Changing our Professional Learning Opportunities

Professional Learning is a critical piece for our success in this transformation.  Without huge shifts in our thinking and change in our practice, we don’t have a chance for success.

Shifting our Thinking and Changing Our Culture

Creating a culture where all the professionals in our school want to learn and improve is important.  We’ve worked hard to help all those in our school see that the reason for improving is not that we aren’t good enough, but because we can be even better! We shared this message, share how we are learning and struggling, how small changes impact students and

Last spring, during our mini faculty meetings, we shared this quote from Dylan William.  The first step to changing this culture is shifting from thinking that we need to improve because we’re deficient to thinking that we need to improve because we can be even better.  This is undoing much of what the teacher evaluation system has put in place for years, so it’s not quick and easy to change this mindset.  Some will take this on the first time they hear it, others will take much longer to internalize this thought.7ebd4e88188284a229a85581b0c25e9a

Secondly, at our kickoff this year, the theme was “Just One” – the importance of starting small was emphasized.  This summer a principal from Baltimore County Public Schools, Stephen Coco, said to us that his message was this:

It's ok to be where you are, it's not ok to stay there.

And that made so much sense! It makes it OK for people to be grappling with the change, but sets the expectation of always learning and always improving.

These big culture shifts have helped tremendously.  Teachers are trying new things.  We are focused on what works for students and what students need to learn (and not just content…learning the skills to be successful lifelong learners, too!) This doesn’t mean it isn’t hard.  It really is.  It’s exhausting!  But it’s worth it.

Shifting Opportunities Offered

Choice is incredibly important.  One size will not fit most school staff when it comes to professional learning.  Yes, there are times when everyone needs to hear the same message, but for us, that is a short opening session.  Over the past few years, we’ve committed to offering choice of sessions to our faculty members.  On each day of school directed professional learning we have conference style PD.  Faculty choose 2 or more sessions to attend.

  • Who comes up with the ideas?  Ideas are generated by our Instructional Transformation Team, gathered from feedback in previous session surveys (this is especially important as we decide offer a session again or another level of the session), sometimes they are dependent on county requirements, and our admin team sometimes suggests topics.
  • Who leads these sessions?  These sessions are presented by members of our staff (and supplemented by a few folks from county offices when needed).  This has two purposes – teachers are sharing the great work they’re doing in their classrooms AND we are often more willing to learn from someone who works in our school and understands our needs than from someone who is in an office all day.  It’s also important for us to ask a variety of folks to lead this learning – not just the techiest or most well-known teachers.  Sometimes including a teacher who is not one of the techiest shows those attending that this is approachable and do-able by all teachers.
  • How do we organize this style of PD? Typically we will generate the ideas for sessions, ask teachers who would like to lead (sometimes we ask people we know are doing this work who might not otherwise volunteer) and I will create a google doc with a list of all the sessions available.  We have about 300 staff members so we try to offer about 12 session choices each time.  Sometimes we repeat them and other times they are only offered one session.  Teachers select the sessions they want to attend – if it’s full, they head to their second choice.
  • Provide credit for sessions.  Our teachers earn continuing education credits for each session they attend and present.  I collect their attendance via a google form and award credit in our
  • What else do I need to think about?  We are being purposeful this year to offer sessions for our advanced learners.  These are typically the folks asked to present, yet we want them to continue their professional growth as well!  I’m working to be mindful of not always asking the same folks to present so they have the opportunity to be learners.  We also offer a session called “advanced cohort” each time.  This is a discussion based session (think edcamp style) for folks who are doing great stuff to share and learn with their colleagues and build relationships to continue collaboration across departments.
  • Provide and encourage independent options – our teachers have the opportunity to work toward Google Certified Educator Level 1 and Level 2 certifications and earn credit as well. There are many other opportunities we advertise and encourage our teachers to participate in: edcamp, traditional conferences, online learning, etc.

Learning Walks

While having teachers present at our school’s conference style PD sessions is working wonderfully, we wanted another way for teachers to learn about even more great things that are happening in other classrooms around our school.  There is so much great work happening that we want it to spread!

Last year, our English department started learning walks – short, focused visits to other English classrooms to see what students were doing in their other classes.  After a quarter, they expanded to visiting other departments and noting what they saw and what they could take back to their classrooms.

This year we are doing Learning Walks school wide – teachers are focused on student centered classroom spaces, authentic learning and student engagement.  Over the next year our teachers will visit 4 other classrooms (1 special ed, 1 general ed, 1 academy and 1 of their choice) for short visits (3-5 minutes) and complete a short form to provide feedback of what they saw.

This also opens us our doors and the conversation – transparency and collaboration are two of our keys to success.  These shifts, both in mindset and in practice, have really changed how we learn and practice our work.

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