Amy's Whimsical Musings
What if “professional development” became
I am tempted to begin this short but nonetheless inspired post with an opening line nicked from one of my favourite YouTube channels, the PBS Idea Channel…
Here’s an idea to remix professional development or at least those “pre-school meetings” we all attend or even weekly faculty meetings (btw isn’t “meeting” crying out for a euphemistic alternative word?) into something more refreshing, engaging, and imho, worthwhile.
I got the idea after the hour-long welcome-back-to-school-our-dearest-faculty meeting just the other day, when a teacher I admire and respect, but really never have the time to talk to, invited me into her classroom for an impromptu tour.
Her name is Marcia Huber, and she’s an outstanding Middle School Language / Literature teacher. I’m probably not the first to acknowledge Middle School teachers as veritable saints, but that’s another story. I respect her for her creativity and wisdom, but even more for the fact she is willing- no, hungry – to try out new things despite the fact she’s a – well, ahem – seasoned professional in the classroom.
But the point I’d like to make is that I learned so much from her in that 30 minute span than I could have with hours of research on Twitter – my favourite go-to tool for PD. Moreover, I was able to help her in fleshing out some project ideas. And- because this is how combinatorial creativity works – the vibe we experience just talking shop in a a creative, open environment inspired us to devise new plans and pedagogical approaches for both our classes (I teach High School Seniors and Juniors). For example, we thought of Lego poetry and having the students partake in a Lego poetry factory to make the pieces, and she is going to set up a center for my @serendipidoodle project combining vocabulary with metaphorical and visual thinking.
Marcia’s “grassy knoll” space- her entire 7th grade room is set up as centers – she will be a center, too! But the ambassador of the class is going to get to sit at her desk.
I loved this New York backdrop Marcia procured from an old high school dance. She’s ditched the desks and gathered a hodge-podge of home-y table and chairs.
Marcia and her Keurig coffee maker- students bring in coffee pellets, tea, and their own mugs to further the cafe feel (see my Edutopia post on this structure: Left Bank Learning).
I work with some lovely Aussies, so this concept of a walkabout really strikes me.
What if we were able to visit other divisions and departments and do a little ethnography?
What if teachers could give tours of their classrooms, sharing examples of student work, discussing the learning spaces and their pedagogy?
What if we participated in some cool activity, just like we were students in their classes?
What if the “host” teacher had some specific issues, problems, or questions they could crowdsource answers to? *For example, Marcia had some fabulous student work – posters on social justice issues- that could be successfully digitized and promoted if only they were made into a film and amplified on Twitter. It could even morph into an interactive project / movement, I thought…and now I’ve volunteered to help make that happen for her, as well as get High School music students to compose an original evocative soundtrack.
What if we were able to give formal feedback such as a Wow! How? Now… strategy? I thought up the latter while at BLC (Alan November’s annual and stellar Building Learning Communities conference in Boston). It was a reflection question I asked of the participants in my sessions on Vlogging, Creativity, and New Literacies. The idea is to compliment / give a shout out or express an A-Ha moment with a WOW! Then pose a query with a HOW? Finally, the “NOW” becomes either a personal challenge (what will I do now that I’ve been inspired by this?) or a suggestion/ constructive criticism (now I think you should consider this because…).
I realize that learning is learning..and it’s ageless. We all want to inquire, experiment, play! Unfortunately, opportunities for those seem to taper off as the years progress, so I feel that as a teacher of 16-18 year olds, I need to be revitalized by teachers of younger students. I’ll never forget walking into my daughter’s First Grade classroom, seeing a “Wonder Wall” (which I adopted) and a beach ball filled with question prompts (how fun is that?). The point is I think the more we immerse ourselves in the unexpected – like visiting different grade levels or subject areas – the more we benefit and can see possibilities for our own “classroom worlds”.
If you like this idea, try it out informally at first. Blog about what you learned – what are your biggest takeaways? Perhaps schedule a lunchtime where you organize a potluck in one teacher’s room and that teacher (the “host”) also prepares an activity (sign me up for the art room!).
If you REALLY like this idea propose it to your administration. It can be organized as a day event, with a round-robin schedule, or even a once a month meeting substitute. In my first school at the wee age of 20, the Headmaster organized weekly meetings in a different classroom each week, and those teachers were also responsible for snacks and a mini-tour.
Offer up a drop in-pop in- stop in invitation on a certain day. Think Lucy of The Peanuts: “The Doctor is IN” sign. Maybe you have some fabulous things to share, or perhaps a burning question you’d like to ask peers. Remember that everyone has unique talents – whether it be classroom management, tech integration, creative curriculum, etc. You should make yourself aware of who on your faculty can bring what to the table….perhaps extend this to students as well. I often ask my students for assistance in lesson development or project logistics.
If you’ve ever read my blog posts, you will know that a HUGE passion of mine is radical transparency in education. This proposal is part of that, but it necessitates the sharing of whatever learning takes place. Perhaps create a wiki for the teachers, or a G+ community where great ideas are shared openly and enthusiastically. Encourage teachers to write blog posts, follow each others’ blogs, and tweet out ideas. We can’t live in a bubble, and I suppose that is the whole raison d’être to this post.
*special note: because many of PLN friends live in different states, countries, I think this could be done virtually as well – why not consider making a video tour of your classroom and student projects…then ask a question for others to chime in on. Again, hashtag it:
Just got word from @LindsayRaeED that they did this at their back to school meetings with this form:
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