Tag Archives: Supporting Teachers

Reframing Professional Development (Again)

Professional Development is more than just workshops, readings, and online courses. So what is it? And why am I dissatisfied with PD being reduced to these usual components? I think I have rewritten (and rethought) this post more than any other. My earlier thinking is posted here, and here.

Why reframe it again now?

I think I finally figured out what it is that makes us (Auburn Schools) think differently about professional development.

It’s the proficiency piece.

Teacher and student

We aren’t interested in simply sharing techniques or information. We want changes in classroom practice.

I have collaborated with other districts and initiatives, and I hear frustrations about how much they have invested in professional development – how many sessions they have provided – and how it has resulted in very little change in practice.

I think it is because our thinking about professional development has been incomplete. Sometimes folks say that teachers are oppositional or unwilling to change, but I think it is that workshops are simply insufficient (and perhaps their role is misunderstood), even though they are a key component.

Over time, our understanding about what we need to pay attention to in terms of PD and support has expanded to include 3 overarching categories: clarity; support for foundational knowledge, and support for achieving proficiency.

Clarity

  • A Professional Learning Curriculum – If we have an initiative (technology integration, proficiency-based learning, math instruction, middle level practices, what ever it may be…), what do we want our educators to become good at? As with young learners, adult learners can excel when we are transparent about what we would like them to know and be able to do. What are the (clearly articulated) knowledge and skills we want our educators to become proficient in, and what scopes and sequences make sense?
  • A Professional Learning Progress Management System – How will we manage, acknowledge and certify adult learning (just as we should for student learning)? What system(s) will we use to help make the professional curriculum and pathways transparent, to certify teacher proficiencies as they move through their professional curriculum, and to record and manage their “certifications” (micro-credentialling, “badging,” Educate/Empower or other learning progress management systems)?
  • Answering “But What Does It Look Like?” – Simply stated, this is “models & examples”; a curated collection of possible documents, classroom visits, videos, photos, and articles, etc., to help teachers develop a sense of what an aspect of the strategy would look like in action. Teachers often have an intellectual understanding of what they are being asked to do, but not a practical understanding. These models and examples play a critical role in helping them move to the point of being able to try this new idea in their own classroom.

Support for Foundational Knowledge

  • “Same Page” Trainings – These are introductory workshops, getting teachers on the same page about a new set of concepts, skills, or strategies they will be working to implement. We used to think of teachers as leaving a workshop as proficient in the new skill. Now we think of these “same page” sessions as just the beginning. The real (professional) learning happens when they go back to their classrooms and try out the strategy (see the PD components in the next category).
  • Reusable Learning Objects – Instead of having to wait for a workshop, or for the Tech Integrator or Instructional Coach to visit her classroom, these how-to articles, lessons, short courses, videos, and other digital resources (aligned to our professional learning curriculum) are available to a teacher as she needs them.

Support for Achieving Proficiency

Lesson Invention
  • Lesson Invention and Tryouts – There is much to any new system that needs to be designed or invented (or at least adapted for our schools). The work teachers do to design, invent, prototype, refine, perfect, and share these systems and strategies is valuable professional learning for all of us. Even relatively simple ideas or strategies, if they are truly new to a teacher, require some level of “invention” for that educator to put them into action. Embedded in the idea of lesson invention and tryouts is the notion of continuous improvement, and the chance to try a skill in the classroom, reflect on how it went and how it could be done better, and then try it out again with the improvements (play-debrief-replay).
  • Coaching and Feedback – Keeping with the idea of continuous improvement, this includes the teacher working with any Technology Integrator, Instructional Coach, administrator, or peer, who models lessons or strategies, co-designs or plans with the teacher, observes, and/or provides formative feedback to support the teacher’s professional growth and ability to increase the level of fidelity with which they can implement the strategy.
  • Teacher Face-to-Face Time – Teachers need time to sit with other teachers working on the same initiatives to share experiences, ideas, and resources, as well as to ask questions and seek support. They need a chance to share things that they have tried that worked, and to seek assistance with those things they are still challenged by. And the notion of “face-to-face” can extend well beyond her school or district via the blogs and social networks the teacher builds and follows.
Teacher Face-to-Face Time

We don’t just see that there are 3 categories of professional learning, but we acknowledge that all three compliment each other and are needed. Teachers don’t get to proficiency without the foundational supports. To offer workshops without defining the desired broader professional learning at best leaves gaps in teachers’ learning and at worst becomes a collection of random workshops. To share a set of expectations with teachers (the professional curriculum) without providing training and supports is the irresponsible expectation that they can change practices without supports.

