to her kindergarten class. She uses tuck sits, L sits, touch your toe sits and criss cross sits to keep the students focused but still active. The “touch your toes sit” is especially evil for out of shape administrators! The students acted out the story “From Tree to House” and the teacher used star freezes and pencil freezes to transition between the steps. T is a great example of how a classroom can be very active but still well managed. In fact, if you asked her, I’m sure that she would say that being active is key to being well managed.

Grade 1 – high tech and low tech classroom that uses feedback to improve literacy. A’s classroom is a tech lover’s paradise. During her literacy centres, students were working on 2 different ipads, recording themselves with the MacBook, videotaping one another with the video camera, reading with a parent volunteer, creating words on the SmartBoard, and reading to themselves with simple telephones. Can 5 year olds handle a video camera, an ipad, a computer, and iMovie? Absolutely. But what is important isn’t the technology itself. Everything is designed to provide feedback to the students and the teacher. From the PVC telephone that provides auditory feedback to the parent volunteer to the recorded movie – all of these strategies provide feedback. A learning environment is just about doing – it’s about doing, reflecting, and redoing.

Thank you again T and A, it was fantastic to see the great things that you are doing!

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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.

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.