Personalized Professional Learning

As we shift schooling back to the student, with differentiated instruction and project-based learning, it makes sense that we follow the same trend with professional development for teachers–self-directed, highly relevant, differentiated learning opportunities.  Now, for some people and districts, personalized professional learning means a tech-heavy approach: everyone selects the online courses and trainings they want, and completes them independently on their own time.  Sure, that can be extremely differentiated, and choice-based, but…is it high-leverage?  Does that learning stick, does it get implemented in the classroom, and result in positive outcomes for student learning? How do we know?

Luckily, my district understands that while tech-rich trainings can be valuable, and offer more flexibility for busy adult learners, the crux of powerful professional learning lies in collaboration with colleagues.  We believe that when learning is done collaboratively with teammates, there is a much higher rate of return when it comes to teacher satisfaction, classroom implementation, and impact on student learning.  That’s why, in our professional development offerings, it’s possible that you’ll find an online course–but if you sign up for it, you are placed into a cohort of colleagues that meets regularly to discuss, share, and reflect upon the online content!

All of this was a very long intro to my favorite day of personalized professional learning.  Last week, about 1,000 educators came to the high school for our professional day, #lexlearns16.  The day has an opening convocation, followed by two breakout sessions, lunch, then a third breakout session.  During each breakout session, educators had the choice of attending between 45-48 different sessions, for a total of 138 sessions facilitated entirely by our own faculty.  Two hundred eight facilitators.  It was AMAZING.  There were sessions on: mindfulness, productive struggle, quality questioning, Hamilton, #BLM, robotics, writing fiction, diversity in literature, using SMART technology, supporting transgender students, badminton, homework, playing a string instrument, standards-based grading, math problem-solving, integrated performance assessments, Google Classroom, the list goes on and on.  The expertise we have in our own district is awe-inspiring.  For much of the day, I was busy behind-the-scenes, but during the third breakout session, I took a moment and just walked the second floor of the main building, where classroom after classroom was filled with educators engaged in learning from one another about a variety of topics, and it was truly powerful.

Of course, the day had some glitches!  Registration for one thousand educators into 138 sessions is tricky.  Registration opened at 5:00 p.m. on a Monday, and by 5:30 all five mindfulness courses were full.  Many other “hot” classes filled up quickly as well, and we ended up with educators not being able to take their first, or second, or third choices because the classes were capped and closed.  That certainly makes the day less relevant and enjoyable  for some people.  In addition, facilitating a session takes time for preparation and planning–teachers and staff volunteer for this, and do this on their own time.  We know how busy teachers are, and it’s hard to ask them (beg them) to take on this one more thing on top of all they are already doing for their schools and students.  So there are certainly things to look at on the logistical side of this event, to keep improving.

But the feedback!

“What a gift to have a day to learn from each other.”  

“One of my favorite things is that we can come together across schools and across grade levels to discuss things that impact all of us and our students.”  

“The sessions that I attended energized me as a professional. They were outside of my specific teaching discipline, so they allowed me to gain a different perspective and nurture other interests.”

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A Hamilton flash mob, during the convocation.  To quote an audience member, who starts PD days like this??  We do! 

I have no doubt that this collaborative, teacher-driven model of professional learning is one of the most high-leverage models districts can engage in.  In addition, as coordinator of professional learning, I get to take the feedback from the day and start to think about how to continue the conversation through other avenues of professional development.  Can we turn a 75-minute session into a 1-credit course?  Can a #lexlearns16 discussion spin off into a book group? or a PLC?  Let’s try it!  I’m completely energized and excited to craft the professional learning opportunities that will enhance and deepen the learning initiated on this one day.  Personalized professional learning is absolutely the PD of the future, but we can’t think that means educators should learn and apply on their own, in a bubble.  Collaboration is key–we know this for our students, so it should be no surprise that we need it as adults, too!

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Trolls and Elections and Feminism

I got into an argument with a Facebook troll today.  I don’t know why I even started–I know it’s pointless, that these people are out there to get a reaction, not to engage in civilized discourse or learn something new.  But I got so infuriated by a set of comments, I couldn’t help myself, and before you know it, there I was: spending time crafting evidence-based, reasoned comments (with only a hint of jabbiness, I promise!), and getting back insults in reply.