Successful changes in classroom practice come when there is clarity, as well as support for both building foundational understandings and growing to proficiency.

If your initiative isn’t progressing the way you would like, if you aren’t seeing the the classroom changes you’d like to see, I’d invite you to look at the strategies within the three categories. Is your initiative attending to each?

 

The (New) Evolving Face of Professional Development

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about professional development. 

We’re working on a comprehensive project to define a professional learning curriculum related to our strategic initiatives (Customized Learning, Tech for Learning, etc), build modules and professional learning playlists around those learning targets, and provide a system for certifying teachers for their accomplishments and for what they know and can do. And I have written before about how our thinking about professional development has evolved over time.

This post captures our current (Summer 2014) thinking on the topic.

Not only are we recognizing that we just don’t have enough resources and opportunities to do traditional “everyone in the same room” professional development, but we have started thinking differently about the purpose of those workshops and other whole-group PD.

Until recently, I used to think of whole-group PD as the end. Teachers attend the PD session and they would leave being proficient at the skill taught in the session, ready and able to implement it well in their classroom.

Now, I think of whole-group PD as just the beginning, an opportunity to introduce a group to a new idea and get them all “on the same page” before they begin working in their own classrooms at learning how to implement the skill well. This is especially important given that the work we’ve been doing lately around Customized Learning, including teaching with iPads, is new to teachers (they haven’t experienced this themselves as learners) and have to invent many of the pieces. 

And that idea, the idea that these new skills are complex, and need inventing and development, and later need practice, and that teachers need to be supported throughout their work to get good at them, has us thinking about workshops as just one small piece of professional development.

For us, professional development for our teachers needs to include some fluid combination of these components:

  • “Same Page” Trainings – These are introductory workshops, getting teachers on the same page about a new set of concepts, skills, or strategies they will be working to implement.
  • Lesson Invention & Tryouts – There is much to this new system that needs to be designed or invented (or at least adapted for our schools). The work teachers do to design, invent, prototype, refine, perfect, and share these systems and strategies is valuable professional learning for all of us. Embedded in this idea is the notion of continuous improvement, and the chance to try a skill in the classroom, reflect on how it went and how it could be done better, and then try it out again with the improvements (play-debrief-replay).
  • Coaching & Feedback – Keeping with the idea of continuous improvement, this includes any Technology Integrator, Instructional Coach, administrator, or peer who models lessons or strategies, co-designs or plans with the teacher, observes, and/or provides formative feedback to support the teacher’s professional growth.
  • Teacher Face-to-Face Time – Teachers need time to sit with other teachers to share experiences, ideas, and resources, as well as to ask questions and seek support. They need a chance to share things that they have tried that worked, and to seek assistance with those things they are still challenged by. And the notion of “face-to-face” can extend well beyond her school or district via the blogs and social networks the teacher builds and follows.
  • On-Demand Modules & Play Lists – Instead of having to wait for a workshop, or for the Tech Integrator or Instructional Coach to visit her classroom, these how-to articles, lessons, short courses, videos, and other digital resources are available to a teacher as she needs them.
  • Answering “But What Does It Look Like?” – Simply stated, this is models & examples: a curated collection of possible classroom visits, videos, photos, and articles, etc., to help teachers develop a sense of what an aspect of the initiative would look like in action. Teachers often have an intellectual understanding of what they are being asked to do, but not a practical understanding.  These models and examples play a critical role in helping them move to the point of being able to try this new idea in their own classroom.
 
Of course, now we have to figure out how to do all of these well…. 
  

Is Our Phases of iPad Integration Ready?

(Note: Cross posted to the Distribute PD Project)

Last August, one of our Auburn-and-friends work groups developed a draft Phases of Tech integration.

Draft Phases of iPad Integration

We wanted to think about developing teachers’ skills at leveraging iPads for teaching and learning beyond just googling topics and word processing. Beyond just projecting material. Beyond just thinking about getting good at various tools. Beyond just using apps connected to the curriculum.

We wanted to think about technology as a tool to help us customize learning. We wanted to focus more on pedagogical goals than technological goals. And we wanted to think about where technology could take us that we couldn’t easily go without technology.

