I spend a lot of time thinking about improvement. Mostly about how I can improve my teaching and leadership and hopefully, in some way, have some influence on improvement in in our school and our system. Right now I am reading “Effective Supervision” by Marzano, Frontier and Livingston. The basis of the book is about building an atmosphere of collegiality in which teachers can share effective teaching practices. The hope is to try and help teachers, myself included, to become what is termed “expert teachers”. We all know countless research tells us the teacher in the room has the greatest effect on student achievement. I feel like we should never quit striving to improve our craft.
I am a strong believer in reflective practice and have a vision about education and what I think we need to do to prepare our students for whatever their future holds. I also believe in life long learning and never want to come across like I know more than any of the teachers and support staff that I work with. Together we are a knowledgeable and powerful team. We need each other to accomplish all that we do.
I am continually amazed when I walk around my building and watch my teachers in action. I see so many great things accomplished every day and our recent reading benchmark data and other assessments indicate that students are making improvements. It is in moments like this that I wonder if I can really expect more from my teachers and support staff then they are already giving?
Probably the biggest frustration teachers have is TIME. It seems like things are added to our plates on a regular basis and we often go home wondering if we will ever get caught up. How do we fit concentrated efforts for improvement in teaching practices into an already full load?
I was struck by another link posted on Twitter to a blog post written by Jordan Campbell, a fairly new and very wise teacher, who writes about letting go of what we cannot control and concentrating on the great things we do, especially the parts we really enjoy. I could not help but think that maybe this was one of the keys to finding time for improvement. Do we spend too much time on things that do not matter? The post encourages us to not waste time complaining about teaching, but instead, spend our time celebrating and talking about the good things that keep us doing the job day after day.
Leadership in education is about learning. The learning of myself and needs to be at the heart of my decision making every day. I think George in right…once we are done learning, it is time to go.
I spent my Friday meeting with most of my teachers for the mid year check in of their professional growth plans. It was a great way to spend the day and I love spending time getting to know my staff. We rarely have opportunities that are not rushed or focused on too many things. We talked about their goals and how they thought things were going in their classrooms, with their students and in our school. Our conversations often turned to professional development opportunities which got me thinking of the best way to meet all of their individual needs.
Our school division provides many opportunities for PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities). Teachers can apply twice a year for funding to support PLC learning opportunities and many of the teachers in my school participate in these groups. The feedback from these PLC`s are mostly positive, when the teachers have been allowed some freedom to take their discussions and learning in a self-directed way.
Most of the negative feedback coming from my teachers happens when they feel self-direction of the learning is not there and emphasis is put on planning and paper work expectations.
It is difficult for school divisions to plan large group professional development that meets the needs of all teachers. I find that often the learning and discussion is geared toward the group of teachers that are near the bottom with their level of understanding. I supposed it is planned this way with the hope that more teachers will gain an understanding of the presented initiative. The affect it often has on those that are beyond the level of the presentation is that they leave feeling frustrated and like their needs have not been met.
Very few teachers really have the opportunity to attend big, national conferences where you can join in conversations and pick sessions that are directed at your learning needs.
So what now…?
My thought is… why are we waiting for someone to provide learning opportunities for us that meet our distinct needs as individual teachers. As I stated in my last post, the best professional development I have is coming straight to me every day from the personal learning network that I have created. It is self-directed and conversations always circulate around topics directly related to my personal needs. I can join with my PLN at times that work well for me and the opportunity is always available to me to be learning from a wide variety of perspectives and experiences.
What I would advise my teachers to do if they really want to be in charge of their own learning is to start to build their own learning networks. It truly is the most valuable learning opportunity I have ever been involved in. Any thoughts?
I spent some time yesterday at our school professional development day talking with part of my staff about possible changes we could make to our timetable to accommodate more projects, more cross-curricular connections and more blocks of uninterrupted time with our students. I am very lucky to have an innovative staff that always works hard to do what is right for kids and are patient with my passions about education.
Returning to the classroom this year has been an eye opener for me in a lot of ways. Not only am I now walking my talk and have a much better idea of what my teachers are balancing on a daily basis, I have realized that the timetable, which I created by the way, is not providing our students with the best opportunities to learn or giving our teachers the best opportunity to plan for that learning.
I have a vision about how I believe education needs to be. It is not my vision alone, but more of a realization that what we have done for generations in schools is not and does not work any more. I have had a little glimpse of what happens when you open learning up to students and allow them to follow their passions through Genius Hour. I know that every moment in school cannot be spent doing open projects, but at the same time, the engagement and empowerment I see in my students during that time, is amazing. It is not all perfect and we are still getting started, but I sure like what I see and I love what it allows me to do as a teacher which is step back and guide.
I am a fan and I am a believer, however I am still frustrated about how to make this vision become a reality in my school. How can I rearrange our cluttered and confining timetable to allow for more passion driven learning? How can I provide time and support to my teachers so they are able to facilitate learning in their classrooms that is student driven, less teacher fed and focused?
If you have any creative suggestions about how you organize time in your school, please let me know.