Inservice Days

Many district are is in the midst of planning their 2016-17 inservice/institute days.  These days, sometimes called PD days, often include communicating initiatives aligned to district goals.  Sometimes school goals are included in this process.  As far as I can remember inservice days have always been part of my school year.  The content is sometimes applicable to what’s happening in a particular school, other times it’s more aligned with a district goal. Most teachers have experienced successful and unsuccessful sessions.

Last night I came across this Tweet:

David asked an important question.  I’m not an expert in the field of PD, but I’ve experienced some amazing and not-so-amazing sessions in the past.  I’ve also put together plans for PD and other sessions.  Through this experience I’ve been able to evaluate PD sessions a bit better.  Below are four questions to consider before putting together a PD session:



Are there clear expectations?

Being intentional in communicating expectations is key.  I’m not necessarily talking about listing the objectives of the session. I’m more concerned in what participants should be able to do with the information after it’s been delivered.  How will this impact teaching and learning?  Having a clear understanding of what’s expected and a timeline can help avoid confusion.

Is there an explanation of why?

I think this is sometimes missing from PD sessions.  Why are we learning about guided math, reading workshop models, grading practices, etc.?  Giving the why can help people understand the reason for a particular session.  If it’s not explained than staff may feel as though the reason is directly associated with someone not in the school, which may or may not be a good thing.

Will there be opportunities to revisit this initiative?

Educators aren’t generally fans of participating in a PD session that communicates that what’s being discussed will be fully implemented but it doesn’t happen. If the expectations is that all classrooms need to do x, y z than that should actually happen.  Starting an initiative and abandoning it halfway through the year doesn’t help with rapport or climate.  A successful PD session allow opportunities for additional help and follow up as needed.

Is there a reflection opportunity?

This may be more of a matter of personal opinion.  I tend to learn best by reflecting on what I’m learning and finding ways to practically put it into practice.  That reflection can happen after the session but embedding it in the session can be a valuable.  Sometimes a reflection opportunity can reveal itself through follow up conversations.  It also keeps the conversation going to ensure that consistently is occurring in a school/district.

When creating a PD session I tend to consider the questions above.  The questions aren’t always applicable, but it’s a place to start.  Would you add any other questions?




Professional Development Conversations


Yesterday I was able to participate in a SAMRiCamp teacher workshop.  Similar to last year, DG58 hosted the event and it was well attended.  It’s great to see so many educators and administrators taking time out of their busy schedules to attend this professional development opportunity.  There were many sessions available and facilitated by educators and administrators in the area.  The sessions provided educators with a variety of options to choose from. For the most part, the facilitators of the sessions had organized presentations displayed on whiteboards that were shared through Google Drive. As usual, the entire conference was paperless.  Discussion generally followed the presentation with the audience sharing feedback with the group.  The majority of the sessions included a hefty dose of teacher conversation.

I find that this type of teacher development model is different than the norm.  This type of model can benefit educators in ways that weren’t possible a few decades ago.  My past teacher trainings generally consisted of specific workshops for teachers within a particular district.  The presenter spoke for the majority of the time with a handout and limited audience participation.  Instead of having one district provide training for their specific teachers, the SAMRiCamp teacher camp model encourages more of the conversation element with participants from multiple districts.  Different perspectives, programs and ideas can be heard when participants offer responses in the sessions.  Gathering teachers and administrators from the local area/state can reap benefits for all participants.

The conversation and collaborative part of this type of professional development is important. Including time to discuss, ask questions and share ideas can evolve into teacher reflection opportunities.  During these teacher-led conversations, teachers can experience affirmation and may also meet constructive feedback from others that they can bring back to their school.  Pushback, or asking deeper questions that lead to justifying a response can also play a role during these conversations.  Discussions can lead to deeper connections with other teachers outside of their district.  This action also provides opportunities for teachers to expand their personal learning networks.  Being able to candidly discuss matters related to education with other professionals can improve practices. Since many districts are represented, different instructional models and ideas can be brought to the table for discussion. Since educators are both introverts and extroverts, the discussion doesn’t necessarily have to always be verbal.  The conversations and questions could take the form of a shared Google Doc. I believe all teachers have something to share and getting comfortable enough to share can be a positive tipping point in the professional development conversation.  Taking the risk to share/present and receive feedback can benefit all stakeholders in the room.  At the same time, I think it’s important for teachers to be able to say that they don’t have all the answers. The unanswered questions can often help develop an atmosphere of brainstorming, which inturn helps the group.  Reflecting on past practices and sharing/learning from others can lead educators to change their practice for the better.  Feel free to review the #SAMRiCamp tag for a brief overview of what was discussed.



