Saturday, November 28, 2015

5 models of PD that provide time and space for teachers to share and learn from each other

I have been really enjoying my second year as a Digital Learning Coach.  I have noticed some huge differences from Year 1 to Year 2:

1. I actually know a little more about what my job actually entails and how to be successful at it.  I've been through an entire coaching year and had a much better vision of where to start and where we are headed.  I'm still trying new things and tweaking a lot but don't have to fully experiment from scratch.  This allows me to focus less on figuring out how to do things and the flow of the year, and more on just co-planning great lessons and supporting these awesome teachers in effectively implementing the tool or strategy. 

2. Trust and relationships are completely foundational to the success of anyone in my position.  While I realized this last year, it has become so much more evident this year.  The openness of the teachers and their willingness to try new things and "jump in the game" seems to have increased drastically. The culture is shifting with regards to technology use and it's exciting.  I have had several teachers tell me that "they'll try anything I suggest to them", and that is a huge testament to the trust I have been able to build with them over the last year.  Teachers won't "jump in" if they don't trust what you are suggesting or offering.

3. I have been given much more time with the whole staff at staff meetings and PD days, which has allowed me to try out different models of "professional development".  This has allowed my "reach" to greatly expand from the 20 teachers I have worked with closely (9 last year, 11 this year that were "fellows") to the entire staff of 102 teachers.  As more teachers are trying new things and sharing with one another, more and more reluctant teachers are becoming willing to try out small things.  And while sometimes it seems like it's a "new tool" to learn, it's really about purposefully using the tools that are out there to have an impact on teaching and learning.  We want things that makes a teacher's work more efficient, teaching more effective, and learning more engaging.  It's an added bonus when students really enjoy it because they like using their technology.  I want each teacher to see themselves on a Technology Journey, with the focus not necessarily on where they are at now, but on continually growing and moving forward, improving their practice by purposefully using technological tools to improve and enhance teaching and learning.

There are five specific models of "professional development" I have implemented this year, all that serve different purposes yet have a common theme of teachers sharing and learning from each other.  Some are optional and outside the school day, whereas others are embedded within mandatory meeting or staff development time.

These are listed in the order that I began implementing them.  None of these ideas were my original creation - I learned a lot from my other DLC colleagues as well as from ISTE this past summer.

1. JOT Sessions

JOT stands for "Just One Thing" and these are 30 minute, after school workshops focused on a specific tool.  They are meant to be more instructional and don't allow for too much individual playtime within the 30 minutes.  I will usually talk about the tool and its purpose, show a little bit about it, and have the teachers participate as students while modeling the teacher end.  For certain tools there may be time for participants to log in as teachers and create something.

Last year, I offered JOT sessions every Tuesday with a different topic every week.  This year, I am picking one topic a month, and each month there is one JOT session and one PlayDate session (see #2 below).  This gives the staff a little more of a focus and common language behind new tools many are trying.  For example, this year I did Google Classroom in October and GoFormative in November.  Those are two tools that a lot of the staff is now familiar with and has played around with.

The JOT sessions are currently led by me.  I would love for these to be teacher-led, but it is difficult to ask a teacher to plan a session that is after school in addition to all their own work.  I usually get a variety of experience levels in JOT sessions though, so I maximize the experience of those there that have already tried it to provide insight and feedback for the newbies.

Because these are optional, I will get anywhere from 3-10 teachers in attendance.  I would love more, but since they are only offered one specific day after school, a lot of schedule conflicts get in the way.  I am brainstorming ways to increase attendance and will be asking for feedback from teachers in a survey going out this next week as I plan for 2nd semester.  Speaking of the survey, this is also the way where I will decide on topics for Feb-May, based on teacher experience and interest.  While I would love to have the whole semester planned out, I think it is more wise to see how things are going and what new things have spiked in interest over time.

2. PlayDates

I started PlayDates this year in partnership with my JOT sessions.  They are very loosely modeled after the real Playdate unconference style.  Simply put, it is a structured time for teachers to come together and "play" with a certain tool and have support and guidance as needed.

I have done PlayDates in two different ways.  First, as I already mentioned, there will be one PlayDate per month corresponding to the topic for the JOT session.  This will occur a week or two after the JOT session, and teachers are told to come to either one or both.  Some teachers just want the instruction, so they come to the JOT.  Some already know the basics, but still want to learn a little more, so they come to the PlayDate.  Others will come to both to learn and then to play.  It is a very low-key, low-stress environment.  I don't plan anything except a time and place for the teachers to come and try things out.

