Friday, October 18, 2013

Have it Your Way...Personalizing Professional Development

This week we had our first "official"--as in calendared so you MUST participate--Professional Development opportunity.  Let me first clarify that the calendar was something I inherited and the system of scheduling PD is, as I am aware, starting to go the way of VHS tapes.  Be that as it may, the day was on the calendar so I had to do something.  Oh.  I have to plan an afternoon (only 2 hours were officially designated for PD as the morning was dedicated to National Testing Day) that is meaningful and valued by all departments?  Really?  O.K.  Time to implement some of those "Best Practices" that I have been hearing about and talking about with my Twitter PLN.  This blog is my chance to reflect on how the day was organized and start to plan for any changes that should be implemented before our next PD day (that one is in the Spring).

Step 1: Information Gathering  My thoughts, very early on, were that 2 hours were in no way sufficient to bring in some outstanding presenter that could facilitate a conversation on CCSS or cool apps or best practices for BYOD.  In addition, all of the data out there now suggests that this format is a colossal waste of resources--both financial and time.  So, what to do?  Well, I began by posing to my Curriculum Council (made up of department and program area heads) the idea of each department/area having the chance to shape the 2 hours themselves.  WHAT?!?!  We get to choose what is most useful to use?  Seriously?  I then created a Google Doc that was shared with the group and they all input what their department was going to use the 2 hours for.

Step 2: The Day The day arrived and with rare exception, every person, every department, every individual who interfaces with the students either in the classroom or through a program area was engaged in an activity that fit their needs.  Some examples of what happened: the Math Department turned to two experts among their own ranks and worked on creating a Google Form for class surveys and learning how to use Geometers Sketchpad that has applications at all levels.  The VPA Department worked with our Webmaster to plan an update to their web page.  The Science Department worked in small groups based on content to discuss pacing, planning, and appropriate technology incorporation. The Social Science Department spent time discussing the teaching of historiography and are going to attend a lecture on the subject later this year.  The English Department reviewed all of their texts to determine the functionality and purpose as well as had a serious discussion about the overall goals of the curriculum moving forward to determine which books stayed and which ones would be replaced.

There were lots of other things going on, I just wanted to highlight some to help you see that there was a lot of great stuff happening on campus that NEVER would have been possible if I had mandated everyone appear for a 2 hour training session on some fairly generic topic.

Step 3: The Follow-Up This is happening in a few ways.  First, everyone had to submit an Exit Ticket.  This Exit Ticket is going into their file and when we meet at the end of the year to review their year, this will be part of our conversation.

The Second piece of follow-up was a survey that I asked everyone to complete.  As I write this, about 50% of the faculty/staff have submitted their responses and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive so I count that as a "Win".

However, there is always room to improve and that is why I opted to blog about this experience. So, what have I learned from this go-around that I will build on moving forward?  The answer is quite a bit!

1. I provided lunch for everyone and that was huge so food stays.

2. A couple of people felt that I did not communicate clearly about the expectations.  In retrospect, I didn't because I communicated directly with Department Chairs and expected that they were communicating with their members.  Next time, I will clearly communicate the same message to everyone and not rely on a "middle man (or woman)".

3. Even with sending out the Exit Ticket in advance to allow departments to plan appropriately for their time, some areas did not engage in what I would consider appropriate and meaningful PD.  This is always a risk, I have now learned.  My problem is that I assumed everyone would be professional about this and pursue appropriate activities.  Thus, the next time it is their choice, I will provide guidelines for what is and is not appropriate for the time period and then follow-up with those areas that still don't seem to have the idea of what they are to be doing.  The fact that I will be sitting down with everyone in the Spring and revisiting this as part of our discussion may or may not help to set the tone for next year.

4. Someone made a great suggestion of having some sort of "closure" to the day.  Now, I am not quite sure how I would do this as several people were off campus.  However, I think there is value in that suggestions and so I am going to figure out a way to either bring closure to the day or allow everyone to share out shortly after the event . For example, perhaps we schedule the faculty meeting the next day and time is allotted for everyone to report out.  There is not only value, but great energy and excitement, in hearing what your colleagues are working on.

5. There were several people who felt there was more value in a group activity for PD rather than having an individualized approach.  Yes, there can be value in bringing everyone together to hear the same message on certain topics.  However, the majority of respondents preferred the individualized option.  Thus, I will consider looking at some sort of hybrid next time.  But that comes with a caveat (or two): first, a large group activity would only happen if we have a full day of PD scheduled.  Secondly, the group would be no more than 1 hour and would focus on mission and overall school goals.  Now, the second point might change but for now, that is the only focus I can see as being appropriate for teachers, counselors and program areas to all hear.

If you have pursued an more individualized approach to PD, I would love to hear your thoughts on how I structured our day as well as any ideas you have gleaned from your past experiences.  Meaningful PD is one of the most important gifts I can give my faculty.  I will continue to search for the right balance to ensure that everyone comes away feeling that they benefitted and will be better able to practice their craft as a result.  Because as you and I know, when the adults on a campus feel empowered and confident about what they do, the students have a better experience.  And that is an outcome that we can all agree on.

So hold the pickles, hold the lettuce...and have it your way!
















Photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Burger_King_Whopper_Combo.jpg

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