Supporting Students’ Agency

My students and I were recently asked to Skype into a PYP workshop to share examples of how student agency works in our classroom.

In preparation, we brainstormed everything this year that contributed to students experiencing a sense of ownership over their own learning. In addition to sharing our story with the participants of the workshop, I thought I’d also share the list with you!

So here it goes… a list of ways to support student agency:

What they think…

Setting up the classroom

Student shared that being invited to help set-up the classroom at the beginning of the year helped them to have a voice in decisions about their learning and how the classroom could be set-up to support their learning.

Making decisions together

Students reflected that being able to participate in decisions usually made by the teacher helped them feel like they had a voice. The specifically pointed out our classroom board where they could identify problems, ideas, and questions. The explained how the routine we had each morning going through the board and collectively solving problems, agreeing on ideas and answering questions helped them experience more control over in their lives as students.

Pre-assessments

Students identified the pre-assessments (or time capsules) we do at the beginning of each unit as playing a role in helping them to own their own learning. They explained that the pre-assessments help them know themselves and what they already know and can do before a unit starts. This helps them know where they are and where they need to go.

Choice and Trust

Students shared the importance of choice and trust in feeling agentic. Choice in where to learn, how to learn and who to learn with were identified as factors that helped them have agency in their learning. They also shared the importance of having trust from their teacher to test out different options and space to make mistakes and wrong choices along the way.  It was often experiencing choices that blocked or hindered their learning that had the biggest impact on getting to know themselves as learners.

         

Three-way conferences

Students reflected that our approach to three-way conferences also helped support their sense of student agency. Being able to share their thoughts and perspectives about their own learning first – before hearing from their parent or teacher – helped them feel the sense that the learning is theirs.

Planning their own day

Far and beyond, the one thing that students identified as helping them experience the most agency as learners was the opportunity to plan their own day. This has been a ongoing experiment and has taken many forms along the way – but the main idea is having students write their own day plans.

(I plan on writing a full post about this experience soon!)

Creativity Thursday

One specific version of students planning their own day is Creativity Thursday. Students explained that this provided them with the most ownership over their own learning – because unlike other days when they are planning their days around teacher planned units or school-chosen curricula – on Thursdays they have ultimate choice over not only when, how and where to learn, but also what to learn. On Thursday they are able to truly pursue passions, interests and curiosity of their own choosing.

What I think…

Learning about learning

I believe that investing the first month of school to learn about learning and learn about ourselves as learners set the stage well for students to feel empowered and capable of exercising ownership over their learning for the rest of the year.

Assessment

In addition to pre-assessments, our approach to assessment in general this year has helped students to feel more agency in their learning. Approaching assessment as something you do with students – not to students – has helped them experience more ownership and voice in the process of assessing and evaluating their learning.

Learning Plans

Taking the time to purposefully plan out their learning, based on personal learning goals has also helped students be in charge of their own learning. Taking data from pre-assessments and planning what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn, how they were going to get feedback and how they will know if they achieved their learning goal really put them in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

Learning from each other

Building a culture where students see one another as valuable sources of learning, assistance and feedback has also helped students to be able to take ownership of pursuing learning through multiple avenues – not only depending on the teacher in the room.

Shifting from mandatory to optional 

This year, as much as possible, I have tried to move away from things that are mandatory for students (often decided, organized and arranged by their teacher). I tried to take things that students are usually obliged to participate in, and reimagine a way to make them optional. Our approach to reading buddies is one example of this.

Supporting student initiatives

I think it has been important to try and create a culture of initiative. Whether it is an idea to label to garbage cans, the desire for a height poster or a proposal for a field trip, I believe that honouring and supporting students’ initiatives this year, both inside and outside of the classroom, have help students notice and be aware of their own agency. It often comes at the cost of a “pinterest-perfect” classroom, but it is worth it!

