Shifts in professional learning

I believe that there are three key issues in professional development and have begun to see a shift in each of these areas. These key issues are moving away from one-off workshops, facilitating environments for greater collaboration and pursuing ways to communicate the impact this learning has on student learning.

Early in my career, professional development resembled that of a one-off workshop. These workshops were often presentations from outside providers or individuals from the district office. While the information was always important and somewhat useful, it often lacked context and therefore applicability for many. Bolt (2012) says “Problematically, face-to-face professional development has often been delivered as one-off workshops off site, whereas best practice models recommend embedded learning tailored to meet individual needs in the workplace (Bolt 2003, 2009; Guskey 2000; Lloyd et al. 2005; Zepeda 2012).” Despite evidence that embedded learning serves as a more effective model, we continue to go down a path that focuses on PD that is one-size-fits all and is often not tied to a teacher’s practice in the classroom (Spelman and Rohlwing, 2013). The shift however has begun to see opportunities for teachers to engage in their own learning within their own context on a more regular basis, through the emergence of PLC’s and the introduction of a mentoring program.

Both of these initiatives share a commonality and that is the opportunity for teachers to collaborate with one another. Showers and Joyce (1996) explain that teachers who “planned together and pooled their experiences practiced new skills and strategies more frequently and applied them more appropriately than did their counterparts who worked alone to expand their repertoires.” The opportunity to collaborate has been widely seen in my school as a positive thing, Bolt (2012) discusses how “collaboration with others in communities led to participants’ engagement with professional development as a process rather than as an event” (p. 288). While staff are generally more positive and engaged, I still feel this shift leaves many of the same questions unanswered, namely, how can we effectively assess and/or communicate transference of professional learning to the classroom?

The effectiveness of professional development is something that I have never really thought about. I know that I have come out of days saying that was amazing and I was energized, but I have never truly, deliberately reflected on what difference this learning has made on my students. Accountability and assessment can be loaded words with teachers as they are closely linked with evaluation, but Zepeda (2012), correctly states that “No doubt, all schools and systems experience the press for accountability.” The question I have moving forward is how can we share our learning safely, safely meaning open and free of criticism. How can we demonstrate our learning and the impact it is having on our students? I do believe that blogging can provide a powerful outlet, but also wonder if more private reflections could be just as powerful? Curious to read and hear our some of you demonstrate the impact of professional learning on students.

References

Bolt, S. (2012). Professional development: Then and now: International conference on cognition and exploratory learning in Digital Age, 287-290.

Guskey, T. R. (2002). Professional development and teacher change. Teachers and Teaching, 8(3), 381-391.

Zepeda, S.J. (2012). Professional development. What works. Larchmont. NY. USA: Eye on Education, Inc.

Assessment: The role of leadership

Admittedly, I have not thought much about the role that school leaders could play in ensuring sound assessment for every student in the building. When considering the question of “what do leaders need to know?” there are a few things that come to mind. Firstly and most importantly I believe that school leaders and in this case school principals must actively embrace the role of instructional leader. In my own experience this has not always been the case. Principals are consistently being asked to take on more and more administrative responsibilities and this has had an impact on their role as instructional leader.

Firstly and most importantly, schools leaders must be understand the principles of sound assessment, but beyond that, they must recognize sound assessment practices and model these practices for their staff.  Strong instructional leaders will be able to identify strong assessment practices and highlight these practices with their staff. This may involve connecting teachers with others in the building, providing professional learning opportunities or actively ensuring that time by the leader is being spent in the classroom with teachers. This last one is perhaps the most difficult due to the ever changing role of school administrators and therefore this responsibility may fall on teacher leaders who may lack experience or expertise in the area of assessment. Lastly, I strongly believe that leaders must practice sound assessment with their staff. This may be done through staff meetings, classroom visits, discussions in the hallway or staff room. When leaders embody and demonstrate these principles it provides staff with a strong example of how this can be conducted with their own students.