The backstory: A professor at the college I attended was filmed making comments before class encouraging students to “vote for someone who thinks women are full and capable and responsible and intelligent beings,” to vote for “somebody who respects the fact that this is a country built on immigrants,” to vote for the candidate who will “hold people together, not…pull people apart.”  The comments were made before class started, and the professor ended with a comment like, ok, enough from me, let’s get on to…

I don’t know if the student in class who filmed it is a Republican, or Democrat.  I don’t know why the video ended up in the media, as opposed to maybe the Academic Dean’s Office (where I would likely go, if I were offended by something that happened in class).  I learned, through following this news story, that it’s illegal to record someone without their consent in MA.  But I watched the video and thought, really?  This is a news story?  In campuses all over the country, students and professors are engaged in discourse and debate about this election.  In a best world, those conversations are rich in diversity, perspective, and experience.  In a best world, those conversations are safe, respectful, open, and learning-oriented.  In my four years at Mount Holyoke, I had countless conversations like this with peers and professors alike, in class, in the dining halls, on the green.  More voices were liberal than conservative, to be sure, but no voices were disrespectful, or silenced.

He shouldn’t have been using his podium to tell students who to vote for! critics argue.  Um, well…ok, but to get technical, he didn’t actually say any names.  And he was talking to a room full of adults, who have the ability to think critically and evaluate for bias.  When our environment is this saturated in political nastiness, the subject plays into every arena–even my fourth grade classroom.  When my students asked me, point-blank, who I would vote for, did I shout I’M WITH HER! from the desktops, and plaster the walls with Clinton/Kaine posters?  No.  But I couldn’t ignore the question, and did say that having been in my class, they were very familiar with my core values, and that I would have to vote for the candidate that shared those values.  I didn’t know how else I could answer that question, and still validate each of my students (half of them girls, and many of them immigrants, or children of immigrants), and their experiences.  When I attended Mount Holyoke, I absolutely looked up to my professors–they were brilliant, and I did care what they thought about the subjects they taught, and the world we live in.  But that doesn’t mean that I had to blindly accept and agree with whatever they said.

But that’s a digression.  I didn’t start writing this to defend the professor’s remarks, or whether he should have said them at all.  The response to it was what appalled me.  After conservative media picked up this story, Mount Holyoke’s Facebook page began to get bombarded by bad reviews.  In my quick, unscientific analysis, most of these “reviewers” were men, and most had no actual connection to MHC–never been there, never known a student from there.  Over 200 people came to write reviews, ranging from the “it’s inappropriate for a professor to try to sway students’ votes” to angry insults belittling our intelligence, our community, our career and earnings potential, LGBTQ students, international students, our (lack of) patriotism, our decisions to attend Mount Holyoke, our parents for allowing us to do so, our liberal and feminist “brainwashing” and so on, and so on.  This is where I got stuck in the troll battles.

I’m mad as hell about these personal attacks made against the college I call “MoHome” and the brilliant, amazing students, past and present.  But the MHC community has rallied to defend our Alma Mater, and that makes me feel a little better–the Facebook page is now being taken over by 5-star reviews from those of us who have attended MHC, sent our daughters or sisters there, or from allies who have been impacted by the existence of an institution for higher learning that provides a safe space for students to learn, reflect, and grow.  (If you’re at all inclined, feel free to leave your own review!).

I don’t know quite where I’m trying to go with this blog post.  I just think that no matter who you are voting for, civil, respectful discourse should be a baseline expectation.  I think before you attack something or someone (and why do we need to attack?  Question, sure, challenge, if you need to), make sure you’ve compiled the evidence from trustworthy sources (maybe harder to find these days, but not THAT hard).  Defining a college and all of its students from the soundbite of one professor is like characterizing the entire Republican party by its nominee.

Except…in this case, I think a class taught in a lecture hall filled with intelligent women, many of whom are POC, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and international students, who (as evidenced by the video recording) don’t all share the same beliefs, being encouraged by a feminist man to vote for the candidate who views them as human beings with equal rights, before getting to work learning high-level math, is a kind of perfect microcosm of MHC…I would not be the person I am today without my Mount Holyoke experience, and I would strongly encourage anyone who is college-bound, or knows someone who is college-bound, to check it out!