   

Teacher transparency

I think it has also been important that I share my goals to develop student agency with my class. I think there should be no “secret teacher business” and that my students, their parents, my colleagues and administrators can all have a part to play in helping me work towards my goal. Being open and honest about my goals was a great first step, but then taking the initiative to ask for feedback about my goals was really what helped me reflect and grow along the way.

I am by no means an expert on the matter. Just a curious and interested learner who has tried to take risks and reflect in the pursuit of building a classroom that honours student agency. I’d love to continue my journey as a learner and hear from you as well!

How do you respect and support student agency in your classroom?

Forced feedback or found feedback?

Feedback.

One of the it words of education today and probably something most educators around the world seem to agree about – that feedback impacts learning. But I wonder if our obsession with feedback has us so focused on the potential impact of feedback, that we are forgetting to question the context and conditions of that feedback.

This tweet from @justintarte provoked my thinking about this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 11.22.12 AM

Are we forcing our feedback upon students or are we empowering students to own their learning and find feedback in order to help themselves grow and improve?

This got me thinking about training I received last year to become an instructional coach for teachers. The biggest takeaway from the course was that instructional coaching needed to be optional in order to be most effective. Teachers needed to seek out a coach by choice because feedback for their teaching was more powerful and impactful when it was something they were looking for on their own accord. Something done by them, not something done to them.

…gathered, not given.

…found, not forced.

This means the difference between a coach scheduling a meeting with a teacher and telling them “here is what you need to do in order to get better” and a teacher requesting a meeting with a coach and asking them “what can I do to get better?”

So if we acknowledge and protect that for adult-learners, why are we not doing the same for child-learners?

As teachers, are we scheduling a conference with students and telling them “here is what you need to do in order to get better” unsolicited? Or are we empowering students and creating conditions where students request conferences with teachers (and beyond)  so they can ask “what can I do to get better?”

If we believe that feedback is most effective when sought out by the learners themselves, the question for educators then needs to move away from “Are you giving your students feedback?” and towards “How are you empowering your students to understand the purpose and process of gathering feedback?”

My plan for a more fair and free place to learn…

Yesterday I shared my thoughts and reflections about my own practice creating a democratic community in the classroom and I promised to share my plan for next year- once I had one. Well, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and as a result a plan has started to take shape, so here are my initial ideas, as promised!

Classroom Set-up

In the past I would spent the summer coming up with a blueprint for my classroom set-up and then during the week before students would arrive, I would spend countless hours setting it all up on my own. This year I plan to hold off on any classroom set-up until the first day of school. Once the students arrive and attendance has been taken, we can come together for the first time as a community and together decide how we want our learning space to be set-up. From there I am hoping we can break off into task-forces (classroom library, physical set-up, boards, resources and manipulates, school supplies etc.) where I can support students in coming up with a plan, putting that plan into action and then reflecting on how things went. I have to be prepared to let go, allow the process to unfold and resist the urge to jump in and rescue or veto. Overtime, I think the natural consequences of any design flaws will appear and as a community we can come back as a group and discuss what is working and what might need to change to better serve the needs of our learning community.

Systems and Routines

This will be the hardest for me. Every year that I have taught, I have started the year with a clearly laid of plan for every routine imaginable within the teaching day. This year, I plan to come up with these systems with my students. As a community, we can brainstorm all the times in the day it would be beneficial to have a routine, and then discuss what routines they might have used in other classes. From there we can discuss the pros and cons of different approaches and vote on the ones we want to try. I think it would be helpful at this point to document the why, how and what of each routine in a visible spot somewhere in the room – perhaps with some criteria for how we will know it is working, and clues for when we might need to revisit and refine our plans.

Community Building 

Obviously it is essential at the beginning of a new school year to build a sense of community and help students get to know each other. Similar to classroom set-up and classroom routines, this has been something I have spent hours in the summer planning – to the point that when I started a new school year, the first five day plans were fully filled out and ready to go! This fall I would like to develop this alongside my students. I plan to start with the why – and stimulate a discussion about why it is important to build relationships with the people in our community. From there we can dive into the question – how do humans build relationships? Hopefully this provides a long list of potential activities that we can use throughout the week to build a strong community.

