Personalized Learning

One goal that I have been focusing on lately is the types of professional development opportunities that are being offered to staff members. To be blunt, my methods need an overhaul, so I have been reading, researching, discussing with colleagues and implementing new ideas often. Some work well, some are a complete and utter bust and most are middle of the road. The one missing piece is a lack of personalized learning for teachers that makes sense for them and that meets our needs as a learning community.

Traditionally, teachers in our division complete an online Professional Growth form, indicating their goals, the strategies that they will put in place to achieve their goals and the resources necessary to do so for that school year. Generally, the individual goals align with the school plan to some degree, although they tend to be generic. In most cases, these forms are reviewed with an administrator (that being me)…and then shelved for the remainder of the school year as another task to be checked off the ‘to-do’ list. I have even had one teacher submit exactly the same professional growth plan as she had two years earlier, as she thought that by recycling her ideas, there was a good chance that I wouldn’t notice that there really wasn’t much growth going on!

This process of determining our pathway annually for professional development isn’t achieving what it had been intended to do, as the accountability piece isn’t there nor is there much opportunity for reflection nor coaching. So moving forward, I would rethink this process and my role in it as well.

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Although I thought that I offered voice and choice when it came to personal learning paths, I can be doing a much better job of this. To get there, Katie’s Personalized Professional Learning Cycle makes sense to me. I have been having conversations recently about the first step in the cycle, Vision, and although I know what my vision is for my staff, as I mentioned in my last blog, I can’t say that my staff can say the same. Yes, we have collaborated to develop a school plan with goals, which in hindsight seem to be more of a philosophy than actual goals. And yes, teachers then develop their professional goals based on our school goals. But at no time are these tied to our vision (or lack thereof).

Vision. So, my first step would be to review the vision that has been in place for what seems like a century to determine whether this still fits our school community. This is a step that I have missed, as we have traditionally moved straight into developing our goals each year for our school plan. As such, there isn’t much alignment going on, and although my intentions have been good, I might have missed the mark…which is frustrating!

Goal Setting. The next step would be to determine our school learning goals, both for the school community and individually. What I like about what is being done currently in our school division is that class and school profiles are developed, using a strength-based UDL model. This makes it easier to determine where our areas of focus need to be in order to support all students. In our case, literacy, social-emotional learning and engagement remain our focus, and although I love the direction that we’re taking, we need to ensure that emphasis on these areas aligns with our vision. Once we do that, we can develop school goals that are right for our community, which in turn will support our teachers as they develop their goals based on their students’ needs and their interests.

Professional Learning Design. Although I’ve tried to offer a variety of professional development opportunities for my colleagues, I think that coming up with ideas to support them would make much more sense if we’re personalizing them based on their own learning goals. We have offered copious workshops, unconferences and opportunities for collaboration based on school goals, which have worked for the most part. But one step that is missing is their relevance to the teachers, based on their learning styles and interests. Discussions with the team prior to developing these experiences would be more helpful.

Lesson Design and Models of Practice. We have done alot to provide teachers with opportunities to see lessons in action. Our professional development budget is spent allowing teachers to observe their colleagues in action, within our school division and elsewhere. Most recently, teachers have experienced the Optimal Learning Model, STEAM rooms, project-based and passion-based learning, socratic seminars and student-led classrooms by observing their colleagues. They are also given time to collaborate with each other to develop their ideas, which is also covered by our PD budget. At the same time, we have started Pineapple Charts, which need room to grow and become part of our learning culture. And they are all part of a Professional Learning Network, based on their interests and focus for the year. I think that for the most part, I’m doing this step in the cycle very well.

Safe Practice. I think that by collaborating in their PLNs, taking part in the Pineapple Chart and being given the opportunities to observe their colleagues in their classrooms and then reflecting on their learning is allowing our colleagues the space that they need to take risks and feel comfortable in their growth as teachers. At the same time, when I am open about my own mistakes, they tend to be less threatened, particularly when they understand that I am not looking for perfection…just an openness to getting better at what we do.

Coaching and Feedback. I need to work on this. In the past, I have met with teachers to review their growth plan in the Fall, and have offered my assistance to help them meet their goals. Then we go about our business until closer to the end of the year, when I meet with them again to review their progress. Instead, I need to be setting regular meetings with them to support them and to discuss their learning. This could be a meeting, observations, collaboration with experts…there are many possibilities. But it should be ongoing, rather than leaving it until the end of the school year ony to check something off on the to-do list.

Reflection and Revision. If I’m doing my job as a coach, there should be time for teachers to reflect on their practice and to look at ways to improve their practice. They are more likely to be open to this if I have created a safe place for them to do so. But it should definitely be a part of the work that they do to improve their practice. So, I’ll need to work on my role as a coach to ensure that this happens for them.

Analyze the Impact and Develop Next Steps. When developing school goals, we should also be indicating what tools we will be using to determine our progress. These indicators will help us to decide if we are on the right track, and when we need to revise and iterate an idea. This will also provide a clearer path as to next steps. I need to be more diligent in ensuring that we are in fact making use of the tools that act as our indicators for progress, rather than simply filling in the blanks on the online form.

Share and Celebrate Growth. Having revamped our monthly staff meetings, teachers are given a chance to share their learning with their colleagues. Teachers also write articles for our webpage to celebrate their students’ progress and we tweet out at every possible moment what is happening in our classrooms. At the same time, at each Parent Advisory Committee meeting, there is at least one staff member who is sharing what is happening in their classroom or in the school. We also have gallery walks where students present their work to the community. Last year, students were involved in presenting a Museum of Caring, and a celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary as it pertained to reconciliation and Treaty Education. Powerful stuff! Tomorrow night, students are presenting a fashion show, ‘a la recycled runway’, with clothing designed from recycled materials as part of their sustainability school-wide project. So this, I think we do well!

I’ve got some work to do, but I have a great team and together, I know we’ll get there!

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