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Choosing Balance

I procrastinated for much of the afternoon.  Until I stopped procrastinating.

No, the project I had planned to do isn’t done.  In fact, I spread out all the pages and documents I would need, and they are still covering the couch and coffee table.  But I stopped procrastinating when I decided it was OK if I didn’t get that project done.  Instead, I ran an errand as a favor for my cousin.  Upon coming home, I pulled in the driveway the same time my neighbors were pulling into theirs.  I walked over to say hello, and as I got close, my neighbor said to his 3-year-old, “Jack, you’re going to get your wish!” To me, “He just said he wished you would come over and say hi.”  Jack came hurtling into the street (Thank goodness we live on a very quiet road!) to hug me, and my heart was full.  Then my neighbor invited me to go for a run with her, and I was terrified, because I haven’t run (or exercised at all, really) in several weeks, and I didn’t want to hold her back or have to stop.  But I said yes, and I made it almost three miles!

Last night I finished reading Beyond Measure.  The summary and implications of that book are deserving of its own blog post, but the long and short of it is: studies show there is no benefit to homework for elementary or middle school students.  For high school students, the benefits fade after two hours of homework.  Author Vicki Abeles points out that the school week (six hours a day, five days a week) of 35 hours is practically what we expect adults to work in a week, and then we add on sports, clubs, jobs, and homework–when do we expect our young people to sleep?  Socialize in unstructured settings?  Daydream, or go outside?  Abeles reminds us that if we are serious about prioritizing health and wellness in our children, we must model it ourselves.  And while I don’t have children of my own, that struck a chord in me.  How often do I tell myself I’m too busy to exercise/read/write/see friends/cook healthy meals?  And how often is this busyness I get caught in real, and how much of it do I construct?

So it’s 7:00 on Sunday, and my work project is not done.  But I exercised, and connected with friends in the process.  I think that makes me a little bit happier, a little bit healthier, and who knows?  That might help me get a good night’s sleep tonight, and be more focused at work tomorrow.  My workweek is going to be a busy one (here I go again with that busyness!), so I’ll do a bit more tonight to try to ease the way–no, I’m not going to tackle the project.  I will prep some healthy food, because I know I never come home from work with the urge to chop and cook vegetables (call Dominoes and have them chop those veggies and put them right on top of my pizza, is more like it).  I’ll pick up and put away around the house, finish folding the laundry, and pack my bags for tomorrow.  I’ll do my work during the hours I’m at work–which tomorrow will be from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, because of a late meeting.  So I think it’s fine that I didn’t work all weekend.  It’s not an emergency, I’m not missing any deadlines or falling short on any promises.  I’m choosing balance today.

How do YOU remember to choose balance?  What do you let go of, in order to prioritize health and wellness? Please share in the comments!

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Staying Connected

One of the challenges of my position is that I’m struggling to find ways to stay connected to the classroom.  My job is to support teachers through professional learning opportunities, but if I’m not ever in the position to be in classrooms, how will I know what’s needed?

In addition, because of my new role, I am learning so much about teaching and learning!  Through my access to professional learning courses and instructors and reading materials, PK-12, from my new subscriptions to the Marshall Memo, EdWeek, and Learning Forward, and as part of the new administrator induction program in the district, in just these few short weeks, I have become a much stronger teacher/leader.  I have so many new ideas to bring back to the classroom and school levels.

So I have been looking for ways to become more closely connected with the classroom.  I thought that new educators might be the place to start, and so I sat down with our new educator induction program and brainstormed what I might do to support new teachers.  In the spirit of #ObserveMe, learning walks, and peer feedback, we imagined that I could support educators by being a partner on learning walks, videotaping their instruction, providing non-evaluative observations and feedback around a target strategy, or simply being an extra pair of hands in the classroom when a teacher wants to take a risk and try something different.  I was so jazzed about all of this!  I could be such a good learning buddy!

