We started off the school year creating our own personalized PD. Professional learning is relevant when we have choice and that choice created a great deal of buzz. Teachers were more excited about professional development than I have ever seen in my 16 years at Hart (hooray!). So how is your Edventure going? Is it well underway or are you still gathering supplies? Are you lost? Do you need a map to help guide you? Once the school year starts, the initial momentum we had begun to build may wane a bit. You might need resources, but you aren’t sure where to find them. Hey, maybe you are just tired! Teaching is exhausting, after all. How do we keep that original excitement and energy going? How do we focus on our own growth as professionals each and every day? How do we make the most of our Edventure? What follows is a breakdown of my own personalized PD so far and advice on how to keep professional learning at the HeART of what you do each day.
Keeping the research focus:
Find a way to keep your research focus on your mind daily. You might try displaying your research focus where you will see it each day. Try taping it to a lesson plan book or typing it in lesson template you use.
Below is a picture of my research question. I taped it to my computer screen so I am reminded of it each morning when I log in.
Doing the Research:
Finding time to research is the tricky part. Yes, you will be given PD time to research, but will that be enough? How can you set yourself up for success? I suggest front-loading your material… print articles and keep them on your desk, buy or borrow a book on your topic, download podcasts to your phone, join a Twitter chat, sign up for a webinar. Keep these resources handy so that when you find yourself with extra time, you can use the time to research. Even if you miss the Twitter chat or webinar, you can still access these resources at a later point. Of course, your actual day-to-day teaching is part of your research as well. Student performance is your data so be collecting and analyzing daily.
In order to set myself up for success, I downloaded a few podcasts that pertain to my topic. This way I can access them whenever inspiration strikes—or when inspiration is most needed. I usually listen to podcasts on my way to school since that is when I am thinking about my teaching and am in the right mind frame to receive new ideas. I also have been reading a book with colleagues and am annotating it as I go. I love that the book and the podcasts spark ideas and include activities and approaches that I can implement immediately.
How I’ve Researched:
Approaching Teaching Differently:
In what ways have you approached teaching differently so far this school year because of your PD goal(s)? You identified an area of need, now you need to address that through different approaches and new perspectives. Your research may give you new ideas and motivate you to try new things. If you are stuck, just start with one small thing. One small change can make a difference.
In order to fully embrace my research question, I have had to change the way I teach. I love to organize and plan well in advance, but in the last couple of years, I have begun to differentiate more, which means I can’t always plan too far ahead. This year I am making my classroom even more student-focused. No more starting with notes and concepts first. Instead, I use what I learned from reading Questioning for Classroom Discussion and pose a question. Kelly Gallagher also talks about starting with an essential question in 180 Days. So last week I asked students, What are the characteristics of descriptive writing? Then I gave students a text and asked them to discover the characteristics as they read. I did not frontload the characteristics but allowed them to practice the skill of “reading like a writer” that we had been practicing. As they identified characteristics they wrote them up on the board and then we discussed as a whole class. I asked more questions, urging them to support their responses with textual evidence. Then we practiced the same skill with a different text, identifying characteristics we had already discussed and adding more as they began to see patterns emerge with this mode of writing. This practice helped students to begin to internalize the language we use to discuss the craft of writing. On the flip side, they are imitating the authors we study and learning how to write purposefully and with intention. They read to become better writers. We have been doing many writer’s workshops in class. This change in my approach to teaching has been satisfying, but slow, as I discuss further below. The following are pictures from our writing workshops. You can see students writing alongside the texts we have studied.
Reflection is the key to monitoring your own growth. You can reflect on paper or out loud. Here are some reflective prompts to help you get started. You may also consider having a weekly lunch date with a colleague to talk out your reflections with one another.
I reflect weekly in my lesson plan book as a way to keep myself accountable and to keep focused on my goal. I do this in the lesson plan book because I know I won’t forget to do it. Before I plan for the following week, I spend a few minutes thinking about how my lessons went. I might look ahead to next steps, grapple with issues I am facing, or just celebrate successes.
Identifying Next Steps:
Your research should be ongoing for the entire year. Perhaps your goal shifts or changes completely as we progress through this semester. But if professional learning is to be personalized, we must make it part of our daily teaching lives. We must seek to continually grow and develop as professionals.
I will find ways to use data to determine if this slow, student-centered approach is pushing students to realize that writing and reading are, pardon the cliché, two sides of the same coin. I used the word “empower” in my research question. This is a powerful, strong verb that means “to make others more confident.” Building confidence is one of my main goals. I want students to feel like they are prepared to grapple with pre-20th-century text and to write clear, engaging essays. So this is what I will work on next, boosting their confidence. I have a book at home titled Choice Words that I know addresses this so I plan on reading portions that are relevant next.
What I’ve Learned So Far:
As I stated above, my new approach is making for slow teaching. I don’t feel like I’m on an adventure. Sometimes I begin to feel a sense of panic, thinking I need to cover more and move faster since that is what I have always done and because that’s the way I was taught. But then I consider the depth to which learning is taking place and I relax a little. Maybe we won’t read as many texts as we did last year, maybe we won’t write as many full-length essays. However, they are learning more. I think. I have purely narrative/anecdotal evidence so far based on our conversations in class. And we are having great conversations. And we are HAVING FUN. But, I do need to figure out how to use data to measure student growth. Perhaps when I start to give the AP practice exam, I will be able to see if the skills I am teaching transfer. Will they be able to use what they have learned when they encounter new text? One thing is for certain, personalized PD has made me more engaged with my craft. I feel much more present in my teaching.
I read a book by Carl Honore titled In Praise of Slow that examines what factors have led to a society where busyness is so highly valued. Honore argues for a slow movement in which we are more fully present in the moment. He asserts that we don’t remember things vividly when we rush. As I read, I kept thinking about how this applies to education. We rush through material as teachers because we have pacing guides that dictate deadlines. We ask our students to cram in so much information. What if we slowed down? What if student needs dictated our pace? I can see that my research is inadvertently leading me down a new path…maybe a new book? I think the Art of Slow Teaching sounds like a great title, don’t you?
How has your Personalized PD journey been so far? What are you doing to continue to grow in your teaching life? Remember that, as the instructional coach, I am here to help you in any way. Help can be in many different forms: chatting about teaching, finding resources, observing classes, planning lessons, brainstorming ideas, collaborating, providing feedback, team teaching lessons, demonstrating technology…and much more! Working with an instructional coach can transform your teaching and I would love to be part of your journey.