Parent Involvement

I believe that parents are one of school’s most underutilized resources. I agree completely with Pugach & Johnson (2002) when they argue that “although some parents are apathetic or indifferent about their involvement in schools, this apathy often is overstated.” While I understand that my context is unique and that there are schools, that face many different barriers such as logistical and communication barriers, I still believe that all schools could make a greater effort to include parents in the learning community.

I struggle with knowing how much we should include the different stakeholders in our learning communities. Should students, parents and the larger community have a voice in all decisions? What are the risks if we invite them in the decision making process? How do we create an environment that is welcoming and respectful to various points of view? I often think a good first step is making the learning in our schools more visible. While this likely most often took place at showcases and parent teacher conferences, I believe that technology allows us as teachers and schools to share our learning more regularly and authentically. Creating a school blog that discusses not only the final product, but the learning process, could potentially invite parents into the process by allowing them to comment. I am curious to hear how some of you are engaging your parent community and particularly about some of the challenges that you have faced.

Shaping the Narrative

Narratives are very interesting, they influence perception, create connections and  deepen our understanding. One article looking at the power of narratives described how “narratives invite all of us to participate to help collectively determine the outcome.” This line resonated with me as I considered the current narrative surrounding education where I live. We are currently in the midst of an election and one of the more hotly contested races is taking place at the school board level. Based on what I read in the paper and on social media, the current narrative is one of mismanaged funds, poor communication and questionable assessment practices. I am not here to dispute whether these issues are valid or fair, that is for others to discuss. Instead, I am proposing that we as teachers actively participate in the shaping of this narrative, let’s build a story that celebrates the incredible work that is taking place within our schools. Celebrate our successes, champion the work of others and focus the attention on where it should be, on student learning.


Seth Godin speaks to how story is king. He discusses how the most innovative communities create a compelling story that people want to listen to. With social media we have the opportunity to participate and to collectively determine the narrative. What if we as teachers took the time to share one great thing that happened in our schools, what if when visiting the district hashtag on twitter, instead of seeing all of the problems, we read about powerful examples of learning? This is not about covering up our faults or pushing legitimate issues to the back-burner, this is about creating a narrative that accurately presents the work that is being done in our schools.  As teachers, we need to create a story that resonates, that connects with people and that challenges long held assumptions. Projects like 180 Days of Learning is a perfect example of such an initiative. How can we encourage more of our teachers/schools to share? How can we communicate the work that we do more effectively with our communities? It is something that I hope to work on as the year progresses and I look forward to developing a narrative with all of you that celebrates all of the great work that is being done.

Criticism and opposition are essential in any democracy. It is important that public institutions are held accountable. With that said, I believe that our education system should be focused on student learning. Unfortunately I do not feel that the current narrative illustrates the successes that are occurring within our schools each and every day. I look forward to fresh ideas and new starts following the election, I just hope we work together to create a story that is worth sharing and inspires others.

EdCamps as Professional Learning

Darling-Hammond (1998), speaks a lot about how teachers learn best by collaborating with other teachers. Bunting (2007) discusses how we need to provide teachers with opportunities to talk, and that the more informal this talk is the better. It is with these ideas in mind that I think the EdCamp model could serve as a powerful vehicle for PD delivery. EdCamps are teacher driven PD opportunities. Participants create the schedule and they facilitate the discussions. There is no keynote speaker and the ideas/solutions come from the discussions that take place (Foundation, 2013). I had the opportunity to organize and host such an event last April. The day saw over 260 individuals interested in education, come together and discuss issues that interested them personally (EdCamp YYC, 2013). Davidhizar, Shelton & Headley (2006) cite Birky & Ward (2003); Shelton (1993) when they discuss how it is important that teachers perhaps be given the opportunity to plan professional learning opportunities. EdCamps realize the shift that Darling-Hammond (1998) seeks by moving away from outside consultants to in-house experts. With all of this being said, I do not believe that all PD should be in the form of EdCamps. Instead I would propose a minimum of one and up to half of PD utilize such a model. from my own experience, teachers come away energized, they have created new collaborative connections and quickly realize that there is an entire community asking the same questions that they are. The model encourages dialogue and is solutions based.

