Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Power of Professional Growth Opportunities


Packer football games are clearly important events in Wisconsin.  People plan their weekends around when the Packers are playing and their stress levels tend to rise leading up to and during games.  Those feelings transcend game time and work their way into the following week.  I know because I am one of these people.  The lasting impact on how our team performs on a field seems a ridiculous notion, but it’s real.  Fan is short for fanatic…and defined as “a person excessively devoted to a cause” by Merriam-Webster.  I also find it funny that there are some crazy people out there (the author not excluded) who believe where they stand, what they eat, who they are with, and their location have some sort of impact on the outcome of a game.  The latter was the reason I spent 3 ½ quarters of a Packer game outside in January watching through a window because Craig Newsome picked up a fumble and ran it in for a touchdown vs. the 49ers in 1996 as I was entering a house.  As fans, we get worked up for, during, and after an event but the lasting impressions tend to wane as time goes on.  Well…most of them…for arguments sake, let’s exclude the following:

·        Terrell Owen's catch in the end zone (January 1999)
·        4th and 26 vs. the Eagles (January 2003)
·        Favre interception vs. NY Giants (January 2007)

The point is that events are planned, anticipated, enjoyed and then lost.  I have watched most Packer games since I was a kid.  I can clearly remember a handful of games because they tugged at the emotion of my being, but for the most part, I will remember certain plays or scores as opposed to full games.

So…what does that have to do with schools?  Everything.  Think about how we grow our teachers.  Historically we have used Professional Development days with initiatives that may not mean anything to our staff to drive their “growth”.  The question that keeps coming to my mind is this… If professional development is supposed to be an opportunity to improve, then why is it that we only expect teachers to get better under our rules, on our timeline, and through “events” that may not have a lasting impact on their instruction?  Growth should be about choice and as leaders we need to trust our teachers by giving the time to grow, but also the capacity to find and retain things over time to improve what they do in the classroom.

I understand daily schedules, minutes of instruction, prep time, and school calendar tend to drive when we can spend time getting better as a staff.  I don’t have a problem with having professional development days where people can gain more knowledge or resource.  My view is that if this is the only time you talk to your staff about getting better, it will never happen.  What if these days turned into “check in days” or “sharing days” where we have time and resource to collaborate and grow from what we have done as opposed to a one time offering that no one remembers?  We are just starting the process of change when it comes to staff development in our district.  We are far from finished, but have an incredible group of people who want to get better.  Here are a few things we are looking to do to make things more productive for our staff:

Time. During our last staff development opportunity I asked our staff members to pick ONE thing to improve instruction…ONE.  I asked that they didn’t spend the day organizing their rooms, grading papers, or lesson planning.  I asked them to find something new and dive into it for 6 hours.  The feedback from staff has been great and more importantly primed the pump of learning.  The 6 hour start up on an activity allowed staff members to become comfortable with a new instructional method, tech innovation, collaborative organization…whatever.  They now use what they learned on a regular basis and it became part of a routine.  Another day was a check in on their Professional Growth Goal.  This allowed staff members to assess where they were and what resources they would need in the second part of the year.

Choice.  I recently had an opportunity to run an EdCamp style PD session for a group of 7 schools in our area.  We surveyed the group, asked what they wanted to learn, found colleagues that felt comfortable presenting, and let people choose where they wanted to go.  Our first opportunity had over 40 people…a good start to something worthwhile in the future.  We have a group of 20 people from those 7 schools coming together in a few weeks to plan what our collective PD could look like…involving more people in the process will be a fantastic way to grow professional learning networks for our educators.

Twitter. Every staff member in our elementary building has a Twitter Account.  80% of our district teachers have accounts.  Not all are using them actively, but we’re getting there!!  I truly believe that Twitter is the most underutilized professional development tool in the world today.  Taking the time to find out how to navigate and engross yourself in learning is a great way to grow as a professional.  We have done a Twitter chat as a group and hopefully will continue to use it as a fantastic vehicle for improvement. Increasing our circle from 60 staff members to 600 members of a Professional Learning Network and beyond on Twitter allows for enormous opportunities for growth.

We have tremendous resources in our building…and those resources are doing the work and modeling every day.  Learning from each other is a powerful tool.  I see our group taking part in more Appy Hours, EdCamp style choice professional development, and Ted style talks that everyone can learn from on a consistent basis.  Events come and go…constant growth is about MAKING the time to improve and I can’t wait to see where it takes us…Go Crickets.


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