The second way I have offered PlayDates are on Teacher Work Days.  These are mandatory days for teachers but nothing formal can be planned - they are days for teachers just to work.   We have 1-2 of these a year.  I am still on campus those days and last year would open my calendar up for individual appointments.  Unfortunately, that means I can only work with 7-10 teachers throughout the day if I get booked up (which I did last year).  

So, this year, I put a schedule together of PlayDates for topics I knew most teachers would be working on.  I offered hour-long increments of time for them to come and "play" and ask questions about that specific tool.  This year, I did Google Drive (Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, Drawings), Google Classroom, and GoFormative.  Next year, I may add one that is just "open PlayDate" as well for the teachers who want to work on something else.  Even though everything this day was optional, I had around 20 teachers (20%) come for one or more of the PlayDates.

3. Mini-TeachMeets

I attended the TeachMeet at the ISTE Conference and really fell in love with this style of "unconference".  I'm not a huge EdCamp fan, as I do like learning from others in the "tell me what you do and why it's awesome" format without the pressure of "nobody is supposed to be running the show" that I get at EdCamps.  I don't think my site is quite ready for a full-on TeachMeet of 1-2 hours, varied sessions from 2 minutes to 7 minutes to 15/20 minutes.  However, I was given 10-15 minutes at a couple of staff meetings and decided to host "Mini-TeachMeets".   I chose three teachers (fellows or former fellows) and asked them to pick one thing they do in their classes with technology and put together a 2 minute schpeel on "What It Is" and "3 Reasons Why It's Awesome".  I put together a SlideDeck for the day that they added to.  For the staff meeting, I would introduce the teacher and then step off to the side to start the timer.  It was engaging, informative, and fast-paced.  It was exciting because the teachers (and audience) knew they only had 2 minutes to make their point.  Three teachers sharing is a "sweet spot" that I have found.

It's purpose was completely different than a JOT and PlayDate.  It's not meant to explain everything that the tool can do (I suppose if we did a full TeachMeet with longer session options, that could be a part of it).  It's just meant to pique interest, spark an idea, fan a flame, and hopefully convince teachers to try something new.

I should also mention that I was fairly intentional with the topics.  Google Classroom, Google Drive, GoFormative... do those sound familiar?  We also had some "random" ones like Class Dojo, Haiku, and Verso, but my goal was not to throw out 3 new tools for them to try every staff meeting.  Rather, I wanted them to see a few tools multiple times over the couple of months and hear about different ways that different teachers were using them, and different reasons why they were awesome to that teacher.

My goal is that every teacher get the chance to share at a Staff Meeting in TeachMeet style.  I have a roster and am marking teachers off each time, trying to balance teachers from different departments, males/females, and "old tools in new ways" with some fresh ideas.

You can see samples of the SlideDecks below.

4. Teacher-Led Choice Workshops

We had an afternoon of mandatory Staff Development in October, and I was given the privilege of planning the afternoon for the teachers.  We started off with two rounds of 3-teacher TeachMeets.  Then, teachers were able to choose from one of six workshops on Haiku, Google Drive Basics, Google Drive Forms / Drawings, Google Classroom, GoFormative, and Verso.  Every one of the topics had been talked about in at least one (if not more) TeachMeets over the last month.

What was unique about this is that I was able to get 12 teachers to co-lead each of these six workshops with another teacher who had used the tool in their classroom.  We found out about the structure of this day with only a week's notice, so I prepped the basic slide deck for them and "cheat sheet" for the participants, and then they could add screenshots or specific examples from their class.  It was absolutely amazing to walk in and out of the six rooms and see these 12 teachers take the lead and share best practices and new ideas with their colleagues.  What was even better is that the teachers all got to choose where they wanted to go, making it a meaningful experience.  The feedback we got at the end of the day was overwhelmingly positive, with several comments of "I wish there was time to choose two workshops".

On the feedback survey, I left a question for participants to write a note of gratitude for their presenter(s).  I then passed those on to the presenters.  I feel like that was an important part of the picture - teachers need to know that their time, energy, knowledge, and sharing is valued and appreciated.

5. Speed Geeking

My latest adventure was to try out "Speed Geeking", which is basically Speed Dating but focused on sharing best practices in using technology for teaching and learning.  I was given 30 minutes at a recent staff meeting and decided to not wear out the TeachMeet idea and try something new.  In addition, I wanted to provide a way for all teachers to share, not just the 3 or so teachers who volunteered for the TeachMeet.