Schedule

In the past I have always built our class schedule alone – without the input or ideas of my students. This year I’d like to try and build it with them. I have been given a schedule template (which accounts for all my specialist classes) but aside from those specified times I plan to leave the rest blank until the students arrive. When the students arrive I’d like to invite them to help build our class schedule. In order to make informed decisions, I think it would be important to first inquire into learning – how do people learn, why do people learn, how do other schools and classes schedule their learning. I also think at this point it would be important to be transparent about our limits and boundaries with regards to curriculum and programming. As an IB school that has adopted the Common Core, I think it is important for students to inquire into “what” they are supposed to learn and also “how” they are supposed to learn. Once students are familiar with what they are supposed to learn in Grade 4, how they are supposed to learn as IB students along with what options are out there for structuring a school day – then we can work together to design a schedule that meets our needs. Perhaps students will breakout into groups or work on their own to come up with a proposed schedule and then we can vote on which one, we as a community, like best.

Homework

In previous years as a classroom teacher I have decided what is for homework, why it is for homework and when it is for homework. When I started to think about going back in the classroom I decided that there would be no homework ever. Now that I think about that, I have realized that either way I am deciding something on the students behalf – which I would like to avoid. Instead of a blanket decision for the entire class one way or another, I have decided to open it up to a personal and family decision. Again, in order to make informed decisions I think it would be important to inquire into the different perspectives around homework (student, parent, teacher, administrator, research etc.) and share those discoveries with the parents community. From there each student, along with their parents, can decide if they want homework. Then, I can support the students who have opted for homework to come up with a personal plan – starting with why, then working out the how and what.

Conflict Resolution

When you force 24 humans to spend 5 days a week, 7 hours a day together in one room, conflict is bound to occur. And in the past when conflict has happened, I have been the judge, the jury, and the mediator. I have had a plan for how I would deal with conflicts in the classroom, but this year I want students to not only be part of the decision, but also part of the actual processes once they are decided. At first I was going to impose a model of “council meetings” like they have at Free School, shown in this documentary from minute 23-32. But then I realized making that decision on my own for them, was just as un-democratic. So instead I’d like to discuss as a class, how humans in the real world solve conflicts. I’m hoping this leads to discussion of strategies for small conflicts and also options for when people with unresolved conflicts look for extra support form the community (i.e.. mediators, councils, town halls, judiciary committees etc.). We can inquire into how humans solve conflict in the real world, then we can see how schools have adopted these practices and then finally decide as a community which one(s) we would like to have as options when conflicts arise.

Goal Setting 

Usually the week before school starts I am exhausted from setting up the classroom and planning the first week of school….but since I won’t be doing any of that this year without my students I am anticipating a lot of unused time on my hands. In thinking about building a democratic classroom community, it is not only important that students have a voice, but also that parents have a voice. So I think a great use of my free time would be to invite parents in to meet with me for a pre-school year conference. I would love to sit down with parents and ask them what their goals are for their child for the year and what they would like from me in order to support those goals. I would also love to ask them to tell me about their child’s needs, interests, skills and passions. I think this would be a really great to lay the foundation for a collaborative partnership with my students’ families and also a great way to show that their voice, knowledge, opinion and perspectives are not only welcome, but also valued.

Thinking in this way has been a huge challenge for me. I am still very inclined to come up with these plans on my own during the summer and I actually have to force myself to stop, but becoming aware of those tendencies has helped me see more clearly the power structures that have existed in my previous classrooms. I am really excited to take this new approach and I am hopeful that the time invested to have these conversations, conduct these inquires and democratically make these decisions will lead to a really powerful and productive learning community. I know as the school year gets underway, I will need to think about how to democratically approach things like curriculum, units, assessment and reporting… but for now, I am happy with my plan in these seven aforementioned areas. And, as always, I will report back and let you know how it goes!