In the conversation, one of the group asked how we would incentivize this.  I agreed–that makes sense.  This is really vulnerable work, and perhaps not many educators would opt in to this sort of thing.  But then, my colleague brought up something that actually had never crossed my mind.  Yea, teachers might feel a little more comfortable doing this with a peer, but they might not be so ready to have the “Coordinator of Professional Learning” dropping in and observing. 

Oh.  Right.

I’m not just your friendly teacher down the hall ready to engage in some reciprocal feedback.  I have a new fancy title, and an office down the hall from the superintendent.  And while I know I’m small potatoes, and I know my intention lies solely in improving our craft, that’s perhaps not the perception others have of me.  So what now?  How do I craft relationships with educators across 10 schools, so that they know my core values, and want to engage in really sticky, important work with me?  Please share!

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Finding my bearings

I’ve been at my new job in Central Office for about two months now, and I have learned so much!  In the beginning, things were pretty slow–it was still summer, people were on vacation.  Also, I didn’t really know what my job entailed; I would do the few things I knew to do, and then find myself in a lull.  But then a project came along, and I worked busily on that; after the project, the school year started and a more steady stream of responsibilities came my way.  These last two weeks, though, have really shown me the new pace of things!  I have been engaged and challenged in so many different arenas–bouncing from my first school committee meeting, to a professional learning class with 60 administrators from the district, to a brief planning meeting with the superintendent, to a collaboration session with administrators from nearby districts.  Finding time to get the “work” done has been difficult, but I find that this new reality often mirrors the teaching schedule that I was missing.

One of the hardest parts of settling into this position was realizing how much time I would spend sitting at my desk, staring at the computer.  This was especially salient for maybe weeks 2-5–week one was spent in awe, and in setting up my office and new systems for work.  And then week two, I settled in at my desk to start the work.  It felt like I didn’t leave that desk the whole week.  That continued for the next few weeks, and I started to panic.  When you’re a teacher, you really don’t sit down.  The entire day is what I imagine an improv comedian’s Friday night to be: you’re on the stage, you’ve got to be flexible and creative and when things get funny, you just have to go with it.  Add to that a classroom on the third floor, and you’re doing at least 5 serious stair climbs a day (arrival, dismissal, lunch, recess, specials, etc.).  My colleagues told me it would get better, that soon I’d be having meetings that got me out of the office, I’d be visiting other schools, I wouldn’t feel so sedentary, and isolated.  And they were right!  But for those few weeks, I was really nervous about what I had gotten myself into.

So, PHEW!  I’m past that now.  And the structure of my days feels a lot more familiar and comfortable to me.  While I’m not teaching a class of students, I am constantly on-the-go, having to adjust to different groups of people and situations.  I have to be “on” all the time, ready to engage in conversations around a huge variety of topics, with incredibly intelligent people (and bonus! In the beginning, imposter syndrome was coming on strong, but this week, I realized that the person sitting in those meetings saying intelligent things was ME!  And that I belonged there!).  I am learning a ton about adult learning, which actually isn’t a whole lot different from kid learning, so that informs my work.  Finally, I’m accumulating “firsts” in this position so quickly, I hardly have time to be nervous about them!  And of course, they are no longer firsts, and I’ve now gained some perspective on that experience.

Looking back, I’m not sure this blog post has a coherent thread.  I started writing, not really knowing what my end game was, and here we are.  I guess this writing is really a celebration.  Changing jobs is HARD, and adjusting takes time, and there are a whole lot of feelings and identity conversations wrapped up in that.  So here I am, celebrating having gotten to this point, feeling more in love with this work than ever and excited and inspired to continue moving forward.  Hooray!

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Stages of a New Job

These last 3 weeks have been a whirlwind!  My husband and I returned home from our amazing vacation to Hungary and Croatia, and the very next day I started my new job as the K-12 Coordinator of Professional Learning for my school district. And I forgot what it feels like to start a new position!  Some of the thoughts and feelings I’ve been experiencing, in no particular order:

It’s exhausting.  I. Am. So. Tired.  All of the time!  Even the first few days, or weeks, where I didn’t have a ton of “work” to do during the day, and could arrive by 8:00 and leave at 4:30.  I come home and absolutely crash!  I’m trying to get ahead on the cleaning and meal planning on the weekends, because goodness knows if I leave it to a weeknight, it will not get done.  I sit on the couch and watch the Olympics before falling asleep at embarrassingly early times.  When will this stage pass??