I started the session by stating the three goals:
1. Value Risk Taking (I was taking a risk by trying something new with them, and they take risks every day in their classrooms when they try new things with technology).
2. Celebrate Your Awesomeness (we need to hear more often about the great things going on in other classrooms.  Even if you already know all about the tool or strategy being shared, today is an opportunity to celebrate your "date's" awesomeness in trying it out and finding success.)
3. Learn from each other (Hopefully at least one of the "dates" will spark an idea in your mind of something you want to learn more about or try in your classroom.)

I did a short write-up about the afternoon that summarizes this model well.

The November staff meeting at Beckman was a little different than normal.  Teachers geared up ready to “geek out” by participating in “Speed Geeking”, which can be described as rapid fire sharing and learning of best practices in technology in the style of Speed Dating.  Each teacher was asked to think of ONE tool or strategy they have tried where technology helped to make their work as a teacher more efficient, their lessons more effective, or student learning more engaging.  Two huge concentric circles were formed in the Commons and each teacher had one minute to share with their “Date” about their chosen tool or strategy before they switched roles and then rotated around the circle.  Teachers all had four “first dates” and were then asked to select one of the four tools / strategies to go on a “second date” with.  They had eight minutes to sit down at a table with their colleagues and laptops and start actually playing with the tool to learn more.  Teachers were engaged and highly involved in the activity - the energy in the room was loud and contagious!  At the end, teacher feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  One said, “I got several good ideas, one I can start using immediately.”  Another commented, “It was a great way to spend a staff meeting” and “Not only did we get some new ideas, but we got to talk to people we seldom see.”

My first attempt at Speed Geeking was far from perfect - trying something brand new with 100 teachers that requires full participation isn't easy.  However, it was amazing overall.  The teachers were engaged and involved in their "dates", and the only two pieces of constructive criticism for the future were to pick a better location that wasn't so loud (the room we chose echoed quite a bit making it hard for teachers to hear each other) and to give a little more time for the dates (they had one minute each to share).  The location is definitely something to change for next time - if the weather is nice maybe even doing it outside.  As far as the time goes, I think one minute each suits the purpose of this activity fairly well, although we could push it to 90 seconds.  The goal is not to explain everything about it, but, similarly to a TeachMeet, to pique the listener's interest enough to have them want to ask you more or explore more on their own during the round of "Second Dates".

A few other reflections and comments

  • A few teachers brought their laptops with them to show student samples during the dates, which I would recommend for teachers to do in the future. 
  • Some teachers ended up not sharing because one person took the whole 2 minutes.  Part of this was because they may not have heard me signal to switch, but sometimes they didn't feel they had anything to share after hearing from the first teacher.  While the focus of "speed geeking" is on sharing best practices in technology use for teaching and learning, I may open it up next time to just "best practices in teaching and learning" and challenge every teacher to share something awesome they are doing in their classroom, even if it doesn't involve technology.   Ideally, everyone would have something with technology at this point, but I don't want to alienate the few that are doing great things but are behind in adopting the technology. 
  • I did not have them "rotate one" each time, which ended up being a good thing.  They all had four dates, so I rotated once, then three spaces, then two, and then I think three again.  This made the teachers (who later told me) they lined up next to their friends end up speaking with teachers they normally wouldn't have.
  • I divided the teachers up into "A" and "B" (outer and inner circles) based on the handouts / notes page; however, they were not evenly distributed so this ended up not really working.  I'm not sure how to do this more efficiently without having them count off "A" and "B" around the table.  Definitely don't want to do that.
  • We had the tables set up in a big "U" for the round of Second Dates, but I did make them get up and stand for the First Dates.  I do think this was valuable because there is automatically a little more engagement and participation when you are on your feet and 1-2 feet away from the person rather than sitting all the way across a table and able to lean back or just join in other conversations.  This is where the loudness factor actually had a benefit, because teachers had to really focus to hear what their partner was saying.
You can see my slide deck as well as the handout I gave to all teachers below. 

In the Future...

I am planning on continuing all five of these models for the rest of this year.  I want to nurture the culture of "celebrating each other's awesomeness" and "learning from each other", and continue to increase the excitement around trying new tools and strategies that really make a difference in the classroom. 

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