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May 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 8

Tell Me About … / An Exciting Professional Learning Experience

Tell Me About … / An Exciting Professional Learning Experience- thumbnail

Learning from Students

During our school's half-day Collaboration Day, we offer choice sessions. Recently, students have offered several sessions on these days. The student-led sessions are always packed. Teachers eagerly soak in what the students have to share about such topics as technology use, technology engagement, and project-based learning. The learning does not stop at the sessions. Teachers have asked these students to collaborate with them on creating lessons. It's truly a rare experience. I am proud of our teachers and students who are willing to learn together and change roles to share leadership in learning.
—Carmen Buchanan, assistant principal of instruction and the arts, James Clemens High School, Madison, Alabama

Cross-School Learning Cohorts

Last year, our district used Wednesday afternoon early-release days for cross-school learning cohorts. Groups of up to six teachers collaborated to study a topic that would help them grow professionally. The idea was that each cohort of teachers would become expert in its topic so that the teachers could share their expertise with others. For example, one group chose to do an in-depth study of Number Talks; one chose to research and share iPad apps for students; and another chose to learn more about teacher leadership. At the end of the year, all cohorts participated in a learning fair at which they shared their learning through displays, handouts, and technology such as Google Apps for Education. It was a great self-directed learning experience.
—Sara Baranauskas, math specialist, Regional School District 6, Litchfield, Connecticut

Writing for Education Publications

The experience of writing for publication in professional journals has been the most useful professional development for me in recent years. By analyzing an experience, applying research, forming a thesis, and expressing what I learned in a way that might be useful to others, I have deepened my professional practice. In addition, I have identified more strongly with the community of educators, become more attentive to professional journals, and broadened my areas of interest. Writing is a way for educators to share our insights with the wider community.
—Ann Magyar, librarian, Catholic Memorial School, West Roxbury, Massachusetts

A Learning Lab

For several days, our school's literacy coach turned my classroom into a learning lab for Writing Workshop. She taught a minilesson to my class while 10 teachers observed. Then she modeled how to conference, and teachers paired up and conferenced with students. Afterward, a sub took over my class so we could all gather and discuss the lesson. It gave us an opportunity to see a master teacher in action, try it out ourselves, and then debrief with our colleagues and clarify any questions. It was practical and inspiring.
—Cristiana Jurgensen, teacher, Aramco Schools, Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia

A Visit to Finland

I visited Finland with about 50 Virginia educators last November, and it was an eye opener. We visited schools and spoke with Pasi Sahlberg and Andreas Schleicher. The consistent high scores of Finnish students on the PISA have created world interest in what Finland is doing. A trip to the University of Helsinki taught us about their teacher training, which is much more selective and rigorous than that in the United States. Trust is the one word that you hear most often there–trust between teachers and parents and between teachers and the government. We learned that teaching is a highly respected position in Finland, and that there is no mandated testing. We have now delivered presentations about our experience to our school system, local civic groups, members of our state education cabinet in Richmond, and the Virginia ASCD conference in Williamsburg.
–Forest Issac Jones, principal, Andrew Lewis Middle School, Salem, Virginia

Green Chemistry

An online graduate course on green chemistry that I took this past summer was some of the best professional development I've ever been involved in. Green chemistry, also called sustainable chemistry, encourages the design and use of products that generate fewer hazardous substances. It is based on 12 guiding principles, including atom economy, energy efficiency, and the use of catalysts. The idea originated in industry, but has now found its way into colleges and high school chemistry classrooms. Through this professional development, I gained access to many green chemistry teaching resources and was able to connect with other teachers in Michigan who are passionate about using this approach.
–Erika Fatura, science teacher, Pentwater Public Schools, Pentwater, Michigan

Snow Day Tele-Learning

When Georgia got unprecedented snowfall on Valentine's week, school was cancelled in advanced from Tuesday through Friday. Our district superintendent tasked teachers with turning Tuesday and Wednesday into do-it-yourself professional learning days. He gave us suggestions like posting flipped activities to our teacher web pages, e-mailing authentic tasks that could be completed by students at home, working collaboratively in Google Docs, or analyzing student data. Some of the teachers were using these digital tools for the first time, and my elearning support group received many emails and tweets for assistance, which continued beyond those two days. Our philosophy is to get teachers into digital tools before we expect them to use those tools with students, so this was great. When given time and a purpose, our teachers used digital tools well! Our superintendent pondered this might be "a catalyst that nudged our district to the next level of utilizing the numerous tools at our disposal."
–Penny Christensen, elearning specialist, Hall County Schools, Gainesville, Georgia