So we set up our professional learning continuum, our phases of implementing technology integration, to be similar to our Phases of Implementing Customized Learning, and how such a structure helps support plementation and teachers. (Driver 1)

And we based it on our current thinking about powerful uses of technology for learning. (Driver 2)

And we tried to think about how the SAMR Model might inform our work. (Driver 3)

Now, we don’t believe any of our work is permanent. We know that as we get better at what we do, we’ll figure out how to improve our models. After we use this Phases of Technology document for a while, it will be ready for a revision.

But right now, we’re wondering if our draft is developed enough to be the one we live with for 12-18 months before we revise it again…

So, as you look at our draft,

  • Does the document adequately reflect our three drivers?
  • Does the sequence of the phases seem right? Does the progression make sense?
  • Does each phase seem to have the right elements for demonstrating mastery and moving on to the next phase? Does it adequately outline advancement (recognizing there will be plenty of support documents)?
  • Is anything missing? What should be added?
  • What needs to be edited or revised?
  • How do we make it better before living with it for a while?

We don’t need “perfect.” We’ll learn a lot by living with the model for a while. But we want to kick the tires on this version a little, and insure it is “good enough” to live with for a while.

So, what do you think?

 

Starting to Design a Distributed PD System

A while back, I described our need for a distributed system of professional development (as part of our comprehensive plan to support professional learning, including: workshops and trainings; coaching and formative feedback; educator lesson invention and tryouts; and opportunities for educators to get together to share successes and trouble shoot challenges).

So, we've put together a work group to start designing. We will focus first on building a system that will support educators learning to better integrate iPads into teaching and learning. Frankly, we could use the same kind of distributed PD system for our Customized Learning work, as well, but we'll work out the bugs on our iPad work first.

We have 1to1 iPads in K-2 and 7-12, and various clusters of iPads in between. Our work group has K-12 representation. But we know others are interested in this work and we often partner with folks from other districts, and several are participating in the workgroup. We love it when others come to play with us!

Distributed PD Website

And, if you're interested, there is an opportunity for you to lurk, or even participate.

We have created a Distributed PD website to help organize our work. We have pages for each key component of the design work and the Updates & Activities is our blog where we'll regularly publish (yes) activities and updates.

So if you want to lurk, check back at the site periodically to see what we've been up to (and I'll occasionally cross post or post updates to this blog, too).

If you want to participate, you can leverage the comments section of any of our posts or pages.

And if you're REALLY interested in rolling up your selves and being part of the work group, shoot me an email.

 

How the Phases Help Support Implementation and Teachers

The Phases of Implementation are actually a tool to leverage in support of teachers and the school's or district's implementation of Customized Learning. The components of Customized Learning are certainly not new to schools, but successfully implementing CL depends on raising the level of level of implementation and the consistency of implementation across the school and school year so they don't simply occur in certain classrooms or during certain units. But learning to implement all those moving parts, in a sequence that actually works, can seem daunting! The Phases take a complex initiative (Customized Learning) and break it into manageable chunks, supporting implementation (and teachers!) in several ways.

The Phases Help Leaders Articulate Where the Staff and School are in Their Implementation
The notion of phases is helpful to leadership because they can classify their educators by the phase each is in. Not only can teachers be identified as being in a specific phase, but so can teams (grade levels, interdisciplinary teams, departments, etc.), schools, and districts based on the phase of the majority of their teachers. This helps with articulating to the district, parents, and community where you are on your journey toward implementing Customized Learning, and reminds everyone that this work will not be completed over night (our district has a 5-year plan for implementation!), and helps everyone manage expectations about what should be happening in our schools at this point in the implementation.

Keep in mind that teachers within a school will be at different phases. Districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning have had success with having early adopters pilot a phase ahead of the rest of the staff, and even when the majority of staff in a school are ready to move to the next phase, there will be new staff needing initial training, or staff who are progressing at a different pace than their colleagues.

The Phases Help Teachers Focus Their Professional Learning and Implementation
The phases help educators know the “curriculum” of implementing Customized Learning, where they are in the scope and sequence of that curriculum, and what goals and next steps they might need for progressing to the next level. The goal of any phase is to develop proficiency in the skills related to that phase. This will lead to a strategic progression of more and more skill at creating a personalized learning environment for students, where we expect students to have an improved sense of having their learning needs met, resulting in increased competence, engagement, and academic success.