Playdates in Education

Connected Through Playdates
Connected Educators

Yesterday I participated in Playdatedg58, a new (at least to me) type of professional development/workshop for interested educators, administrators and technology integration specialists. Playdate stands for People Learning Asking Y: Digital Age Teacher Exploration.  This type of conference was different than many that I’ve attended in the past.  There were no sponsors, booths, fees, or paper involved in this conference.  This is the first conference that I’ve attended that seemed to be paperless.  Most of the conference was organized by District 58 teachers and specialists.  According to the Playdate site, only a handful of Playdate conferences have occurred in the past.   I don’t believe this event  would have been possible without teacher and administration support.  Based on what I saw, it seemed that the District 58 leadership enthusiastically embraced the idea of having a summer workshop and I believe the superintendent was even in attendance.  Overall, I believe around 200 attendees were present from all over the state of Illinois.  Many of the participants were from neighboring school districts.  I appreciate that the workshop leaders allowed other educators from neighboring school districts to join in on the learning.  Unfortunately this isn’t always the case with structured professional development. The schedule was from 8:00 – 12:30 and I attached a screen shot below.  Each session had a link that was attached to a live GoogleDoc that anyone could edit.  What’s great is that these links will be available so that attendees, or anyone, can access and utilize the information for next school year.  Feel free to click the image to be directed to the appropriate link.


Playdates seem to emphasize the notion that professional development doesn’t need to be contained locally.  It’s becoming increasingly evident that local school district professional development is changing.  Teachers with a variety of talents are seeking out their own professional development through social media and other means.  Twitter has allowed opportunities for teachers to connect with other people in the education community.  In fact, that is how I was informed on this particular Playdate.  Educators and administrators are beginning to notice that learning opportunities exist through our PLNs and some of the best professional development can occur outside of our district walls.  Moreover, I was able to meet members of my PLN face to face and make additional connections with people across the state.  Making these connections also amplifies the professional learning opportunities that teachers are able to access.  I hope that other school districts are able to find opportunities for their staff to participate in similar Playdate models in the future.

photo credit: br1dotcom via photopin cc

Risk and Professional Development

Teacher Professional Development
Is this your teacher professional development?

I recently found some time to reconnect with a few teachers that I haven’t talked to in a while.  A group of us were able to meet up and discuss our lives during the past school year.  As the conversation extended beyond pleasantries a few common themes emerged:  high-stakes testing, new teacher/administration evaluations and district professional development (PD).  The last topic took up most of the time and reminded me of how important it is to connect with fellow educators.

Some stories about PD were positive and some negative.  I listened to a few less than stellar stories of districts that dictate all PD needs. These top-down, one-size-fits-all PD sessions help certain staff members, but not all.   One of the teachers at our table insisted that school districts need to be able to differentiate their PD opportunities .  Just as teachers differentiate for their students, districts should also differentiate their PD for their staff.  I’m encouraged to hear that other educators like Ellen (@sneakyfritz) have similar thoughts about PD being more aligned to teachers’ needs.  Teachers learn at different paces and have a variety of strengths, therefore different opportunities should exist for them.  I find that the second model in the image below is used frequently in some districts.

photo credit: superkimbo via photopin cc
photo credit: superkimbo via photopin cc

Another teacher in our group thought that educators should be able to choose their own PD sessions, even if they’re located out of the district.  By not mentioning PD opportunities outside of the district (Edcamp, Twitter chats, conferences, workshops, MOOCS) teachers’ professional growth can be limited. Administrators that aren’t connected may not be aware of the PD options that are available online and outside of their school.  Discouraging teachers or omitting opportunities outside of the district also infers that a district doesn’t trust the professional judgement of its teachers.  Obviously, not all districts are like this.  I believe that teacher ownership plays a role in increasing the effectiveness of PD.  This terrific post by Dean (shareski) sheds some light on some of the important issues of PD and teacher ownership.

When teachers share what they’ve learned with each other the district often benefits.  I applaud districts that encourage teachers to be part of the PD process by having them lead district training sessions, similar to an edcamp model.  That seems like one way to encourage teacher ownership and solidify a mutual trust between teachers and administration

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 8.15.20 PM

Sometimes the one-size-fits-all model of traditional PD is mandatory, as regulated by the state.  I’ve found that districts that have total control (top-down) of the PD often informally discourage sharing and innovation.  Not all sessions have to be this way. Districts can encourage teachers to grow professionally by taking a risk and trusting their teachers to pick and choose the PD that meets their specific needs.  Districts should advocate for their employees to attend the most effective PD sessions.  Many of the teachers in our discussion stated that some of their best professional development came from outside of their school district boundaries.