How do you plan to establish a more democratic classroom this school year?

How do you plan to ensure your students’ voices are equal to yours?

How democratic is your classroom?

I am currently in a summer course called Alternative Approaches to Schooling – which is BLOWING my mind – with concepts of free-schooling, willed-curriculum, unschooling, holistic education, critical pedagogy and democratic education. We have also been reading an amazing book called Tuning Points, which chronicles the personal journeys of 35 education revolutionaries.

All of this new knowledge is provoking my own thinking about my plans for next year. Am I helping to develop the whole child? Will my students experience freedoms and personal liberties? What structures of power will exist?

And the question that has been circling my mind the most…

How democratic will my classroom be? 

I used to think my approach to teaching was very democratic and that I helped to set up a community of learners where students had ample voice and choice…. but the more I have read, thought, discussed and watched real examples of democratic classrooms, the more I am beginning to wonder. Schools like Summerhill and Windsor House are living breathing examples of how trusting children to participate in real and important decisions can be quite magical. Watching a student-led “council meeting” from minute 23-32 on this documentary shows just how powerful true democratic processes can be in the classroom.

I think back to my pages and pages of detailed classroom layouts that I would sketch in the summer, showing exactly where every piece of furniture would be, all to be set up before any student stepped foot into the classroom…

I think of my pages and pages of detailed systems and routines for being quite, moving spots, going to the bathroom, starting the day, ending the day, cleaning up, packing up, solving problems that I would plan on my own and train students to follow during the first few weeks of school…

I think of all the “community meetings” where I controlled what was discussed, how it was discussed and who participated in the discussion and when….

And I’m feeling like, perhaps, my classrooom was psuedo-democractic at best. Where I always had the final voice and veto and I would carefully decide what decisions and plans students were allowed to participate in.

This year I would like to try and do better. I would like to try and become a truly democratic community, where students and I make plans and decisions together. Where all of our votes count for one. Where students are trusted with real responsibility to make real decisions that actually matter. Where the classroom looks and feels and functions more like the real world.

How? I have no idea yet… but when I figure it out I’ll be sure to share it with you here! 

In your classroom and school, are you teaching about democracy… or through democracy?

How much have you planned  for next year without your students?

Working with adults will make me more patient with children

As PYP Coordinator, I have worked with adult learners for two years and I have loved every minute of it. The amazing conversations we’ve had about teaching and learning have blown my educational-mind and have played a huge part in my decision to go back into the classroom.

I have to admit though, when I took the job as PYP Coordinator I had no idea what to expect! (To be honest I was a little intimidated to work with adults!) Now, after two years of working with adults I look back and value the strong relationships I’ve built and the great learning experience I have had!

However, there were some things that surprised me about adult learners – the very same things that used to frustrate me as a classroom teacher. I have started to wonder if  these similarities might have more to do with being a human, than being a child.

So here is my list of 10 things that I’ve noticed we do as adult-learners that will hopefully make me more patient when working with child-learners:

