For years, professional development (PD) has been out of touch with what we as educators already know to be best practice, and how we are asking teachers to think about their classrooms. Far too often, PD agendas are set without any input from teachers and do not include time to reflect or discuss real classroom application. Far too often, strategies and tools are discussed once, and then never again.
As an instructional coach at Fairbanks Middle School in Milford Center, Ohio, I have been a core part of charting a new path for PD that uses a blended model of professional learning. Here are the reasons why we revamped our PD.
1. Teacher input
When we established our district vision for instruction, we intended it to apply to all learners—not just students. As instructional leaders and administrators, it was time for us to implement the very changes we ask teachers to make. We’ve found that the most successful way to encourage this transition is through empowerment. Based on teacher feedback, we were able to determine which topics our teachers wanted to explore more deeply in order to bring our district vision to life.
2. Increased flexibility
We are no longer tied to four prescheduled PD days. While those days still exist on the school calendar, we know not everyone is ready to learn at the same time; teachers can now decide when to begin learning about a new topic or deepen their understanding of an existing skill. We use our four days differently, with more small-group discussions and teacher-directed time. The topics we cover through our blended PD require more serious thought, so they can’t be digested in a two-hour lecture to the staff. Now, everyone has the time to pause and reflect before taking the next steps toward application.
3. Embedded application and reflection
Under the traditional model, several barriers, including time, made it nearly impossible to provide teachers an opportunity to apply what they learned within the confines of the PD day. By overcoming those obstacles, we can walk teachers through the process of developing lessons and incorporating what they’ve learned. This phase comes after teachers have had the time to explore a variety of resources we provide: articles, websites, podcasts, and videos. We do set some parameters for the assignments. For example, we recently renovated our Media Center to offer more collaborative spaces. The learning module for Collaboration asks teachers to reserve the Media Center for their students to use during this lesson. We provide templates in Schoology, our learning management system (LMS), to help guide them through the creation of a new lesson, and they are encouraged to work with me, the building instructional coach.