At Edcamp this past summer, I recognized the power of combining collaborative agenda building with personalized learning. This unconference was run by the attendees, who posted their diverse offerings on a shared agenda and invited those with common interests to join them for an inspiring learning experience. In four hours I learned how to use six instructional technologies and decided to follow up and learn more about Twitter, YouTube channels, and Zooburst. All this learning was delivered for free and shared by passionate and informed educators. It was far superior to the traditional one-size-fits-all or turn-and-talk professional development sessions.
–Laura Greenstein, teacher, Montville Public Schools, Oakdale, Connecticut

A Push to Build an Online PLN

Todd Whitaker's session at the National Association of Elementary School Principals Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, stood out because he urged the audience to join Twitter to connect with fellow educators. I took his advice that week, and my professional development has never been the same. I consider my PLN (Personal Learning Network) invaluable; I learn from amazing individuals all over the world. I have started my own blog on which I share my thoughts on education and leadership, and the process of writing blog posts has sparked a level of introspection that I never thought possible. By the way, Todd Whitaker, the man who inspired me, responds to tweets. Awesome!
–Jon Harper, vice principal, Dorchester County, Cambridge, Maryland

Collaborative Group Learning

In the last few years, I have tried to have all our professional development practice in collaborative groups. First, the teachers learn about a subject, and then we meet in collaborative groups where the teachers practice the skill and bounce ideas off of their partners. Often, they go to one another's classrooms and watch their team members in action. This kind of PD, no matter the subject, works best for us.
–Amy Joannes, director of general studies, Yeshiva Elementary School Milwaukee, Wisconsin

How the Brain Works

This year my district is offering a class called "Brain Changers" in partnership with a local university, based on the work of Daniel Amen and Jesse Payne. More than 150 of our staff members (and even some community members) are learning the basics of how their brains work as well as how to improve overall brain health and function, both personally and for their students. Even though this class is offered in the evening and has multiple sessions, it has been packed, and long after class participants are still talking with peers about how they are connecting their learning from the brain class to their work. It has been refreshing to see that amidst all the required professional development, there is still great enthusiasm for meaningful learning opportunities.
–Rachael Harms, professional development coordinator, Salem-Keizer Public Schools, Salem, Oregon

An Understanding of Poverty

This year's Differentiation Institute at the Region 13 Education Service Center in Austin, Texas, was an uplifting and empowering day of learning with Eric Jensen. Jensen's focus for the day was teaching with poverty in mind. His use of music, movement, practice, and other research-based brain-engaging methods created a powerful day of learning. This institute helped me better understand the issues of students living in poverty, provided me with practical ideas I can share with my teachers, and also gave me techniques to improve my own presentations.
–Nicole Shannon, coordinator, gifted/advanced academic services, Round Rock Independent School District, Round Rock, Texas

Taking Care of Ourselves

The best professional development rewards us for the things we know in our teacher hearts to be true. Adam Saenz of Texas A&M University recently held a Saturday-morning session that reminded the audience that the same things we do for our students we need to make sure we are doing for ourselves. When we take care of our physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial selves, we are much more capable of meeting the needs of our diverse student population. This will lead to the learning we desire.
–Kay Young, teacher, Mesquite Independent School District, Mesquite, Texas

Visiting an Outstanding School

I visited the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta last spring. The energy in that place was amazing and contagious! Ron and his co-founder, Kim Bearden, are inspirational leaders who walk the walk daily. They believe in their students and coworkers with such passion that observers can't help but get swept up too. Being immersed in that environment for one day was life-changing.
–Jennifer Ezell, teacher, Hall County School District, Gainesville, Georgia

A Teacher Leadership Team

Being involved with the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) is the most exciting professional development I've engaged in as a teacher. I am free to hypothesize and explore my own questions as well as those posed by my colleagues. I am surrounded by teacher researchers just as invested in teaching and learning as I am, and this collective investment is a powerful impetus for change in ourselves and our profession. I am motivated, knowing that I'm part of something bigger than myself, yet not overwhelmed, recognizing that my role in the TLI is based on mutual respect and common goals. I work with my team because I want to make a difference, and my contributions, whether or not they are perfectly formed, are valued and recognized.
–Deidra Gammill, teacher, Petal School District, Petal, Mississippi

Learning about Coaching

Jim Knight's Teaching-Learning-Coaching conference was memorable because I was able to take back everything I learned there and incorporate it into my practice.
–Michellea Millis, transformational learning specialist/consultant, Transforming Our Practice, Denver, Colorado

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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