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.
4. Opportunities to share and collaborate
It’s imperative for schools to showcase how they are moving forward and using technology to better prepare students for college and career readiness. To increase collaboration among our teachers, we hold short meetings at the end of each PD day for staff to discuss what they are working on, as well as video staff updates—shared via discussions in Schoology—where an individual or group of teachers can share successes they are having in their classrooms. As part of the learning experience and to shine a spotlight on our educators, teachers are encouraged to share pictures that we post on social media and through other district communications. This allows our community to see the great things happening inside of our schools and see us as learners, too. Through the resources we provide, teachers have a chance to see what others have done, think about their own situations, and use that information to continue the process of changing their instruction. It is crucial that we reflect, both formally and informally, to see where adjustments can be made to continue improving together.
5. Learning through modeling
We believe having a truly functional LMS with a wide range of capabilities is an important layer to providing teachers and students with a new learning experience. Through Schoology, I am able to show teachers—inside the context of their own learning—what it’s like to use Schoology as a learner, and how course design can either help or hinder the learning process. This course can serve as a template for teachers as they design their courses in Schoology. Teachers are also receptive to completing work in the LMS because they are familiar with the platform via their daily use. In addition, I use this opportunity to intentionally design the learning experience and incorporate elements within the LMS that our teachers may not be using; it’s a chance for us to show teachers what it’s like when the learner controls pace, place, and path. The entire structure of the course, and the premise behind it, can serve as a model for instructional changes within their classrooms.
6. Added support
Prior to these changes, teachers would have to sit through a presentation and then independently figure out how to implement what they learned. Using our new format, we have been able to embed one-on-one, in-person coaching with the administrator and instructional coach. As the instructional coach, I am available to have conversations with teachers, help them plan and find resources, observe lessons, co-teach in the classroom, and reflect with them on how the changes are impacting their students.
Ultimately, blending our PD has been successful. Our teachers are thrilled with the changes and see the value it brings to this next iteration of professional learning. Beth Morse, an eighth-grade English teacher and member of our building leadership team, says, “I can’t wait to get started. I love that what we are learning is tied to our own goals and our students. These are things I can actually use in my classroom with my students. It’s different this time.”
When it comes to professional learning, we have to provide our teachers with a new experience. This is our attempt to take another step forward and provide them with better opportunities that are more relevant to them, and for the students they teach.