It’s no secret that I have scorned the term “professional development” and the acronym for years. I love learning about science, nature, how the world works, how we learn, my craft, food, people, many things. I love talking with other teachers about our practice. It’s not the learning I resist, it’s the failed attempts to “develop” skills in professionals with no acknowledgement of what or how professionals prefer to learn.
Again this summer, I had the opportunity to take part in some genuine learning with groups of accomplished teachers. Each time, our work together took place over 3-4 days. The leaders were not administrators, or university professors, or edu-experts who are no longer in the classroom, or techno-geeks with apps or gizmos purported to make learning happen. They were all simply incredibly accomplished classroom teachers.
Something truly wonderful happens when accomplished teachers are leaders of professional learning. The very skills that are the foundation of their classroom awesomeness drive their work with other teacher-learners. There is no sit-n-git. No one leaves with the feeling that they are to “do as I say but not as I did.” There is no time for participant web-surfing or Facebooking. No time for phone games. Everyone is engaged and learning because they are doing the learning, not listening to the leaning. Every teacher makes meaning of and owns the leaning. And when teachers return to their classrooms, they will certainly implement their work in their own classrooms.
Here’s a partial list of the engaging strategies we used during our work together. If you are a teacher, you’ll probably recognize some of them.
- Modeling (yes, we model modeling)
- Give one, get one
- Shoulder partners
- Inner circle, outer circle
- Walk and Talk
- Turn and talk (walk 3 steps)
- Sentence Starters
- Reflective Write
- Expert groups
- Close read
- Graphic organizers
- Appreciative inquiry
- Gallery walk
- Word Wall
- Group Discussion
- Fist of Five (Hand gestures for formative assessment)
- Direct Instruction
- Parking Lot
- Quick Writes
I could probably find more if I reviewed my presenter notes, but the exact methods aren’t as important as the rationale by which they are selected. In this work, rationale for choosing the instructional strategies used is based on the audience as accomplished teachers wanting to sharpen every part of their practice. The content begins with 5 core propositions of accomplished teaching, and then aligns those core propositions into the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching. Those two simple, powerful works guide teachers as they spend 3-4 days bringing their individual practice towards the nation’s highest set of subject-specific teacher standards. Unlike evaluative measures sometimes used to scrutinize teachers and our practice, these standards are written by teachers, for teachers. The only evaluation is done by accomplished teachers.
The first core proposition teachers take away is to set learning goals and make instructional decisions based on what’s best for their students, at that time and in that setting. Good choices are made and appropriate goals are set because teachers will work to gain a deep knowledge of each student. Who is this child? What does each student bring to the table? What challenges does each child face? What does each one need? These considerations also work well when designing professional learning experiences for teachers.
The results? These accomplished teachers are eager to do the work. They ask deep, important questions. They don’t complain; they solve problems and meet challenges. They take the learning back and implement it in ways that meet the needs of their students. They show, clearly, convincingly, and consistently that not only have they learned, but that their learning has led to learning in their students.
How do we know teacher-learners use the learning from our work together once they return to their classrooms in September? How do we know they are accountable for implementing their learning in their classrooms and that there is impact on student learning? At various times throughout what is now a three-year time window, each teacher submits a portfolio section to the National Board for Professional Teaching standards. Teachers must show clear, consistent, and convincing evidence that they are proficient in the teacher standards in their certificate area and their subject area content and pedagogy, that they can differentiate instruction, can provide a positive, accessible-to-all, safe, classroom learning environment, and are literate in assessing student work in order to earn the distinction of National Board Certified Teacher.
While National Board Certification itself was not intended to be “professional development,” bringing groups of accomplished teachers together to talk about their practice through the lens of standards of accomplished teaching, the 5 Core Propositions and the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching is a learning experience I’d wish for every teacher. It has had the most profound impact on my practice and my students’ learning of anything I’ve ever experienced. Just do it.