Well, another school year has come to an end. Although the fatigue I face at the end of a school year is still palpable, I must say I ended the year with a positive feeling - one of satisfaction and optimism.
Though certainly a practice that is questionable with regard to effectiveness and sense, we hold 2 professional in-service days at the end of the school year. These days are for any teachers who have not acquired 12 hours of professional development throughout the school year. The sessions are limited in scope due to the small number of people who are able to ‘teach’ and the uncertainty of how many teachers will have to participate. As an administrator, I volunteered to conduct two sessions on the first day - each 3 hours in length.
The first session was with a small group (10) of teachers from my own building. The purpose of the session was to help in developing a stronger working knowledge of backward design and unit development. Although I had some angst in preparing materials for the session - ever mindful of the dubious value of ‘professional development’ as it is generally done - we ended up going a bit past the 3 hour mark and realizing time to discuss, dialog, and make sense and meaning out of some of the work we are doing in the district was valuable to all of us and exactly what we need more of in order to design units that are of high quality and well-connected from one grade to the next and across various subject areas. Perhaps even more importantly, the time to have open, honest discussions about educational issues allowed us time to share and listen to each others’ perspectives and thoughts - and would ultimately allow us to develop the types of relationships needed to be a real community of learners.
The afternoon session - which I was fearing even more - was with a group of 14 high school teachers. The topic - formative assessment. Once again - the time went quickly and the opportunity arose to have some genuine, honest discussion about the real challenges facing the high school teachers. You would think in a district where 95% of the students continue their education beyond high school - most in a 4 year college or university; and where resources and interest in education are plentiful - the challenges would be minimal. And although the challenges are clearly not what one would see in urban or rural areas - the challenges still do exist - and still do prevent the dedicated, conscientious teacher who truly wants to provide the very best education they can to each and every student from doing many of the things they know and understand to be beneficial. So, this group of teachers - who self-admittedly knew very little about what was meant by the process of formative assessment and how using formative assessment in planned and purposeful ways - remained engaged in the presentation and the discussion. And once again, the opportunity arose for dialog and discussion about how to overcome the lack of motivation, the obsession with “THE GRADE,” rather than the LEARNING; how to change the culture; how to manage when you had 150 - 175 students on your rosters; and how to find time to work together to face these issues.
At the end of both sessions, I thanked the participants because I had truly enjoyed the chance to be with them. I was tired and a bit hoarse (it has been a few years since I had " taught” for 6 hours in one day!), yet I was more relaxed than I have been in quite awhile. The openness and the willingness of those teachers who were there on the last day before the summer vacation to be part of a shared learning experience was wonderful. But even more importantly, I realized that structuring ‘professional development’ time as opportunities for dialog, discussions, and exchanging ideas, beliefs, and challenges creates the kind of positive atmosphere that is needed and wanted by the vast majority of teachers - professional educators who work unbelievably hard throughout the school year to do the very best every day for every child. Anyone who believes that teachers are less than “professional” because they only work 9 months a year should spend an sunny day in a 3 hour session at then end of 185 days of work with 100 - 175 kids from age 11 to 18 with a group of them- and listen to the passion, care, and desire to learn more in order to do more. I am so grateful I had the chance to bring the school year to a close in that fashion!
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