Category Archives: professional development

Time, relationships, consensus, and other ramblings

I have read a couple of posts that resonated with me lately from Chris Lehmann and Clarence Fisher about teachers having enough time to prepare and plan together. The emphasis was not on preparing for any individual lesson but on planning as a team for the big picture of how your school will work and innovation. I agree that time is being taken away from many staffs as it costs money.

By Bogenfruend

My new job started so different from my previous jobs and I would guess different from most of your experiences. For  my first job I was hired around a week before school started to teach five classes with no textbooks or prepared materials. My second job I also was hired right before school started. In my experience this is the norm. Some of you may even be waiting to hear about a job right now. This is often unavoidable as schools do not know enrollment or people change positions at the last moment leaving vacancies. But this is a terrible way to run an organization.

Our team at our new school has been truly blessed with adequate time (there is no such thing as too much time!) We started working together after spring break and had three weeks of extra work time in the summer. We did not have students or any “teaching” duties during this time. We received PBL and other training. We worked hard on curriculum, created a handbook, and planned an orientation for students the first week of school. We also got to know each other by traveling to Indiana for a couple of days visiting another New Tech school, a summer barbeque, and lots of shared meals.

If you were a fly on the wall in our “office” you might at times think we were “wasting” time talking about our children, dogs, or the Tigers. But this was valuable time spent getting to know and trust each other. We were strangers in April, but now are a team that knows and understands each other and is growing together. I can not imagine starting a new school if I was just hired last week and did not know anyone.

I feel some of our results are impressive. One member of our team was not released by his district until school ended in June. When he joined us we made very fast progress. We looked at Standards Based Grading as a team for one day and decided to implement it fully. We wrote a mission and vision statement in two hours. We were able to make many decisions that typically a staff might argue about for months very quickly.

I think this happened for a couple of reasons. First we all choose to work at this school to be a part of the movement to change schools. We all came with a framework of wanting change, cutting edge practices, and the best learning environment for students. We do not have any teachers who resist and fight changes that might be found  at a traditional school. Also we are starting a school “from scratch.” We all have backgrounds in traditional schools and we all have received the same excellent PBL training. The teamwork and trust we have in each other is exciting.

Finally my principal is a great example of a empowering leader. She does not tell us how to do things. Decisions are made by consensus. Yes, all five of us must listen to each other and agree for something to happen. This has led to many passionate discussions but because we respect each other and the overall goals that we have, we reach agreements rather quickly.

And this is my favorite thing about this job: professionalism and academic freedom. I never feel “managed” by my principal but feel like an equal partner who has different responsibilities. The responsibility of being a part of every decision and truly having my voice heard has been reinvigorating to me.

The best part of this starts in two days when it is my turn. I get to share the responsibility in my classroom with students and give them a greater voice in their education than they have ever had before. I know that I have pushed my principal and team in ways that they would not have expected. I anticipate how my students will push me in ways I can not predict. I have never been so excited for school to start!

PD Time

I feel like I have not been blogging as much lately because of the busyness of the end of the year. I find that I had lots of thoughts to blog about on Spring Break when I had the opportunity to step back and relax. I also do most of my blogging on the weekend when I have less preparation to focus on. I think one of the biggest obstacles to teachers improving their craft is time set aside to think, plan, and learn.

On Thursday I jumped into a conversation on Twitter started by John Spencer about professional development using the hashtag #edrethink . There was whining (lots by me) about how worthless the majority of PD that most districts offer. Most of the people in the discussion agreed that we need PD that is differentiated, personalized, and conversational. I personally think we need more opportunities for conversations amongst teachers.

Last year my district had a PD day with different session options to choose from. I thought it was a good idea, but for whatever reason it was not repeated this year. Personally I would design a PD day where teachers brought their three best lessons/ activities in class and their three biggest challenges. Then they would meet in small groups and discuss. Every half hour they would rotate to different groups so that there would be as many different conversations as possible.

Unfortunately teachers seem to be pressed to do more. The political climate in this country is currently quite negative toward teachers. There is an amplifying of the age old arguments about three months off and how easy it is to be a teacher. There are also the budget problems for public schools across the country. So it does not seem to be an environment where teachers will gain time in their scheduled day to converse and collaborate.

Those educators who care must dedicate their own time for their own learning and conversations. I personally “wasted” an hour that morning in this conversation, along with helping others on Twitter. Afterwards I felt refreshed at the break from all of the “stuff” that needed to be done by the conversations I participated in.

My question for you is when do you reflect on your teaching and personal learning? Do you find that it takes a concentrated effort for you to find time to think about things or are you able to do it in the midst of a stormy week? Do you see any signs of changing PD in your district from sit n’ git to more personal conversations?

Interview Questions

Paul Bogush is creating a list of interview questions for his student teacher. I added this to his list:

“Tell me about your PLN. Explain how you interact and its importance to your professional development and growth.”

If I were an administrator this would definitely be a question I would ask of any teacher I interviewed.

I would also be asking it of my staff after I modeled how valuable mine was to them.

I have only met a few members of my PLN face-to-face and have never seen any of them teach a class, but somehow I feel very confident that they are excellent teachers that I would hire in a second.

PLN as litmus test. Legitimate or not?

PLN as Crediblity Test

This week I sat through a six hour ESL training that was painfully presented. The presenter was a university professor. We were given a book co-written by a husband/wife team who were her colleagues at her school. The intended audience of said book was student teachers in a college ESL program.

She presented with “Death by Powerpoint” the whole day using almost 300 slides. It was a canned presentation of the author’s work with many slides being identical text to the handouts sitting in front of me. I am positive that she did not create the powerpoint presentation herself. She was working for the publisher of the book.

Now you can probably already guess I was not engaged or overly impressed with this professional development. During a break I went up to the presenter and asked if she knew Larry Ferlazzo from my PLN. Larry is in my opinion one of the top educational bloggers and sources of ESL resources in the world.

She said, “No.” When I explained who he was she said, “I am not good with technology.” (I already knew that I am watching your Powerpoint for hours) Later is her preso, she shared his name with the whole group again telling everyone, “I am not good with technology.”

This was unacceptable to me. Now I have lost all credibility with her. How can a professor, paid speaker, “expert” tell us that she “is not good with technology”? How can she not know other experts in her field? How can she NOT be connected with other ESL teachers from around the world? I do not teach ESL but off the top of my head I can name 5 ESL teachers located around the world that I could tweet at anytime and have answers in less than 24 hours.

What if I told her, “Oh, I don’t teach ESL” and dismiss her whole session as not relevant to me. That would not be professional of me. I am expected to learn new teaching strategies, and rightly so. Of course it was repeated over and over that the reason she was brought in was because our ESL students were our greatest weakness on the state standardized tests.

Since I have been involved in building a PLN on-line, I now feel that this is a new standard to evaluate speakers in my professional development. So am I being too harsh? Is it fair/right to judge people based on whether or not they are connected to other experts around the world? Should a professional speaker lose some credibility (notice I am not saying all) if they do not have a PLN who pushes them philosophically and keeps them engaged in current discussions in their area of expertise?

How to best encourage teachers to use internet tools?

Ryan Bretag

Wesley Fryer