  1. We talk while someone is talking – I can’t recall one staff meeting or professional development session where side conversations weren’t going on while someone else was speaking.
  2. We forget to clean up after ourselves – After most 45-minute collaboration sessions or 3-hour unit planning sessions I find myself throwing out wrappers, left over food, empty water bottles, used tissues – not to mention putting communal pencils back in their cups and clearing away scrap papers.
  3. We opt to not participate – A few months ago we did a “Sentence, Phrase, Word” Visible Thinking Routine to help our staff unpack the IB’s expectations for Three-Way Conferences. We made a chart paper for each grade and subject team where each staff member could place their post-its with their sentence, phrase and word. It was interesting that many of posters had significantly fewer sentences, phrases and words than members of their team who were present.
  4. We forget to bring things – Sometimes a request is made to bring something specific to a staff meeting or collaborative planning session, for example a device, a PYP binder, day plans etc.. And sometimes people have shown up without them.
  5. We need more time – Many times tasks are planned to take one hour… one session… one afternoon to complete, but often certain teams and individuals need more time.
  6. We take a long time to wrap up a conversation – With our large staff of 125 adult-learners we raise our hand to re-collect everyone’s attention after a group discussion. Most times this takes at least 2 minutes of holding up my hand. It makes me think of all the times as a classroom teacher I counted down from 5 (from 5!) and expected my students to have wrapped up their conversation and re-focused their attention!
  7. We take a long time to transition – We try to have a lot of movement in our professional development sessions, where staff move from place to place and activity to activity. Even if the transition is something small like go post your post-it on the chart, we are often looking at transitions of 5 minutes plus and lots of invitations (and reminders) to head back to our seats.
  8. We don’t follow instructions – At the beginning of the year we did a Chalk Talk as a staff where we explained that during a Chalk Talk you communicate with others through your marker, not by using your voice… we lasted 45 seconds without talking to each other.
  9. We get “off task” – I’m not sure there has been one grade or subject collaborative planning session when teams are working on their PYP planners, where random tangents of conversations have not erupted – …. travel stories, new restaurant discoveries, tales of weird childhood injuries etc.
  10. We choose to work with our friends – As much as possible we try to mix and mingle our very large staff in a variety of ways – instructions to sit with people you don’t know, turn and share with someone who is not on your team, name cards on tables – and yet somehow, the majority of the time,  friends end up sitting with and working with friends.

I’m not saying as adult learners we are bad or misbehaving. Quite the opposite! I’m saying that if  we as grown-up, responsible, mature, professionals do all of these things… how can we possibly get upset at children for doing them? As I head back into the classroom next year, I hope that when I am faced with children who take a long time to wrap up their conversation, forget to bring their device, talk while someone is talking or don’t follow instructions that I treat them with the same level of patience, respect and dignity that I would treat a group of adults in that same situation.

Ask yourself…

Have you ever whispered to a friend during a staff meeting?

Have you ever left behind a pencil, water bottle, coffee mug?

Have you ever showed up to PD without a device or writing utensil?

Have you ever had a quick conversation with a friend on the way back to your seat?

Have you ever sat beside or worked with one of your friends?

I know I have…

Taryn’s Taxonomy of Professional Learning Resources

As PYP Coordinator, my job is not only to support my colleagues as teachers, but also as learners. When I meet with them to talk about their professional learning I usually ask the same three questions:

  1. What have you been learning about lately?
  2. How have  you been learning about it?
  3. What do you plan to learn about next?

When I’m having these conversations, it’s often responses to the second question that stick with me and get me thinking about different types of resources, how they support different purposes and where they fit along the journey of a life long teacher-learner.

Based on my own reflections and perspectives, I created Taryn’s Taxonomy of Professional Learning Resources to illustrate my beliefs about the many different sources teachers use for their professional learning.

Slide1

Teachers Pay Teachers – I can understand why teachers use TPT. I pass no judgement on teachers who uses TPT. However I don’t like TPT for a variety of reasons, many of which are shared by fellow educators Matt Gomez and Chelsea Bashore. For these reasons, I believe that TPT is on the lower end of the taxonomy of professional learning resources. I think TPT provides teachers with things teachers can use right away in their classroom, but like Edna Sackson says, “effective professional learning is not about things you can try tomorrow, but rather big ideas that shift your understanding of teaching and learning”. I’ve yet to see TPT as source of big ideas that shift teachers’ thinking and until it does, it will remain on the bottom of my taxonomy.

