Professional Development for Teachers as Professional Learners

The most humbling and impacting take-away from this Covid-19 related lockdown for me is a strengthened appreciation for my friends and colleagues who, in the matter of 48 hours, transformed their classrooms and curriculum to accommodate a remote learning model. I am so proud of their resilience, dedication, creativity, generosity, agility, and passion.

Our teachers succeeded in making the rushed transition to an online learning environment thinking it would be for only a short term. However, with an uncertain future, it is evident that it is necessary to deepen knowledge of online platforms and strengthen or change existing pedagogical practices to include digital learning.

In my previous blog I highlighted the uncertainties of our return to normal or a new normal at school.  Schools are preparing for a form of blended or hybrid learning model which means that some students may be in  physical classrooms, while others may attend remotely.  Some learning may be synchronous while other learning may be asynchronous.

This uncertainty is the background for the question I am exploring in this post: How can coaches support teachers in preparing for a learning environment that is both physical and remote at the same time? ISTE Coaching standard 4a states that coaches collaborate with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery and allow students to demonstrate their competency.

What if we our approach is, “Hey, a teacher is a learner, let’s figure out the best way this teacher learns, what this teacher wants to learn, what goals this teacher wants to achieve, what end product this teacher wants to present, and how this teacher will measure their success.” Coaches can encourage professional development which reflects the understanding that great teachers are great learners. They provide the same authentic, personalized experience that we encourage teachers to offer students, by offering teachers a personalized professional development that is relevant to their particular challenges in a blended or hybrid teaching model.

In this post I will highlight two models which coaches could adapt to use with teachers, an Inquiry-based model and an Edcamp model of PD.

Inquiry-based Professional Development

An article by Laura Lee, Benefits of Inquiry-based PD, explains that “giving teachers control over their professional development work boosts engagement and models a practice they can use in the classroom.” Lee highlights the work of Carla Meyrink, founder of a small school in the Dominican Republic. Meyrink describes the success of Inquiry-based professional development as practiced in her own school in her blog, in her blog The Teaching Experiment. Meyrink statement, “We truly believe that our PD needs to model any kind of teaching that we would like our teachers to do,” resonates with me.

Meyrink’s process for Inquiry-based PD is as follows:

  1. Give teachers a voice
    • She and her team used a google form to survey the needs of her teachers, grouped their ideas into categories, and then curated a list of possible resources such as books, podcasts, webinars, info graphics, websites and other resources.
  2. Give teachers choices
    • Invite teachers to choose the topics they feel are most relevant to their own teaching needs
  3. Give teaches time to come up with driving questions
    • “We used the Question Formulation Technique from The Right Question Institute to help teachers dive deep into their topic and think about how it would apply in their classrooms.”
  4. Start the Inquiry Cycle
    • Research the driving question
    • Decide on a plan of action to try out in the classroom
    • Reflect on how it went
    • Tweak and make necessary changes
    • Begin the cycle again with a new question
  5. Give teachers plenty of time for research and discussion
    • (I was interested to see that Meyrink’s school used Friday afternoons for professional development. “We meet every Friday from 12:30 to 2:30. and in the past 3 years we’ve been using that time for individualized professional development.” Check out the link to their individualized professional development page. It is a mine of wonderful information.)
  6. Allow teachers to EXPERIMENT and REFLECT (caps are mine because I really like this idea.)
    • Meyrink explains that teachers initially had 7 weeks to go through the inquiry process, but she is exited that they are asking for more time on each question. Teachers sometimes ask for coaching assistance, but it seems that when teachers are given the space to investigate, explore and experiment their own needs, they are more engaged and successful.

Edcamp Professional Development

Carla Meyrink also writes engagingly about Edcamp as a way to personalize professional development and explains how it was implemented in her school in a post titled Edcamp for Professional Development (2016.) She says that the Edcamp experience is a way to make their weekly professional development as meaningful as possible for teachers and “let them be in control of what they’d like to learn.”

Katherine Schulten titled her article in the New York Times (June 2018) Edcamps: The ‘Unconferences,’ Where Teachers Teach Themselves. She states that, “Edcamps arose out of the idea that teachers, just like their students, need “voice and choice” to help them learn. She highlights a strength of the Edcamp model is that it directly meets the needs of teachers where they are at, “Edcamps are designed to address teachers’ immediate needs, the topics that bubble up there are often far ahead of where packaged development programs can be.”

The first tenet of the foundation is that it is FREE. The foundation’s website, edcamp.org, offers a plethora of information and free resources for organizing and hosting an Edcamp. Edutopia also has a page of helpful links to sites with information about the benefits of Edcamp as professional development and how to host.

Tenets of the Edcamp Model

Edcamp Foundation was initiated by teachers wanting to provide an alternative, efficient and personalized professional development experience for teachers. The Edcamp begins with participants sharing ideas for sessions on a session board, either information they want to share or information they want to know more about. The session board is categorized and an agenda created. Participants are encouraged to follow the rule of two feet: find the sessions that are of interest and which meets their needs. Participants are also encouraged to share their own experiences and expertise.

Both Inquiry-based and Edcamp models of PD recognize the teacher as “highly intelligent, highly motivated, dedicated, passionate individuals with great intentions and deeply personal philosophies regarding pedagogical practices” (Jessica Sarr Lewis, 2020). Both models recognize both teacher voice and choice their own advancement as teaching professionals. Both models provide opportunities for collaboration and encourage teachers to widen their own professional learning network. Both models acknowledge teachers as professional learners. Both models exemplify the idea of coaching described by Elena Aguilar:

“Coaching is a form of professional development that brings out the best in people, uncovers strengths and skills, builds effective teams, cultivates compassion, and builds emotionally resilient educators. Coaching at its essence is the way that human beings, and individuals, have always learned best.”

Elena Aguilar, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation

References

Ascd. (n.d.). Edcamp: Teachers Take Back Professional Development. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may14/vol71/num08/

Edcamp@-Teachers-Take-Back-Professional-Development.aspxEdcamp. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.edcamp.org/

ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

Lee, L. (2020, February 26). The Benefits of Inquiry-Based PD. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/benefits-inquiry-based-pd

Meyrink, C. (2016, June 12). Edcamp for Professional Development. Retrieved from http://teachingexperiment.com/2016/04/1900edcamp/

Meyrink, C. (2020, February 15). How to Set Up Inquiry-Based Professional Development for Teachers. Retrieved from http://teachingexperiment.com/2020/02/how-to-set-up-inquiry-based-professional-development-for-teachers/

Schulten, K. (n.d.). Edcamps: The ‘Unconferences,’ Where Teachers Teach Themselves. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/education/learning/edcamps-teacher-professional-development.html

One thought on “Professional Development for Teachers as Professional Learners

  1. Thank you for sharing, this was great. I completely agree that teacher PD needs to be something that works for the teacher and should model what we do with our students. Teachers should feel free to personalize their pd and make sure it is relevant to their needs. I have often thought about the best way to turn some of our district pd into more of an edcamp but often get push back from leaders. This has inspired me to try again. 🙂

Leave a Reply