Another teacher in our group stated that many educators are already taking ownership of their professional growth through a Personal Learning Network (PLN).  In many cases, they take ownership because the district might not providing opportunities for the growth that they need.  Regardless of a districts financial situation, many beneficial PD opportunities exist and are found through Twitter and other social networking sites.  These sites are generally free to join.  It’s truly unfortunate that some districts decide to rely on traditional PD and expect it to dramatically change teachers’ skills.  By omitting the use of technology for PD opportunities, districts are actually limiting their effectiveness and devaluing the educators that are already utilizing these outlets for PD.

Despite the lackluster view on the process of PD in some locations, the group that I sat with agreed that there’s good news.  The good news is that teachers aren’t depending on school districts to provide adequate PD.  They’re seeking out their own PD and bringing back innovative ideas to the classroom.  Teachers can bring these ideas to other connected educators around the world.  Teachers are connecting with other educators across the world through Twitter and other social media avenues.  This connection has many benefits.  Being a connected educator often gives teachers opportunities to learn more from other educators and bring back practical ideas to the classroom.  These teachers are using ideas found through their PLN to better their students’ learning experiences.  Often times they are enhancing their students’ learning experience without the district even knowing.  Districts need to be able to identify and celebrate theses succeses. I’m optimistic that school districts will adapt their current PD practices.   My optimism is rooted in the fact school districts  are listening to the staff and increasingly adopting non-traditional PD approaches to meet the professional needs of their teachers. These teachers are taking risks to better their own classroom/school and I believe school districts have the opportunity to do the same.  I’m going to end this post with a Tweet that assisted in inspiring this post:

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 8.12.45 PM

photo credit: mikecogh via photopincc


Utilizing Teachers’ Strengths to Improve Schools

Utilizing Teachers' Strengths

Utilizing Teachers’ Strengths

During this holiday season I’m reflecting on the topic of school leadership.  School improvement often begins with a vision, but without teacher input or ownership, the vision may become undervalued.  It takes commitment and collaboration from all stakeholders to improve a systematic school organization.  This collaboration requires staff to trust the leadership within a school.  Principals have opportunities to build trust with their staff by ensuring that they don’t underutilize talents within their own school.  Teachers often have skills that aren’t necessarily visible during an introductory handshake.  Every teacher has strengths that they can bring to the bale, although some of the strengths may be challenging to distinguish.  Some of these positive skills could include:  rapport with parents, technology integration, planning with teaching teams, leading through mentoring,  goal setting with students, small group instruction, facilitating guided groups, etc.)

Coordinating Strengths
Coordinating Strengths

Teachers that are underutilized often disengage when asked to be part of school leadership decisions.  I believe that the majority of teachers unconditionally care and want the best for their students.  Unfortunately, teacher underutilization may encourage complacency and a lack of voice during school leadership decisions.  At this point, some teachers find professional development elsewhere, or possibly, employment elsewhere. Retaining effective teachers through utilization of teachers’ strengths is possible. I believe that teachers that feel utilized and valued often have ownership and participate more in school decisions. Teacher ownership helps schools become communities of collaboration.

How do educational leaders utilize teachers’ strengths and encourage teacher leadership?

One way to encourage teachers to utilize their strengths is to use inventories.  Just as teachers survey their students to learn more about them, principals have a unique opportunity to understand their staff better by surveying them.  Being aware of a teacher’s strength will enable a principal to coordinate personell to best meet the needs of a school.  Administrators can create a survey using Google Docs or use a template that best meets their needs.  Surveying staff members can be a proactive step in understanding individual perspectives and skill sets.  Using teacher inventories can lead to staff investment opportunities for school administrators.

What methods do you use to to encourage teacher leadership?

Photo Credit:  D. Castillo & J. Creationz

Recruiting, Developing, and Retaining Effective Teachers

Does the above picture remind you of a teacher professional development session?

According to the US Department of Education, states that receive Race to the Top money are asked to advance reforms around four specific areas.  One of the specific areas revolves around recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals.

Recruiting, developing, and retaining effective teachers can be problematic.  In some states, 1 in 5 teachers leave the profession within the first five years.  As Forbes suggests, training new teachers costs school districts a significant amount of money. This link provides graphs and documentation that points to the dire situation.

Recruitment begins by having an effective professional development (PD) program. Developing effective teachers starts with having an exceptional PD program that gives accurate support and feedback to all stakeholders. Often, teachers will seek out PD opportunities outside of their school district because there is a lack of targeted PD support from their employer.

