As district parents know, our staff development days are scheduled throughout the school year (10/31, 1/27, 2/21, and 5/25), with teachers and professional staff here at school learning while our students have the day off. Have you ever wondered how we spend our time on those days?
Traditionally in districts, these days were “sit and get” experiences. Administrative Teams worked diligently to schedule something for every minute of the day with a one size fits all approach. Think about it. It’s difficult at best to plan a day or two of training in which the content is relevant for everyone from the guidance counselors to the teachers of special subjects to the HS Mathematics teacher to the Kindergarten teacher. Prior to this past year, the best configuration of this staff development I ever experienced was a sharing day in which teachers with different expertise did mini-sessions for our colleagues. Back in the day as a teacher at Pine Valley Central, I remember offering a session on Easy GradePro, one of the first electronic gradebooks.
We started working in small groups last year called Professional Learning Communities. Our intent was two-fold in implementing this type of structure for use of our staff development time. One, we wanted to create opportunities for our teachers to collaborate and problem solve, to use curiosity and imagination, and to communicate with one another. Teaching has historically, and I’m generalizing here, been an isolated, independent profession in many ways. We know that we’re better together than we are separately and so we hoped that using our staff development time to work together in self-selected small groups to study relevant curriculum and instructional topics would get everyone talking and sharing best practices. Ultimately, we hope that teachers will see that they can safely ask each other questions, brainstorm and learn from one another without fear of judgment.
And two, we knew we had to change our culture in these ways to prepare our teachers for the important work that they will do together on data inquiry teams. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are the ideal structure for teachers to use in creating parallel tasks, creating and administering common formative assessments, and analyzing data from NYS assessments, interim assessments and other student data.
I’m excited to see what our teachers learn this year as they research, plan, analyze and discuss relevant topics that should improve learning for our students. We have teachers in grades PK-6 studying project based learning, common core standards, differentiated reading centers, using music to enhance learning, and writer’s workshop.
Our PK-6 teachers and professional staff are also using their PLCs to assess student reading and math progress, create common formative assessments and parallel tasks, create science kits, develop multi-sensory math manipulatives, collaborate on speech and language development of reading skills, and using interactive whiteboards and iPads to enhance learning at the preschool level. Using NYS Math and ELA assessment data to drive instruction and to individualize student learning is a particularly relevant topic that’s also being studied. Our art teachers are working together across the grade levels on the art curriculum and our elementary PE teachers will implement a SPARK fitness curriculum. Our occupational therapists are working on a handwriting intervention curriculum, something that is invaluable for many of our students.
Our 7-12 teachers and professional staff will learn more about and plan to implement digital portfolios, develop a curriculum on health, wellness and success, implement a 7th and 8th grade 1:1 Technology Initiative, develop informational text units collaboratively between ELA and social studies, and continue the implementation of new technology initiatives. I look forward to hearing more about what our teachers learn about peaking student interest in young adult novels and connecting students to the workforce.
Is it harder work than sitting and getting whatever we as an Admin Team think will be best for everyone? Absolutely. And much more valuable.