What Makes PD Worthwhile

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It doesn’t take a genius to know what motivates teachers when it comes to professional development…

But just in case that notion is elusive, I’ll let you in on a secret…what motives a person to seek professional development centers on the ideas of choice and empowerment.

I won’t bore you with the numerous times that I have been subjected to forced or mandated PD because let’s be honest, we’ve all been there, done that. No choice. And certainly no empowerment there.

This past week, I attended two different types of PD. One was specific to my content area (i.e., history/social science) and the other one was related to technology (my other passion). Both PDs were relatively flexible in the format and there was time for us to engage in meaningful dialogue not only with peers from our grade level but also with those outside of our normal circle of colleagues.

And it was great.

I enjoyed talking with my colleagues at the high school level because it helped me to better understand the skills that I need to help instill in my middle schoolers. Now, I don’t consider what I do in the classroom as solely preparing for high school…because that’s too myopic. What I’m trying to do in my classroom is instill the love of learning for historical content as well as renew their curiosity for the unknown and sharpen their creativity skills.

The other PD I attended last week focused on instructional technology. This time, I spoke with elementary teachers to gain insight on the skills my students would be bringing with them to my classes. It was certainly enlightening and exciting to talk with lower level elementary teachers (I’m talking Grade 1) as I now know my middle schoolers will be better equipped to take their learning and use of technology tools to the next level.

The only downside to both of the PDs I attended was the short duration. An hour and half can seem like a long time after teaching a full-day of classes, but in reality, the conversations just started to get really good when 5 o’clock rolled around. #bummer

The good thing is that these groups meet monthly so there will be time to continue the conversations. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to speak with colleagues from both elementary and high school. As we are a unified school district, what impacts one level ultimately impacts the other…so yeah, we’re all on the same team.

Needless to say, the end of last week left me excited for what’s to come. Were there areas from both PDs that could be improved? Of course. There’s always room for improvement. But I’m liking the fact that there was flexibility in what we could do and discuss. Because that’s the foundation of choice and, ultimately, empowerment. It’s what makes attending PD motivating for teachers like me.

Reflecting on Reflecting

So…I finished reviewing the first reflection assignment I challenged my GATE/PreAP students to complete, and I have to say that I am quite impressed with the results!

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I ended up giving my students several options for their blog assignment:

  • Individual or with partners
  • Blog (written) or vlog (video)
  • Public (world-wide) or semi-public (viewable by class members only)

Some students created their blogs using Wix, Weebly, and even YouTube. Quite a few opted to use Google Slides for their reflections. Either way, I loved the creativity that was reflected in many of their entries! Some students jazzed their blogs up with still images, creative fonts, or animations. I also had those who were to the point (nothing fancy, just the facts, Jack). I especially enjoyed the blooper real my trio of bloggers did for their YouTube video! Middle schoolers are so neat!

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work with my students. I mean, I only have them for 20 weeks, and we have a ton of things to learn. I was thinking that adding a bi-weekly reflection was going to be too much, but I think it will be fine…I just need to cut something somewhere else. I believe that having the students reflect on their learning will be more beneficial to them in the long run anyway.

I have committed to blogging alongside of them, so I will be posting my thoughts here on a regular basis. This is a learning journey that I am excited to be a part of.

The best is yet to come. I can feel it!

What is Fair?

At church today, our pastor was reviewing the passage in Matthew 20 of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. In this parable, groups of workers agreed to work for the landowner for a certain wage. Some groups were hired early in the morning, whereas others were hired towards the end of the day. When it came time to receive their wages, the ones who worked the longest were angry that they received the same wage as those who worked less. The landowner pointed out that they all agree to work for him for a certain wage, and it was not based on how much they contributed to the workload. The idea of fairness was rooted in the discontent of the workers who put the longest hours in on the vineyard. What is fair in this case? Or are we really talking about equity?

The lesson from the parable made me think of how our educational system is organized and run. Many years ago, I read a book by Rick Wormeli Fair isn’t Always Equal. In it, Wormeli (2006) points out that fairness is based on what each child needs, not on what other children need. This is the goal behind differentiated instruction which focuses on providing learning pathways for students based upon their interests, skills, and academic abilities.

However, no matter how teachers differentiate for students (and trust me when I say that it is very difficult to do that when one has 180+ students), the bottom line is that students are still all judged by the same standard.

That notion seems unfair, no?

Multiple measures are supposed to ensure that students are not judged by one standard or measurement. However, if all students are judged by the same multiple measures, how is that equitable? It may be equal, but it certainly is not equitable.

I struggle with this because I have come across instances throughout my years of teaching when the teacher’s judgment of a student’s academic ability was superseded by this idea of multiple measures. How is it that what a teacher knows from experience with the child is discounted because it doesn’t match with what the “multiple measures” state? This is not an isolated incident, and it doesn’t just happen to me. I’ve seen it occur across other schools and even districts because, yes, my PLN extends beyond just the teachers at my school.

This is a wider problem.

I’ve often heard that we should not treat students as numbers. Yet isn’t that exactly what we are doing when a student’s progress is narrowed down to a score? It’s as if only quantitative measures count. But what about the qualitative data? Qualitative data provides depth that mere numbers cannot reveal. It is my hope, that at some point, what a teacher says will carry just as much weight as “multiple measures.” But perhaps more importantly, I would like to see student voice become part of the measurement process. Their recollections of and reflections on their learning should be counted alongside the teacher’s perspectives. This type of qualitative data will be more revealing about student academic achievement and learning than mere numbers would suggest.

And that, I believe is a fair and equitable way to determine learning.