I feel stupid most of the time.  I know I’m not stupid.  I know nobody in my office thinks I’m stupid.  But when I’m sorting through my emails, and can’t answer a single question being asked of me–I feel stupid.  I’m tired of having to take every little thing to someone else to learn the answer; I worry that they’ll get tired of my constant questions.  I guess this is probably a normal stage, and I’m sure I went through it the last time I started a new position.  But I’m ready to move on to the stage where I know everything all the time.

And related to the above, Who was crazy enough to think I was qualified for this?  Total imposter syndrome, as I sit in my office, with my big desk and two (!) windows.  I’d better figure this all out before they catch on to me!

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My office, with flowers from my parents.  Heart them. 

People are wonderful.  This one is specific to this particular job, perhaps.  The colleagues I’ve inherited with this position are the nicest, most thoughtful, easygoing people you could ever hope to work with.  As I am desperately trying to show them I can do this job, they are working hard to make sure I feel supported and happy in my new work home.  They genuinely want me to succeed and love this work–which is about the most wonderful thing in the world.  When I go into my spirals of worry over not being good enough, not learning fast enough, I know that I am the only person putting these expectations on myself.  I am really lucky to have such amazing colleagues!  And I suppose this category can include my husband and family and friends–a lot of people are really happy for me, and proud of me, and that knowledge truly just fills my heart and I am so grateful.

There’s a lot of joy in the little victories.  When you know nothing, and feel stupid all the time, the little wins feel huge!  I think of those authentic joyful reactions of students when they finally get something, or solve a puzzle, and I recognize that feeling in my own work these days.  I just set up a new page on the website, and it works!  I can answer a question without having to check with someone else!  I facilitated a meeting and we got stuff done!

What did I miss, in the stages of a new job?  Have you encountered these feelings?  Please share!

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I’ve Left the Classroom.

Just typing that title brought tears to my eyes.  Again.  I’ve cried countless times since making this decision.  But this is not one of those “I’m leaving teaching because I can’t take the (fill in the blank: testing, lack of respect, lack of resources, etc.).”  I’ve made the decision to leave the classroom because an opportunity came along to have an impact on educators on a larger scale.

I’ve known for awhile, and been working towards the reality, that I wanted to work in education leadership.  I love teaching, and I love my students, but starting back when I taught in an urban setting, I felt strongly that there were too many kids we weren’t reaching, and I wanted to change that.  I wanted the opportunity to make a difference for children beyond the 25 I taught every day.

So of course, being me, I made a plan.  I planned that I would teach, and then try to be an assistant principal, and then a principal.  And then, way down the line, after I had amassed all that experience, I would find a way to work with teachers.  I wanted to work with new and experienced teachers, providing mentoring, professional development, and support to keep teachers engaged, motivated, and continuously growing in their craft.  This would be the pinnacle of my career, moving the needle for all students by supporting their teachers to be their best!

And then, because life is life and whatever Supreme Being you believe in thinks my “plans” are ridiculous, an opportunity came up.  An opportunity to work with new and experienced teachers, providing mentoring, professional development, and support to keep teachers engaged, motivated, and continuously growing in their craft.  I would be crazy to let that go by–so I went for it.  And so here I am.

Last week I cleaned out my classroom.  I left with only one crate of files, and a few bins of personal things (my scissors, my fancy pens, my dance party CDs).  I left the rest for the new teacher; I’d like to think that my work over the last seven years might be useful for a new teacher, might save her a little time and stress as she’s just starting out.  I have an office now, in the Central Administration building–a bit far from students, and their teachers.  But as my boss pointed out, there are no chains in that office, I can be out in schools and classrooms as often as I like!  And this doesn’t mean that I’m done with teaching; there’s no rule that says I can’t go back.

While this is a bittersweet moment, and one I didn’t see coming, I’m trying to learn to let go of the plan–it’s never really worked for me anyways.  Wish me luck on this new adventure!

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