It is always okay for teachers to dabble, try out, and explore features of a phase or two ahead of where they are, but only within the context of informal learning (“dabbling”). Educators' primary responsibility is getting good at the skills of their current phase.

“Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust” is a crucial component of implementation at each phase, insuring that reflection, continuous improvement, collaborative problem-solving, supporting colleagues, and sharing ideas are hallmarks of the teachers' work.

The Phases Help Leaders Plan for Professional Development
Leadership can more easily plan for training, support, coaching, and professional development because of the Phases : (a) leaders can articulate where their staff are in their professional learning progression; (b) the kinds of resources, training, and coaching needed differs by phase; and (c) how much of that support is needed depends on how many staff are in each phase. Similar to how students will move through the curriculum via Customized Learning, teachers demonstrate mastery of components in one phase before moving on to the next phase.

The first three phases each begin with educators participating in specific training designed to kick off that phase by orienting them to the key components and the work that awaits them (I have come to think of them as “same page” trainings since they are intended to get everyone on the same page.). Other trainings (offered as teachers need them, see below) help teaching staff become more familiar with the curriculum organization, the complex reasoning and life-long habits of mind curriculum strands, various instructional strategies, learning progress management, student motivation, etc.

In fact, from the Classroom Culture phase on, we do not automatically provide teachers the “next” trainings and professional development until they have demostrated some proficiency with the skills, tools, and concepts of the phase they are currenty in. They must get good at the current phase before moving on.

The Phases Help Leaders Focus Positive Pressure and Support
Level of implementation matters, and leaders increase level of implementation through Positive Pressure and Support. Positive Pressure and Support has three pieces: Expectations, Supervision, and Support. We have just discussed support, but the Phases help focus Positive Pressure and Support, as well, by making clear the expectations (getting good a skills in the phase you're teachers are in), and by clarifying what to look for in classrooms when supervising and supporting (those same skills of the current phase).

Even if the Phases help provide clarity, leaders still need training and support themselves so they know the phases and what each phase's skills look like. For example, are teachers in the Classroom Culture Phase actually working within their phase toward getting feedback from students, or are they jumping ahead? Have teachers simply posted some of the tools (such as a Parking Lot) or are they actually providing students with opportunities and guidance on providing feedback using a Parking Lot. Is the absence of a Parking Lot a sign that a teacher isn't focused on Student Voice and Choice, or is the teacher simply using other strategies?

 

This approach to scaling the reform is successful specifically because, at any given moment, the work is personalized to the immediate needs of the teacher, team, school, or district. Team level, school level, district level, and consortium level. Shared leadership teams (a) determine where their educators and communities are in the process of implementing customized learning (using the phases as a guide), (b) design individualized implementation plans and interventions for their group, and (c) provide positive pressure and support for moving to the next level.

 

Learning to Use the Common Core

A friend recently asked what teachers are doing to align with the new Common Core curriculum.

She wrote:

As I am working with teachers on the ELA CCSS, some are asking about examples of how the other content areas are using the standards in their curriculum. They are meeting with some resistance re: looking at their curriculums in light of the standards and are “waiting for their content associations” to publish new standards.

Educators being reluctant to put too much energy into the “New Best Thing” isn't surprising, given the speed with which innovations come and go in schools. But the notion of being clearer about what we are teaching and increasing the consistency of what is taught across classrooms, schools, and districts is not new, and is enduring enough that having a “new” curriculum is a good opportunity to be deliberate about getting better at that. (Now, if we could only get as strong and enduring a focus on quality instruction!)

We are working on transparency of teaching and integrating the Common Core in my district, and I shared with my friend what we are doing:

Introducing and Starting to Use the Common Core

In keeping with approaching implementing Customized Learning in phases, we are looking at using the curriculum differently as a phased implementation. I think I would label those phases as something like: Awareness, Models, Practice, Implementation.

Awareness: Have teachers do what they're doing now, but make sure that students know what the learning targets are for their activities that day (regardless of which set of standards teachers are using). At the same time, see if the teacher can identify which Common Core standards the activities they are doing that day are most closely related to. Some of this phase should be devoted to doing a 10,000 ft crosswalk between the curriculum they are used to using and the Common Core, to help identify how they are the same and how they are different.

