Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Collaboration IS Professional Development

Often professional development is thought of as a speaker coming in and talking for 90 minutes and then the mass of teachers leave with a sigh and maybe one good idea. How many teachers have rolled their eyes at the thought of in-service day or early releases?

Our district is making a significant addition to the amount of professional development time that our staff has for next year. We know that the research clearly supports the efficacy of the teacher as the biggest impact to student learning. We are not adding more in-service days though. We aren't adding more lecture time. We aren't adding more one-time presentations. This stereotypical view of professional development doesn't make an impact. We are moving to weekly collaboration times using a process centered on the professional learning communities (PLC's) research.

PLC's focus on student learning by talking about these questions:
What do we want kids to know and be able to do?
How will we know if they learned it?
What are we going to do if they haven't learned it? have learned it?

Some teachers think they are getting more PD time with no collaboration time. PLC's are just the opposite of that. We expect student discourse and collaboration to happen in a student-centered classroom. We expect the same for professional development. It will be driven by teachers. PLC's differentiate based on the needs of the learners. Learning takes discussion and collaboration. Teachers are perfect pictures of life-long learners. It's finally time for the professional development to meet the needs of the all the learners.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Questions are not barriers

Change is difficult. It's also filled with questions, and rightfully so. Questions are not bad things. Questions help us sharpen our focus, defend our positions, consider things we might not have, and look at a topic from another angle. They also help us communicate better by sharpening our message. Don't we encourage questions from our students? Why are we often afraid of questions when they are raised by our peers?

One of my favorite quick reads is the leadership fable, Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Notice how one of the 5 dysfunctions is fear of conflict. Fear is paralyzing. Questions only become paralyzing when we take them as a sign of personal attack. Van Meter Schools is a progressive district where lots of things are changing. Teachers and community members have lots of questions. This is a good thing. This means we are all involved in the process of transforming education.

We are embarking on uncharted territory and I don't expect we will have all the answers. Even if we do not, questions are not barriers. They make us think. Questions do not hold us back; we do that to ourselves... if we choose.