professional development

Teacher Training, the CGC, and Questioning

We, the teachers, were actually given homework!  Before today’s staff meeting we were to read the brochure for the Common Ground Collaborative (CGS) and watch the eight short videos from the International School of Brussels (ISB) on the CGC.  Additionally, we were to take a short survey regarding our frustrations with curriculum and take a look at the ISB Facebook page to get a feel for the culture of the school.  I took my homework assignment seriously and completed all the tasks with diligence.  I was left with a series of questions and dutifully wrote them down.   Isn’t that what I expect of my students?  I hope they’ll come to me for clarification.  I figured I could get answers to my questions from the guest who would be directing our workshop and who happens to be one of the creators of CGS himself.  If we’re considering adopting CGC at our school, it seemed to me that we should be able to resolve concerns we might have regarding making what appears to be a major change.  That sounds reasonable, right?

So, I listened to the presentation.  The guest was amiable and appeared to have an unpretentious thoughtful manner coupled with a sense of humor.  I enjoyed the event more than I anticipated.  However, all the information was very superficial and my questions were burning within.   Finally there was an opening and I launched into what slowly became an interrogation.  I was consumed by my hunger for dialogue regarding standards based assessment, formative assessment, rubrics, teacher support, teacher training, the organization of sharing and the method of collaboration.  I couldn’t stop raising my hand with more questioning.  Finally he said, “Your questions are hard” and then to our director, “Who is this?”  And ultimately, “You can’t ask any more questions”.  And he was serious!  I attempted a couple more times and each time he said I wasn’t allowed any more time.  There was humor in his approach but I have to admit, I felt a bit brushed off.  I wanted answers and here was the topmost source!  How could I let the opportunity pass by?  He did spend some time with me at the end of the workshop and I was able to obtain more answers and understanding. 

In the end, I think I’m “on board” to give this program a chance.  I like the idea of global collaboration.  Furthermore, I see a need for consistency in language and curriculum approach in the international schools.  Quality control in the sharing process is an imperative that the CGC strives to adhere to.  The ultimate objective of an organized bank of high quality ideas is, indeed, appealing.  It is comforting to envision holding on to all of our good ideas and units and plans but having a resource to refer to in order to fill in gaps.  Additionally, ISB and the CGC are both based on standard based grading which is a direction I hope our school will head.

On a final note, however, I hope that I never stop a student’s questioning.  It is inquiry and the desire to know more that drives good dialogue and discussion, ultimately leading to learning.



Teachers are doing their best

I just spent two days in a workshop by Dylan Wiliam on Assessment for Learning.  The focus, in the end, was formative assessment and we were left to choose from a list of over 35 strategies to improve formative assessment in our classrooms.  We were challenged to select one to three techniques to focus on and develop over the next year in our classrooms.

I am excited to try a couple of new techniques in my classroom (and report on them here), however, a message delivered in the workshop that continues to ring true for me is that teachers are doing the best that they can and they are doing a good job.  After all, there isn't one teacher that is deliberately participating in activities that inhibit learning.  All teachers, are, however, inadvertently applying techniques that aren't most effective in increasing achievement of their students.  Additionally, the nature and role of being a teacher is constantly changing as students and learning styles evolve over the years.  We have no idea what kind of world our students will actually be entering when they leave the workforce.  We don't know what options for jobs they will have.  There will probably be jobs and opportunities available to our students that don't even exist now.  We don't even know what we are preparing students for!  Given these variables, we as teachers, even the very best, always have room to become better and to find ways to most effectively help our students to progress in their learning.   

If I focus each year on just three strategies for increasing learning I gained this weekend, I have ten years of improvement before me.  And there are over 300 such strategies! How incredible it would be to have teaching learning time built into our schedules where we could learn about new strategies and plan to implement them in our classrooms.  If we had the opportunity to reflect regularly, make adjustments, and constantly improve our teaching, imagine how amazing we would all be!

While yes, curriculum, methods of reporting (i.e. digital), web sites, technology, schedules, course offerings, etc. are all important, if I owned my own school, I think I'd focus on teacher development.  Developing the best possible teachers who are always increasing their skills would make an incredible school.  If teachers were constantly becoming more skilled the results would be better education, happier more fulfilled teachers, and students who are learning.

Why does professional development feel like a sacrifice?

Why must professional development sometimes feel like a sacrifice?  I really enjoy professional development and I select ones that I’m particularly interested in.  However, either you must miss teaching days and go through the hassle/stress of arranging your classes for a substitute.  Or, you must take weekends and/or holidays to complete your professional development and you are left feeling somewhat robbed of needed “time off”.  Either way, it’s a sacrifice.

It’s Friday night and I just drove 4.5 hours with a colleague to get from the Netherlands to Luxembourg for a conference on “Assessment for Learning”.  I am enjoying the trip with my colleague and I am eager for the information to be gleaned from this conference.  However, I have missed two basketball games of my teenagers and I will be working all weekend.  We drive home on Sunday evening following the conference, just to get up early on Monday and face our regular week without having had any recovery time from this week.  It will be a bit rough!  However, hopefully it will be worth it!  I’ll report tomorrow.