The success of this model is highly dependent on our school’s leaders. While I organized and hosted the event, the day could not have happened without the support of my Principal. In fact the day was successful because several Principals acknowledged the importance for teachers to participate in learning communities outside of their own school (NAESP, 2008). I think that in order to promote meaningful professional learning for their staff that it is essential that leaders identify with the work of the classroom teacher (Darling-Hammond, 1998). Being present and serving as an instructional leader must be at the forefront of everything that they do (Davidhizar, Shelton, & Headley, 2006). One of the things that struck me the most in these readings was the acknowledgement of the role that Principals play in promoting professional learning. Looking back at my post last week and the opportunity for a more democratic and distributed leadership model, I was interested in reading about the importance of identifying teacher leaders. Davidhizar, Shelton & Headley (2006, p.2) state that “The ability of a principal to encourage and motivate leadership capacities in the building is critical for educational reform and collaboration.”  It is becoming clear to me, the importance of instructional leadership. Increasing leadership capacity, involving the staff in decision making and ensuring that staff have personal and meaningful professional learning opportunities are realistic steps in demonstrating this leadership I believe.

Below are some links to the reflections of some of those who attended the EdCamp in Calgary. It gives you an idea of what people enjoyed and where people thought there could be improvements.

Superintendent’s Perspective

Principal’s Perspective

Student Teacher’s Perspective

Teacher’s Perspective

Organizer’s Perspective

My Perspective

References:

Bunting, C. (2007). Principals as classroom leaders, Principal, 86(3), 39-41. Retrieved from http://www.naesp.org/resources/2/Principal/2007/J-Fp39.pdf

Darling-Hammond, L. (1998). Teacher learning that supports student learning. Educational Leadership, 55 (issue), 6-11.

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb98/vol55/Teacher-Learning-That-Supports-Student-Learning.aspx

Davidhizar, V., Shelton, B.M., & Headley, S. (2006). An administrator’s challenge: Encouraging teachers to be leaders, NASSP Bulletin 90(2), pp. 87-101. http://bul.sagepub.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/cgi/reprint/90/2/87

EdCamp YYC. (2013, January). Edcamp resources. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/edcampcalgary/edcamp-resources

Foundation, E. (2013). Edcamp foundation. Retrieved from http://edcamp.org

National Association of Elementary School Principals.  (2nd Ed).   Leading learning communities: Standards for what principals should know and be able to do.  Alexandria, VA: NAESP.  Retrieved July 15, 2013 from http://www.naesp.org/client_files/LLC-Exec-Sum.pdf

Rethinking Leadership: Distributed and Democratic

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During my studies this summer, I have had the opportunity to read many interesting articles. One however has had me thinking more than most. When Teachers Run the School provided an interesting look at a school in Greece that uses a distributed and democratic model of leadership. What I found so interesting was that under this model and by having all teachers take on an administrative role, it freed up Principals to act more as instructional leaders. This renewed focus, could allow for a Principal to focus more on their moral purpose and to make decisions that will positively sustain innovation within the school community. I was also impressed by the argument that such a model “advance the quality of school life and thereby foster student development and performance” (Natsiopoulou and Giouroukakis, 2010). Many Principals are hired due to previous instructional leadership, but it appears that once hired they are asked to move from the role of instructional leader to that of manager. What if we were to leverage the skills and talents of all staff to help lessen the administrative burden and focus on student improvement?

I also believe that such a model serves another benefit. While there are likely many conflicting views on the “point” of school, I tend to subscribe to the belief that we are attempting to develop “good citizens.” Defining a good citizen would take more than the space that I have here, but if we believe that our role as educators is to raise good citizens, then being active and involved in the democratic process would be included in any definition. Osborne (1991) explains how citizenship is taught “deliberately and accidentally, explicitly and implicitly, by example and by instruction” and that as teachers we help students see and “interpret the world.” It is with this in mind that I believe that Natsiopoulou and Giorouskakis (2010), are correct when they cite Dewey and say that in order to prepare students for democracy that we need to replicate these conditions in a democratically run school.

