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In order for our school to be successful, we know that we must have:

Outstanding teachers in every class, everyday.

We believe that outstanding teachers are made even more effective when they:

Work collaboratively in a grade level team.

Lastly, we believe that we must support our classroom teachers with specialists. For us, our specialists focus on 4 key areas:

Learning Support (Special Needs & Differentiation)

English Language Learning

Technology Integration

Inquiry Based Curriculum

Each of these areas has a coordinator that works with teachers and grade level teams. It is important that they help teachers at whatever level is the most effective. This may range from team teaching to acting as a consultant and everything in between. The key is to build capacity and share expertise. The goal, every time, is increased student learning.

When was the last time that you were formally evaluated as a teacher? Chances are, if you are been teaching for longer than 3 years in the same school division, you no longer need to endure having an administrator come and formally evaluate you. While there is a great relief in securing a permanent teaching contract, I think we are missing opportunities for greatness.

Jim Collins reminds us that

“We don’t have great schools principally because we have good schools”.

Good is the enemy of greatness. I’m not content with just having a good school. I want a great school. Our students deserve great schools. Since schools don’t need to compete with one another (for the most part) we can all have great schools!

I am convinced that the best way to have great schools is to:

Ensure that we have outstanding teachers in every class everyday.

In our school, all teachers receive at least 2 formal observations every year, regardless of how long they have been teaching. Beginning teachers receive the most observations and a formal evaluative report is developed. Experienced teachers receive feedback but no overall report is given – teachers are asked to show reflection in their professional growth plan. In addition to formal observations, all administrators conduct frequent walkthroughs.

I don’t presume to be the best teacher in the school. In fact, this simple realization has often kept me from giving people the meaningful feedback that they deserve. See my post The Reluctant Leader for more details. However, I am convinced that teachers deserve to be effectively coached so that they can achieve greatness.

In fact, we are changing  our terminology from Supervision and Evaluation (which assumes judgement, superiority, and ratings) to Coaching. Coaching, seems to connote a mutual acceptance of the roles that need to be played in order to improvement to occur. As an administrator, it also reminds me that I don’t have to be the best practitioner in order to know what good practice looks like and to be able to provide meaningful feedback to teachers.

We are also encouraging peer observations and instructional rounds to constantly promote a culture of constant improvement, transparency, and trust. This is a huge departure from the traditional model where an administrator only evaluates beginning teachers and then close their doors and teach isolated for the rest of their careers. Is it scary? Absolutely. Will it make us a stronger learning community? Yup. Will it help us to become a great school? Absolutely.

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.

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.

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Authors

howard.stribbell@tis.edu.mo

Howard Stribbell is the Head of Schools at The International School of Macao.

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