Pinterest – I’ve shared my opinions about Pinterest before. So have other educators. I think similar to Teachers Pay Teaches, time spent on Pinterest is most often focused on the “what” of teaching, not necessarily the “how” or “why”. Focusing on the “what” keeps us in the cycle of doing school and prevents us from moving closer towards real learning. Many teacher-friends have been telling me that Pinterest has gotten better lately – for this reason I have placed it above TPT- but I still have my reservations. Until the comments shift from “I saw something on Pinterest I am going to try” to “I learned something on Pinterest that blew my mind and totally challenged my thinking about _____”  it will remain on the lower end of my taxonomy.

Blogs – Blogs. Now we’re getting somewhere! True, some blogs can still be stuck in the “what”, but good blogs start to move into the “hows” and “whys” of teaching and learning. Blogs allow teachers to share their practice, thoughts, questions and reflections. This reflective, narrative quality  is what opens up the conversation to allow for the exploration of how to turn theory into practice and why something is worth knowing or doing in the first place. Really excellent blogs even go so far as to critically look at teaching and learning, ask provocative questions and challenge your thinking about why we do what we do – and why we need to do it better! However, something to be cautious of, is the fact that anyone can blog, which means much of what is written is coming from one person’s experience and perspective (like this post for example!) so you have to be discerning and critical as a blog consumer.

Twitter – Twitter is in a very similar category to blogs for a few reasons. First of all, on Twitter you can find “whats”, “hows” and “whys”.  However, the benefit of Twitter is that you are exposed to a wide range of everything all at once so you can easily skip past the “whats” in search of the “hows” and the “whys”. Also – similar to blogs – you also have to be a critical consumer when reading people’s perspectives and opinions about teaching and learning. Yet, even though Twitter is a forum where personal perspectives are shared, research is also discussed and cited quite regularly. Edna Sackson advocates for professional learning that challenges our thinking by providing us with tensions to work through and big ideas to connect. In my opinion, Twitter as a resource successfully accomplishes that very goal!

Research – Education research… the highest level on the taxonomy… the apex of the pyramid… and sadly, the most seldom used source of teachers’ professional learning (present company included!).  Sources like ERIC, ASCD and Google Scholar provide access to thousands of journal articles that provide strategies for teaching and learning that are supported by data. Education research can provide answers to our questions about the “what”, “how” and “why” in research-based ways. It’s not one educator’s opinion about what they think is effective in the classroom, it’s what has been shown to be effective through rigorous research design, large amounts of data collection and sophisticated analysis and interpretation.  The question is, if all of this amazing, data-supported education research is available… why aren’t more of us using it in our professional learning?

Peers – I have placed peers as a resource for professional learning all the way up the pyramid. This is because I believe peers can be an amazing source of professional learning – depending on what is being shared. Peers can be an avenue for sharing everything from a “what” found on TPT all the way up to research-supported “hows” or “whys”.

When I think back on my own journey as a learner, I can see how I have moved up the taxonomy over the years- starting from focusing on the “what” and year by year getting closer to focusing on the “why”. I was never much a TPT user, but I was definitely a Pinterest addict and spent my early years in education looking for things I could use in my classroom. Last year I got into blogs to support my inquiries that were more focused on learning about how teachers made inquiry-based, concept-driven education a reality for their students. This year I am all about Twitter. I love scrolling through and having my own beliefs about teaching and learning challenged and learning about new ideas and initiatives that help me move away from “doing school” and closer to being able to facilitate true learning. I can clearly see where I need to head next…. in to the scary land of education research. That will be my focus for next year.

When thinking about this taxonomy and my role as PYP Coordinator, I am beginning to think that my job is not only to support teachers’ learning… but also to support teachers as learners by helping them move up the pyramid to use sources in their professional learning that are grounded in research and focus on big conceptual shifts in thinking.

Where are you on the taxonomy?

What are your perspectives on the different sources of professional learning?

What sources of professional learning am I missing? Where would you place them?

How do you help your colleagues move up the pyramid?

