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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Give Teachers Agency to Create Their Own Professional Development and See Engagement Grow

Task-driven faculty meetings were transformed into knowledge-building venues
By Haley Beavert — March 20, 2023 5 min read
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We know what COVID did to the world beginning in March 2020. Schooling went remote, and everyone scrambled with ideas on how to move it forward. None of us ever dreamed that face-to-face learning would not resume until the following August when the start of school would roll around again. Nor did we ever imagine that starting school again would be as uncertain or as scary for some as it was. Educators were scared, parents were scared, and students were scared. However, the scared emotions that lingered were backed up by the sense of relief felt by getting back to the “norm.”

For my school, classroom teachers were implementing a new curriculum while also having to learn the use of technology in myriad ways. As an administrator, I found myself constantly brainstorming ways to provide support to our staff while also trying to stay afloat myself. The challenge of providing the support that my staff needed became increasingly more difficult. Frustrations were rising, teachers were burning out quickly, and we were only two weeks into what seemed like the most challenging school year yet.

After those challenging two weeks, I found myself spending a Friday night in solitude in my office. That particular day, there had been many tears shed by all staff. The proverbial stress dump truck had been dropped onto my faculty.

How could I help alleviate the stress?

Not only were they being asked to implement a new curriculum, but they were also being expected to use another form of technology to teach and communicate. I soon realized that more training was needed in order for them to feel more confident in performing their “new reality” day jobs.

But how and when would that training be delivered?

The school day was already packed with the constant pressure that all educators felt to “close the learning” gap that the pandemic had left. That Friday evening is when the idea of optional after-school training Feed your Brain was born.

How Do We Get Buy-In?

Since this idea of Feed Your Brain would involve potentially adding training to their monthly calendar, I decided to cancel monthly faculty meetings. In the past, faculty meetings had been scheduled to check a box off an administrator’s list of “must do” items. Most staff dreaded staying for meetings where information that was given could have easily been delivered in an email and rarely involved any pressing information, much less anything learned.

Once the concept of Feed your Brain was presented to the staff, they quickly jumped on the opportunity of trading mandatory faculty meetings for OPTIONAL learning opportunities! Although I did not realize it at the time, I would eventually discover that this could be an example of de-implementation.

I knew that the first Feed your Brain needed to be something that would lure my staff into buying into this idea even more than they had already bought into it. I chose to make the first Feed your Brain topic all about Google Classroom. Google Classroom was the platform that had been suggested in order to provide not only virtual students their instruction, but it was also in place in the event that we were to pivot once again to a schoolwide shutdown. The majority of my staff were not familiar with the ins and outs of Google Classroom. This had overwhelmingly been the biggest topic of discussion among not only the staff but also our students and parents.

That night I sent out an email advertising the topic of this learning opportunity and I asked for anyone who felt confident in Google Classroom to step up and be willing to lead this training. Within a matter of minutes, I had a teacher reply. She volunteered to lead the training and show the group ways that she had successfully been able to implement Google Classroom. From there, the planning began.

I set the event date, planned out the snack that would be provided, and advertised the event as something for the staff to look forward to. When the day came, I had over 20 out of 33 staff members attend. The teacher presenter led the training, showed examples of things that she had done, gave tips on setting up Google Classroom, and allowed work time for the teachers to actually work on their Google Classroom as a group. When the first Feed your Brain was over, the teachers left feeling much more confident and comfortable with the digital platform.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

Since the very first session, the Feed your Brain concept has continued to be very popular, and we are currently still implementing it. There has been a session scheduled almost every month since the original session. I fully expected the numbers of staff interested in these sessions to diminish over time. However, surprisingly enough, the number of participants has remained strong.

As soon as my staff began feeling more confident, and stress was subsiding, I began throwing in fun Feed your Brains as well. We have enjoyed a painting session, a crafting session, and going out to eat together. These were not only crowd favorites, but they also helped to strengthen our school culture.

With the COVID restrictions diminishing over the last few years, the Feed your Brain process has morphed. Last year, we formed a committee in order to delegate the planning of the Feed your Brain events. This committee is responsible for sending out monthly invitations and doing the legwork for each of the monthly meetings. They also sent out surveys in order to gather topic suggestions from the staff each month. This has lent itself to staff empowerment, resulting in increased leadership roles.

Each month’s Feed your Brain sessions remain completely optional, and staff only attend if the topic appeals to them. Once the committee gathers a list of topics, they begin searching for a “guru” in each topic area. Snacks are provided, and learning then becomes their own! This year, the committee decided to open up our sessions to all other schools in our district. We have now had three sessions where other schools took part in the learning as well. One of the middle schools in town has even begun doing their own sessions centered around topics related to their needs. The idea is definitely spreading!

In the End

Looking back over the last three years, it is very apparent that COVID played a role in many changes involving public education. Some of the changes have proved to be challenging, such as student attendance, work ethic of students, increased stress level of teachers, etc.; however, some changes have proved to be beneficial, which has taught us that just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial. I truly believe that the Feed your Brain concept is one of those beneficial changes. I look forward to seeing how this concept continues to grow.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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