A few questions that I have though.

  1. Would teachers be willing to take on more administrative responsibility, or would it be viewed as more work?
  2. Are today’s school leaders willing and ready to relinquish some of this responsibility?
  3. What are some attributes of Principals that serve both as great instructional leaders and managers of school resources (human and financial)?

References:

Natsiopoulou, E. & Gioroukakis, V. (2010). When Teachers Run the School. Educational Leadership, 67(7), http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr10/vol67/num07/When-Teachers-Run-the-School.aspx

Osborne, K. (1991). Teaching for democratic citizenship. (p. 117). Toronto: OurSchools/Our Selves Education Foundation.

Welcome to the “Real World”

realworld

Much has been written this last week surrounding the announcement that the Calgary Board of Education will be moving towards a new way of reporting student achievement. As you can imagine this announcement has been met with much protest. Some of the objections are fair to be sure, but many seem to be misguided and rooted in the sense that this move from letter and percentage grades to descriptors is somehow damaging our youth as they prepare to move into the “real world” One only has to skim the comments section of any story dealing with education to gain a sense of this mindset. While I find this view discouraging, I also understand that this perception exists, because we as educators and leaders don’t do the best job of communicating these shifts.

The Real World

It has been some time since I have worked in the “real world” but I do have family and friends who still live in this idealized environment. In speaking with them, I learned that performance reviews are never communicated through a grade. In fact many times, these evaluations are carried out as a conversation, sometimes employers go over their job description or their expected outcomes. From there it is often communicated to the employee where their strengths are and areas for potential improvement are identified. It is based on this evaluation that an employees bonus or promotion is determined. What I can’t understand is why these backwards thinking companies fail to see the value in assigning a number or a grade to their employees. The fact of the matter is that the “real world” resembles nothing like the schools we have today. Today, our schools are educating students in a system that was designed for a different time, for a different purpose and a different economy.

What this Shift Is and What it Isn’t

Besides the complaint that this shift is not preparing our students for the “real world” the other common comment is that this system is forgiving failure or promoting mediocrity. Many individuals express the opinion that in order to measure our educational system we must be able to clearly differentiate between those that are successful and those that are not. The question we need to ask ourselves as a society is what purpose do we want our educational system to serve? Do we want a system that sorts out the winners and losers or do we want a system that encourages personal growth and improvement? This new system of assessment and reporting is founded in the belief of developing a growth mindset. Instead of students being given a 76% and a few lines of comments, they are now presented with indicators that relate to the outcomes in the Alberta Programs of Study and indicate more directly  where students are experiencing success and require support. In short, this shift is not about celebrating mediocrity.Instead, this reporting system is about communicating to students that they are not failures, that with the right support they too can experience success. If schools are to be places of learning and not places of sorting, then we need to stop focusing so much on where students fall on the bell curve.

dweck_mindset

“Doing School”

For many students, school is simply a thing that they have to do in order to do what they really want to do. Students are presented with so much content that they have little time to explore their own areas of passion. This is something that has been recognized even at the government level and has led to the implementation of Inspiring Education by the Government of Alberta. Inspiring Education is a move towards a less prescriptive curriculum and a system that supports a variety of learning. There is a wonderful report put out that discusses the correlation of intellectual engagement, marks-based assessment and it’s impact on student learning. Are our schools places where students come to “do school?” or are they places where they are intellectually engaged and furthering their own understanding?

I clearly discuss a lot of thoughts here and while I would like to think that I have made a strong case for such a shift, I know much is missing and that more explanation may be required. As teachers I think it is our job to communicate with parents, students and the community why this shift is beneficial and how this shift will best prepare our students for the world they are about to enter. A world that is rapidly changing and will not resemble the world that we entered into. If we as educators can clearly articulate where students are succeeding and where there is room for improvement, I feel like students will begin to develop and embrace the growth mindset that encourages lifelong learning.

This topic is so much deeper than simply a blog post and I wonder what others out there think. Do we as teachers communicate assessment effectively? How can we include parents more meaningfully in the assessment process? What is the ultimate purpose of school?