A Model for a Year of Personalized Professional Learning – A Dream

During this past year I have blogged about our first attempt at a half day of Personalized Professional Learning, then I wrote about our second iteration of Personalized Professional Learning. Now the big question… what’s next?

I think the next step is turning this model of PPL into the basis for a year long PD plan.

This is the time of year that school teams are meeting to design professional development action plans for next year. If it were up to me, I would design the structures and systems to allow for a whole year of personalized professional learning. Usually, I blog about ideas I have tried and put into practice. This post will be the opposite. It will be about an idea – in the earliest phases of conception – that is purely hypothetical. At this stage, simply a vision. Nothing more. Yet.

So here is my vision. I’d love to know what you think!

The start of the year – tuning in:

Before a classroom teacher introduces a new unit on body systems, or fractions, or procedural writing, they (should) first tune into what their students already know and already can do. Why should planning for professional development be any different? Before any administrator or school leader even thinks about teaching/training/developing their staff in a specific area – inquiry, assessment, strategies for language development – they too should tune into what their teachers already know and can do. This is not only important diagnostic assessment data for leaders, but equally important to help teachers become explicitly aware of what they already know and can do. But how? I have a few ideas…

  1. A professional learning time capsule – Many teachers use the idea of time capsule to help students’ tune into what they already know. Why couldn’t the same diagnostic strategy be used for teachers? Administrators and leadership teams could take their school improvement plan goals and IB action plan goals and create an open-ended diagnostic assessment where teachers reflect on what they already know and can do as it relates to the prioritized topics of professional development for that year.
  2. A professional self-assessment  For each area of the time capsule, teachers could indicate on a spectrum (beginning, developing, competent, extended) where they think their professional knowledge and practice liesSlide1 Slide2
  3. Personalized professional learning objectives After completing the time capsule and assessing what they already know and can do, teachers can look for potential areas of growth in their own professional development within the context of school chosen areas of focus. These self-identified areas for growth could then be turned into personalized professional learning objectives – or what is commonly known in adult education as learning contracts.  If based on the time capsule and self-assessment, a teacher realized they have beginning understanding of inquiry-based teaching they would then create personalized professional learning objective about inquiry-based teaching.
  4. Personalized professional success criteria – Once teachers have systematically identified their own areas for professional growth – based on the areas of professional development the school has prioritized for that year – and have created a list of personalized professional learning objectives, they could then develop their own success criteria, to specifically describe what the successful attainment of each learning objective would look like.  Creation of success criteria would answer the question, “How will you know you have achieved your learning objective?”               Personalized Professional Learning Plan Template
  5. Personalized professional learning conference – If a teacher was asking a student to complete a self-assessment it would be followed up by a conference where the teacher reviews and reflects on the student’s assessment with the student. A teacher’s self-assessment should be no different. After teachers have self-assessed their learning time capsule, set their own learning objectives and developed their own success criteria they could meet with an administrator or a member of the leadership team to review their personalized professional learning plan. This is where leaders can review the time capsule and have conversations with teachers to uncover misconceptions and gaps in professional knowledge that teachers may not have identified for themselves.   For example, if a teacher has self-assessed that they have a competent understanding and skill set to support English Language Learners, but through reviewing the time capsule and having a conversation the leader thinks there is more room to grow, the leader can suggest the teacher adds it to their personalized professional learning plan.

If this seems like a long, time consuming process that’s because it is. Tuning in is not something to be rushed in order to get on with the learning. Like Kath Murdoch says, it IS the learning. Taking the time to build a diagnostic assessment tool around the school improvement plan goals and IB action plan goal, then allowing staff to self-assess against those areas and become aware of their own learning and then having teachers meet with a school leader to discuss their personalized professional learning plan are essential steps in setting the stage for the rest of the year of personalized professional learning.

