Friday, February 20, 2015

Most powerful PD strategy? Let teachers share

I am so lucky to have a job where I get to shape professional learning experiences for teachers. One of the programs I get to work on is something our school division calls Teacher Leadership Program (TLP). I'll save the full details of TLP in another post but today I want to talk about one thing we do at every meeting that I think has the biggest impact on participants' teaching and learning.

We let teachers share.

It is pretty simple. We set aside 30-40 minutes of our session (whether two hours after-school or an all day workshop) and ask 4-5 teachers if they'd be willing to share something they've tried in their class since last time we've met. Usually one of the facilitators already knows something fabulous that has been going on, but sometimes we ask not knowing exactly what they'll end up sharing. Each of the sharing teachers then sits at one table in our meeting room and the other teachers gather around them. The sharing teacher talks about what they tried, how it went, why they did it, what worked, what didn't and what they'd like to try next. The other teachers get to ask lots of questions. This whole process takes about seven minutes. A timer goes off and the listening teachers rotate to another sharing teacher. The sharing teacher repeats his or her mini-talk to the next group of teachers. Repeat until all teachers have had a chance to meet with all sharing teachers.

This is always the most exciting part of any meeting.

It is unbelievable listening to teachers talk about how they planned a lesson: what they considered when planning (Special Education, English Language Learners, Honors students, time, resources, student interests), how they organized their classroom, what order they chose to do activities in. And then hearing them describe what the kids got out of it: Joey finally spoke up, Jose laughed out loud, Norhan showed leadership, Emily really knows how to add fractions now. And then reflecting on how it went: next time I want to add sound, next week we'll try again with headphones, next lesson I want to preteach the vocabulary. Teachers think about so much all day long and have such great insights about what is happening in their classroom. And it is wonderful hearing how real kids are impacted by the strategies teachers are trying.

Listening to teachers' share their reflections is precious.

I also love hearing the questions the listening teachers ask. Did any kids get lost? How long did it take you to make this? What did your principal say? You can learn a lot from what the teachers are asking as well. It is also great to hear the praise they give each other. This is such a good idea! Do you mind if I try the same thing? Could you share your graphic organizer? I'm so excited to see this lesson!

Giving teachers a chance to show leadership benefits all.

The name of this professional development series is called Teacher Leadership Program so we do try to keep the leadership component in the front of our mind when planning. These sharing sessions are often the first step for teachers to see themselves as leaders. They realize that they have something valuable to share. They experience that sharing with other teachers can be fun and rewarding. They are encouraged to keep trying new things in their classroom. These quick, informal sharing sessions become a stepping stones for sharing at grade level meetings, faculty meetings and the division-wide technology gallery walk we host every spring. Many teachers catch the presentation bug and begin a blog or apply to present at conferences.

And I get new ideas!!

One of my other favorite benefits of these sharing sessions is that I get new ideas about how technology can be used in the classroom. Yesterday, I saw a teacher use Aurasma to have a students' mom remind him to do his homework (Ha! I never would have thought of this). Another teacher used Symbaloo to share Spanish resources for dual-language teachers (Perfect! So useful!). Another teacher had students do a practice run of peer-editing in Google Drive (Brilliant!). These sessions also give me a wealth of ideas to share with other teachers and to try myself.

I never would have heard any of this if I spend the whole session talking.

It is tempting to spend professional development teaching new strategies or showing off new digital tools. There is so much to show! So many important ideas behind good technology integration! But I have learned that setting aside this teacher sharing time develops more in a teacher than listening to me. So I will keep doing this. I will make sure I put my teachers first and let them lead sessions, share what they are trying and encourage them to do so with larger and larger audiences.

I would love more ideas about how to incorporate teacher sharing in professional learning - if you have thoughts, please share!

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