Models: Have teachers visit (in person, on line, or in print) some examples of folks teaching from the Common Core in ways we might label “high level of implementation.” The goal, of course, is to help teachers find exemplars so they can experience what it looks like, feels like, tastes like, smells like, etc. Part of this phase is reflecting on how they might organize their teaching, lessons, or units differently to bring them more in line with the Common Core.

Practice: Teachers use the Common Core to design their teaching, lessons, and units, and try them out. Both feedback from knowledgeable, trusted others, and self reflection guide the revision and improved implementation of that teaching. The goal is to know you won't start out perfect, but that you are working to get better. Teachers here, in Cohort districts, would also be using the curriculum more and more to have students monitor their own progress.

Implementation: Teachers have gotten pretty comfortable with the transition and pretty good at teaching with the Common Core (these teachers don't have to be perfect or outstanding, just competent). Teachers in this phase become both places to visit and coaches (knowledgable, trusted others) for teachers in more novice phases.

Teachers in a builidng don't have to be all at the same phase at the same time. In fact, it's really helpful to have those teachers who are a phase or two ahead and can work with the more novice teachers.

We need to help teachers move from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset (the ability to learn and adapt as things change and evolve around you), possibly by having them all read the book Mindset. You need to build a common language around Growth Mindset, and talk about it often to keep that idea in the forefront of their minds while struggling through change. Parallel to this is helping teachers know that the new constant is change, and we must learn how to constantly adapt to productively respond to new challenges and requirements.

And lastly, I suspect part of what is giving teachers a hard time is not the Content Knowledge piece, but the focus on higher order thinking and the application of knowledge (changes away from sacred cow units of study aside). I think getting them involved with the Cohort's Complex Reasoning curriculum (essentially Marzano and Pickering' Dimensions of Learning) would give them a concrete way to apply and leverage higher order thinking to their content…

 

If It Sounds Crazy, That’s Probably Not How They’re Doing It

Teachers can sometimes have wild ideas about how a new initiative will work, but a recent experience helped us figure out how to lower teachers's anxiety.

A while back, one of the schools I'm working with had a staff meeting where we talked with middle grades students what had been student reporters at a conference focused on Customized Learning and iPads.

The students were enthusiastic and passionate about their involvement in the conference, as well as what they were starting to learn about Customized Learning.

Other than a handful of pilot teachers, this school has not received any significant training on Customized Learning and is very much at the beginning of their journey to implementation. Therefore the teachers were very interested in what the students had to say and their enthusiasm, and started asking student all their numerous questions about CL and even started to ask the students lots of “how to” questions about how things worked in CL.

I had to quickly remind the teachers that these students had simply attended and reported on a handful of conference sessions about CL and had experienced very little of it themselves. All the questions were perfectly legitimate, and reflect the natural curiosity that you would expect teachers to have at the Awareness Phase of implementation, but that we should probably save our practical, how-to questions for teachers and students who are more experienced! (and we all laughed – the student passion had certainly left us all feeling for the moment that the students were all-knowing experts about Customized Learning! And, of course, these middle grades students never hesitated to create an answer if they didn't actually know it!)

What was really interesting, however, were the teachers' questions. They were asking how they could work with 100 students all in different places in their learning? How did they just let students work at what ever pace they wanted? And how did teachers create a 100 different lesson plans a day to customized the learning? And did teachers just let unmotivated students do nothing? And how could students learn things if there was no direct instruction?

These are all understandable and appropriate questions of teachers early in the Awareness Phase of implementation. But they largely represented enormously false assumptions about Customized Learning. But these were false assumptions that many teachers brand new to Customized Learning seemed to have. And these false assumptions generated an enormous amount of anxiety in the teachers (largely, of course, because the teachers didn't yet know that the assumptions were false).

And it dawned on me that there was actually a fairly simple heuristic that teachers could apply that would help tame their assumptions and lower their anxiety.

So I shared it with the staff at this meeting: There are lots of schools that are very successfully implementing Customized Learning. So if an idea about how it might work seems totally crazy or undoable to you, then that's probably not how they're doing it!

It was so simple!

Does doing 100 lesson plans a night seem crazy to you? Then that's probably not how they're doing it!

Does letting unmotivated students do nothing seem unproductive? Then that's probably not how successful schools are doing it!

Does letting students do what they want seem untenable? Then that's probably not how they're doing it!

So next time you begin to wonder about a specific way you think folks are implementing Customized Learning, apply the Crazy Test. If it doesn't pass, then that's probably not how successful teachers are doing it!