Throughout the year – Finding out, Sorting out, Going further:

Once you have the personalized learning plans set, you can use those as the basis for ALL professional development times throughout the year – after school meetings, half days, full days… any time! How, you ask? I have a few ideas…

  1. Selecting a focus or two – Before a professional development day or afternoon, it would be important to help teachers select one or two areas of their professional learning that they would like to focus on. We have done this two different ways during our first iteration of PPL and our revised model of PPL and both proved to be effective. If teachers already had a list of personalized professional learning objectives, they would only need to refer to the list and choose the one or two areas they felt most passionate about.            PPL planner 1 ppl planner 2
  2. Planning in response to learning Once teachers have identified what they want to learn about it, leaders could collect data about how teachers want to learn. Personal inquiry? Collaborative inquiry? Workshops? Meeting with an instructional coach? Gathering data about how teachers want to learn can then be used to build a structure for a day or afternoon that supports personalized professional learning.                          ppl 4 image
  3. Let the learning happen – Once the day is planned and teachers know what they want to learn about and how they want to learn… get out of the way and let the learning happen!
  4. Assessing the learningOnce the day or afternoon is finished, teachers could refer back to their success criteria and reflect on whether they have met their targeted learning objectives of the day, or whether they need to continue to pursue further learning opportunities.
  5. Repeat The next time another scheduled PD day rolls around again, have teachers refer back to their personalized professional learning objectives select one or two objectives they would like to start working on (or continue working on), plan the structure of the day in response to the needs and preferences of the teachers, let the learning happen and then build in time for assessment of progress.

This process could be used every time there is the opportunity for professional development. Once the systems and structures are in place, there is minimal planning that needs to be done by the leadership team. Isn’t that the sweet spot of inquiry – low prep for “teachers”, high engagement, ownership and learning for “students”? There are also some great opportunities for formative assessment and feedback throughout the year. Bring out the time capsules half way through the year and have teachers add, change and remove things to better reflect what they know and can do now. Or have a mid-point conference with the same leader as the beginning of the year discuss progress and growth.

At the end of the year – Making conclusions:

By the end of the year, there should be so much growth and progress for each and every teacher to reflect on, celebrate and share! Wondering how? I have a few ideas…

  1. Revisit their professional learning time capsule – Provide all teachers with either a blank copy of the same time capsule you used at the beginning of the year, or the actual time capsule they filled in and let them update their time capsule to reflect all that they have learned over the year. This will be a great way to help make their learning visible.
  2. Self-assessment – For each area of the time capsule, teachers could indicate where they are now with regards to their professional knowledge and practice. Hopefully this would allow teachers to see that in certain areas they have moved themselves along the spectrum. Teachers could also reflect on their success criteria and evaluate whether or not they have met the success criteria for each of their personalized professional learning objectives. If there is criteria that is not met (yet), that could be a great starting point for the following year’s personalized professional learning plan!
  3. Share and celebrate – Provide teachers with time to consolidate their learning and decide what they want to share with their learning community. Using the RAFT format can be quite helpful to allow teachers to choose what they want to share and how they want to share it. Sounds like the potential for a mini teacher Exhibition!

I’m a firm believer that every single thing we expect from teachers in the work they do with their learners – assessment, inquiry, differentiation, personalization, learner voice and choice, reflection, ownership, action – should be purposefully modeled in the work leaders do with their learners. I think this model presents a way to allow for all of the aforementioned best practices, while at the same time working towards school-wide goals and objectives. Teachers are doing a great job helping their students reach standardized curricular goals and objectives in inquiry-based, differentiated ways. School leaders can and should be doing the same in their models of professional development.

I realize that I have referred to the learners as “teachers” throughout this blog post. I think this model could work for an entire school community. Every staff member – counselor, TA, coordinator, administrator, coach – could participate in all of these activities and develop themselves as professionals. In fact, the leadership of a school should be intentionally modelling this process for the staff and should be positioning themselves as the lead learners.

What am I missing?

Where are the gaps and weaknesses in this model of PD?

How could I refine this vision to further support teachers as learners while meeting school goals and objectives?