One size fits all PD support continues to be on the endangered list, as the approach shows that it’s not effective in promoting permanent change.  Having a self-selected PD growth model can encourage ownership and lead to best practices. When possible (I hope often) educational administrators need to release a bit of the control in the professional development department.  Teachers are professionals, and most understand where they need additional support.

How can the current PD model change to better reflect teachers’ needs?

Here are a few ideas that involve PLNs:

Teachmeet:  The first TeachMeet occurred in Scotland in 2005 and has been spurred through learning networds enabled by Twitter and Facebook.Teachers at TeachMeet  meet at local schools or establishments to inspire each other with interesting and useful ideas, develop and maintain a network of partners in teaching and learning, and share ideas and strategies to use in the classroom and beyond.  One teacher characterized TeachMeet as professional development unplugged.  Teachmeet can also lead to e-learning opportunities.

Twitter & Facebook:  Twitter and Facebook have become resources that teachers visit to gain insight into best practices and methods to integrate technology and learning. Educational Twitter chats also offer opportunities for teachers to engage in meaningful conversations with other professionals across the world through various hashtags.

Survey & Implement:  Administrators may use teacher survey data to tailor multiple PD opportunities for educators.  Notice that I said multiple.  Giving teachers choices often encourages ownership and higher probabilities that the PD sessions will have lasting value.  Teachers should have an opportunity to select from various sessions to maximize their PD.  After the sessions, surveys should also be used to document the effectiveness of the sessions.

How would you change teacher PD?

* Picture credits (2) to Renjith Krishnan

So You’ve Been to a Common Core Training?

The words above seem true.  If you work in education, you most likely have heard about the math Common Core Standards.  Many educators have been given instructions and maybe even have had the fortunate experience of attending a PD session on the Common Core.  According to WAT, approximately 70% of teachers have received some type of Common Core training.  Maybe your district now has a Common Core “aligned” curriculum or manipulatives that will be utilized in the classroom that emphasize the main points of the Core?  Regardless of your situation, the content that you teach may be impacted by the Common Core Standards.  Many educators/administrators are asking questions about the Common Core and seeking answers on their own.  Common Core PD sessions have allowed teachers opportunities to ask questions and receive clarification on what is expected.  Here are a few statistics:

If you are like many educators, then you’ve been trolling to find additional information about the Core and resources that will enhance your instructional practice.  I’ve created a list below that may help us (as we are all in this together) unravel the Common Core and the changes that it will elicit over the next few years.  The links below aren’t listed in any prioritized order, but they are categorized to help you (and me) find and use the information quickly.  I have many of these sites already bookmarked, as I receive questions on the Common Core and it’s far reaching impact.

Blog Posts:

General Info on the Common Core:

Livebinders / Digital Newspapers:

Testing Questions / PAARC / Behind the Scenes:

Transforming Professional Development for Teachers

Image by:  David Dominici

I recently was looking for some space in my closet and found a book from my graduate school days.  The book Transformational Leadership & Decision Making in Schools by Brower and Balch fell out of my closet.

After flipping through the some tabbed pages, a few memories emerged.  One of the chapter topics explained how ed. leaders often understand and create effective professional development opportunities for their staff.  Understanding what is considered “effective” is key.  So I ask, what is needed for effective staff development?

Three (non-exhaustive) Ideas for Staff Development:

1.)  Eliminate fear – As discussed in David’s post, teachers shouldn’t feel as though someone will steal or reject their innovative ideas. Competition, although beneficial in some scenarios, may instill in teachers a sense of fear and distrust. Administrators that advocate for their staff members by creating an atmosphere of trust and collaboration often improve student learning over time.  The idea that all of the students in a school are everyone’s responsibility should be prevalent and community building activities indicating that concept should be evident.

2.) Research Based PD – Often, staff development may meet the current needs of the staff, but not necessarily be research based.  Many PD sessions are more “training” focused, rather than “best practice” focused.  This point is explained in more detail in Neil’s post.  Teachers need to be able to understand that the PD sessions, when implemented appropriately will result in an improved organization.

3.) Follow up –  Ask any educator … it’s fulfilling to participate in an effective PD session.  The question that many people have after the session is … Now What? Allowing time for teachers to collaborate and discuss methods to implement ideas will benefit all stakeholders.  Also, it may be important to receive feedback from the audience (teachers) in order to measure the effectiveness of the PD and set goals for planning additional sessions.

Disclaimer (unfortunate but necessary) : The thoughts and opinions expressed in these pages are my own, and not necessarily the opinions of my employers.

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