This year we embarked on a new learning journey. We had tried conference style PD in our large public high school. We have about 260 instructional staff members and no matter how many sessions we offered and who led them, we were not able to meet the needs of all staff.
Some of the questions we faced over the last few years were
- How to continue to challenge and grow our advanced learners?
- What do we offer for those who are still beginners?
- How do we balance the need for content specific learning as well as instructional strategies that work across the board?
- What do we do for folks who are sitting in sessions but not finding time to apply or use the new learning?
- How do we make this more personalized and model choice like we want for our students?
- How can professional learning be more engaging?
- How can instructional staff have more opportunity to learn, do, reflect, refine rather than a one and done, mostly sit-and-get learning experience?
The instructional transformation team came up with the ideas of cohorts and we ran with it! We started in November and teachers met with their cohorts 6 times through the year, once a month, for an hour until April.
Teachers had choices and control over
- What they learned
- Who they worked with
- When they met
- How they worked
- Monthly cohort agenda
I want to explain a little more about the work we did and each of these areas.
What They Learned
At the end of last year, all teachers took a survey indicating what they wanted to know more about in the coming year. Teachers had some prefilled topics or could type in one of their own. The areas with more than a few teachers interested became our basic topics. Each teacher chose a topic on our first day of cohorts and went to that session where they formed their groups or cohorts with others who were interested in the same topic. Our topics were
- Google Certification Level 1
- Google Certification Level 2
- Using Google Suite
- Web Tools
- Project Based Learning
- Writing and Literacy
- Student Centered Classrooms and Genius Hour
- Workshop Model in a HS Classroom
- Beyond the Grade
Once teachers selected a broad topic and formed a cohort, they set specific goals for what they wanted to get out of the time together. This helped them narrow down broad topics to something very specific. These goals weren’t set in stone and some groups realized after a few meetings that they were really on two separate paths OR that they needed to adjust their goals. This is what personalization is all about!
Who They Worked With
Teachers who were interested in the same topic gathered in rooms around the school and were asked to choose which was more important to them – who they work with OR when their groups meet. They formed cohorts of 2-10 people and began conversation to determine their goals.
Some teachers chose to work with others in their content area. Others worked with teachers from around the school.
When They Met
As often as possible, teams met on School Planning or Teacher Workdays. Some groups chose to meet before or after school or during lunches. Each team met at least once per month for an hour.
How They Worked and Monthly Agenda
Teams chose how to spend their time together. Some chose to read a book or try a lesson in preparation for the time together, then spent that time discussing and reflecting on how it went in their classroom. Other groups spent the time learning from each other and sharing what they have been doing in their classrooms. Others spent the time working collaboratively through the Google Certification modules. It was really exciting to see how different groups utilized their time.
Sharing Our Learning
Instructional staff shared their big ideas and important learning on a FlipGrid either individually or with their group. All staff were able to hear from each other, learn from what all the groups experienced and find out more about what teachers on their teams spent the year focused on.
Overall, feedback from the first year of Personalized Professional Learning was overwhelmingly positive. It did not meet the needs of every person and there are some challenges we need to address
- Some staff felt overwhelmed with the freedom of choices
- Some wanted a chance to learn from experts and weren’t sure how to set this up
- The time needed for this DEFINITELY needs to be built into our day instead of added on before or after or on top of other work
- Others wanted the chance to work on an individual project instead of with a group
- Support is needed for those who don’t find a group quickly – just like with our students, this can produce social anxiety for adults.
We still have a ways to go, but when put to a vote with our instructional council and on a survey to all staff, the overwhelming vote was to stay on this path and keep refining!