In previous articles, I discussed the need for a different type of professional development for educators. This entry describes more specific, actionable ideas for immediately enhancing your school learning community’s professional development experiences.
Focus professional collaboration time
Most forward-thinking schools build into their schedule time for teachers in a department or grade level team to meet and collaboratively plan. Using a lessoncast is one way to make sure that time is more intentional and focused on improving classroom practice.
Focusing on Common Core Standards? Take a look at an effective Compare & Contrast technique and start with downloadable resources.
Implementing an iPad 1:1 initiative? Here’s a lesson idea on using iMovie.
Using a condensed, concise professional-learning artifact as a starting point helps novice and experienced teachers begin with a shared understanding to lay the groundwork for professional collaboration focused on improving instructional practices.
Revamp the book study
How many great ideas are born and die in a book study discussion? How can these ideas live beyond the small group conversation and serve as resources to catalyze schoolwide PD?
As book study participants read about and discuss new instructional ideas, capture those ideas via the lessoncast media format and share your educator-created videos with your school community. This PD tactic works for books about reading across the curriculum as well as books on engaging parents and community stakeholders. A lessoncast topic can be a lesson idea or a leadership strategy, and the book study participants can use this format to provide community-specific context. Why keep the newly learned insights internal to a small group when the benefits can be shared with the whole learning community? Spread the word with a lessoncast.
Enhance a CPD course
Every teacher has to take continuing professional development credit to maintain certification. How many educators can say that their participation in a CPD course experience helped their learning community as a whole?
Here’s a scenario when individual CPD course participation can lead to community benefits: I’m taking a CPD course on gifted and talented education, and I recognize that many of these strategies would benefit all learners. Instead of writing a lesson plan as a culminating activity (because let’s be honest – after 5 years of teaching – if I can’t write a lesson plan then I have deeper professional issues), my assignment is to create a lessoncast explaining how to implement a teaching strategy that we just learned. In addition to the course instructor, I can share this 3-minute video with other teachers at my school, who can – in turn – use the teaching strategy in their classroom.
Share ideas from an off-site workshop or conference
Most educators who are afforded the luxury of attending a conference or off-site workshop are asked to bring back what they learned and share it with the faculty. I have rarely seen this technique actually lead to an effective transfer of knowledge nor does it result in changing classroom practice.
Instead of leaving the request to the nebulous “Come back and share what you’ve learned,” educators can capture some of the ideas from the conference via the lessoncast format. In truth, creating a lessoncast requires thought and takes much more time than forwarding a few notes. But the benefits in creating a lessoncast are two-fold. The teacher-creator gains a deeper understanding of the newly learned instructional idea. The teacher-consumers (other teachers who weren’t able to attend the conference) gain a digital resource – available 24/7 – explaining how to implement the idea in their classroom.
Last summer when I attended ISTE, I wanted to share the idea of creating infographics with a group of local teachers. I knew that if I simply shared my notes and the long list of web resources that I gathered from the conference, the teachers would be overwhelmed and unsupported in being able to effectively implement the idea. I knowing the strengths and concerns of the teachers, I created a lessoncast on Creating Infographics to Visualize Environmental Science. This resource provided the teachers with enough information to get them started and a concrete example of how this instructional idea would benefit student learning.
Multiply impact of curriculum specialists and resource teachers
Having been a central office administrator and a school-based administrator, I know the challenges in building supportive, sustainable relationships between C&I and schools. How can personnel in a centralized C&I office truly support all of the teachers and principals in a school system? Many districts have systemwide PD days, and some have moved to a train-the-trainer model, but neither option provides just-in-time support for implementing newly required changes.
With the lessoncast format, curriculum specialists and resource personnel can record teacher-to-teacher explanations of how to implement a new idea. They can provide curriculum-specific models and literally speak to each individual teacher who needs their support. Classroom teachers can follow-up with questions that are informed by this initial explanation.
While the lessoncast becomes an easily digestible resource for teachers, the creation process is professional development for C&I personnel. In order to make a lessoncast, specialists and resources teachers have to craft a refined explanation of the core elements for effective implementation. As a former C&I member, I found the PD opportunities for educators in these positions to be lacking. By creating actionable resources for my learning community, I experienced a deeper level of professional development.
One of the chief benefits of PD enhancements 1 – 5 is that by building a community library of resources educators are not starting schoolwide PD from scratch year after year. New teachers can see the previous professional learning journey and access the resulting artifacts. All members can build on resources to continually refine shared understanding of what works to improve learning for each student.