I had the privilege of sharing an ignite presentation on the Evolution of a Culture of Mindset, Growth and Connectedness. The intersection of this highly structured format and the topic which is a passion of mine was an exciting learning experience for me. Over the course of 2 posts, I am going to “un-ignite” this topic, so that I can expand on each slide and the process our community is taking to daily grow for the betterment of ourselves, our students, and our community.
In this section I will share the difficulties of nice; the origins of our school wide professional development plan; and the birth of a culture of growth.
I work in an incredibly challenging situation in which my teachers and my admin team genuinely like each other and enjoy working together. It is not uncommon for members of our team to refer to each other as a family and indeed our faculty families, share milestones together as our kids grow up together as an extended multi-age class unit.
To further complicate and frustrate the situation, we have an incredible student body, which has the audacity to get out of the car each morning with a smile and very often a hug for the teachers greeting them at carpool that day. While I am all too aware that this predicament is incredibly advantageous in many ways and far preferred as compared to the alternative wherein negativity abounds, it also has the potential to be an obstacle to growth.
Over the last five years, we have taken a multi-faceted approach to transitioning a school from a positive culture of nurture into a laboratory of personal and professional growth for all stakeholders. We have implemented a myriad of strategies to: increase personalized professional learning plans and cross divisional growth teaming; provide for vertical and horizontal reflective and innovation teaming; enhance peer-to-peer dialogue on each other’s instruction and practice; facilitate personal GPS navigation for all teachers on where they are and where they want to go in areas of technology integration, curriculum development, and character education. Seemingly small variations to previous plans have impacted the shaping of the current culture which manifest a number of new ideas for how to begin or enhance the journey to a culture of mindset, growth, and connectedness.
5 years ago our school’s educational expectations and requirements extended only to our students. While we had many fabulous teachers who sought out their own professional learning and growth, these were teacher initiative-dependent that were infrequently brought back to the large community of practitioners for the benefit of all teachers and students. In realizing the need for formalizing the learning expectation for all members of our community, the administration selected Carol Ann Tomlinson’s How to Differentiate Instruction in the Mixed-Ability Classroom as a full school PD strand. This state approved PD program would enable all teachers to receive their required PLUs without having to attend expensive workshops or miss school days, while also allowing our team to build a common vocabulary through studying and learning the same content over the course of the year.
The content was to be delivered through monthly required reading selections and message responses. The message board questions were aimed at going beyond comprehension of material covered to asking teachers to reflect on their own practice, implement a new strategy, and/or comment on the reflections of their colleagues. Furthermore, because the message boards were only accessible by our teachers, they became safe places where teachers could engage in dialogue about best practices.
This new format also meant that faculty meetings switched from an arena for minutia sharing to designated times for state approved hours of learning. Outside professionals were brought in to facilitate further learning on the topic selected.
Lastly there were additional PLUs available should two or more teachers want to partner up for reciprocal observations of Peer- Coaching. Each teachers was required to meet with a peer/peers to conduct a pre-observation meeting, conduct the observation, and complete a post-observation reflection. As the administrator, all that was turned in to me was the pre-observation worksheet and a confirmation of the time of observation. This was done purposefully to maintain the integrity of the process being for professional growth, and not as evaluative measures. As such the notes taken during the observation and the post observation worksheet were kept confidential between the partners.
From the simple roots laid in our plan 5 years ago came forth a robust culture of learning and growth for our faculty. All of the shifts can find their roots in this original plan. One of the first and most important shifts has been from administrator selected and delivered PD, to teacher proposed, led, and interest-based selected areas of growth.
Throughout the course of the year, I receive statements of interest from teachers who want to lead strands of professional development for the following year. I sit with these teachers to help them identify materials and lessons that would support the development strands. In the fall of each year, the teachers leading the strands share there courses with the larger school community. All teachers are required to participate in at least one strand of interest. The courses for the 2012-13 school year included Brain Based Learning, Positive Discipline in the Classroom, Teach Like a Champion, and trends in Jewish Day Schools. The shift to faculty leadership combined with the opportunity for teachers to select areas of growth that most interested them, yielded a huge increase in investment and engagement. Though only required to participate in 1 strand, a large majority of our faculty participated in at least 2 of the learning opportunities.
This year saw another evolution to the structure. In addition to 3 regular strands Character Development, Reading Comprehension Strategies, and Daily Writing we saw the advent of 3 cohort models that found their own delivery format via edmodo, weekend learning conferences, and bi-monthly meeting/sharing sessions developed on the topics of The Power of Story Telling, Project Based Learning, and Advanced Technology Integration. Last, this year we had two additional cohort teams doing yearlong group PD programs from outside programs on eportfolios and Hebrew instruction.
The expansion to multiple strands meant that every faculty meeting was designated to be related to a specific strand. This would enable all participants of our community, whether enrolled in the strand or not, to share in the learning. Furthermore, the activities became more targeted towards experiences that would allow for direct transference in the classrooms. The teacher leadership in these meetings also spilled over in to the divisional meetings, with the creation of a new format for these as well.
All division meetings begin with Kudos – teacher sharing words of praise, thanks, and/or recognition for a colleague, and then proceed to instructional and/or integration based sharing. In some cases (frequently after local and state conferences) this sharing becomes the sole content of the meeting, and if this is not the case, the remaining time is allocated for learning activities that have been generated via teacher request.
In the next section I will share the growth of Ed Rounds; our work on examining and cultivating a growth focused culture; and our initiatives to expand our learning and sharing from insular to connected.