Sunday, March 6, 2016

Innovation in Professional Development

A couple of weeks ago, at our school site professional development meeting, three of us got into a discussion about getting more people the technology learning they needed and wanted. One of our district TOSA Instructional Tech coaches Paula Torres, (@lohstorres1), our site staff development chair Eric Cypher, and I agreed that we could do more. 

Our district provides some great opportunities for training on occasional Saturdays and the Tech Coach Cafe after school. Locally, at our site, we produce a school wide staff development collaboration that is popular among the faculty and other staff members.  I often get calls from friends around campus who need help with Google Drive or a program. Eric is one of our local experts on data and formative assessment. Until the end of last year, Paula was a teacher at our school pushing the envelope of flipped instruction and the use of math applications with the Chromebooks.

The problem is providing services for those who can't come to those district events or those who find they need additional support after one of our school wide activities.The Tech Coaches will come assist individuals who make appointments, but since they are not assigned to any specific school,we hypothesized that there may be a gap in personal connections between the coaches and the teachers. " I don't really know any of the tech coaches very well."Another concern is that some of the staff may be reluctant to call on the TOSAs for help because what they want to know is not consequential or high level enough to bother the coaches. "What I need to know is not worth bothering you." or " I don't know where to start." So we came up with a solution that could hit many different targets. We would host an on site professional learning weekday event providing subs, using the district tech coaches hand in hand with local trusted teacher leaders.Nothing like this had been attempted before in our district, and we had to start from scratch.

Our Principal, Susan Petrocelli (@lososohigh) approved the idea immediately and said she would provide funding for up to ten substitute teachers. After wrangling back and forth about scheduling the coaches and conflicts with district calendar dates and how to submit the requests for subs, we began planning in earnest. 

Based on our exit surveys from  previous on site staff development and knowing what some of our colleagues were working on at the time, Eric and I came up with a schedule of 3 distinct learning blocks based on periods. This took several discussions; working out what some of the novice learners needed, in addition to providing support for the intermediate and advanced people. We had to blend small group training with individual one to one time in each of the blocks. 

Paula came up with a way to personalize each block when the participants arrived. She used an alteration of the edcamp model, knowing that we had enough expertise in the room to cover most requests. She used a large piece of poster paper and sticky notes. She blocked off quadrants and wrote main concepts in each one. Next to the poster she had a place labeled "Other". She instructed each participant to number the sticky notes and to place the stickies in the quadrant of choice based on their biggest need. A brief discussion was had by the group at the beginning of the session. One of the coaches led the group and little by little the individuals moved away from the larger group and sought one on one focus with one of the other coaches.

The sketchnotes below outline the result of our Professional Learning Event

The exit survey was largely positive. Most respondents stated that the quality of our training was excellent (77%) or productive (23%). The individual help was also classified as excellent (88%).Verbal free response feedback on the survey was also positive.
  •  "I loved having the one on one assistance. I learned specific technology that I can use in my classroom immediately. This format was useful, as it allowed me to ask specific questions without feeling like an idiot." 
  • " I reached my goal because of the following dynamic, easy-to-understand, patient teachers."
  • "Good use of time and resources."
I wonder as I reflect on the success of our day, if there are things we could have done better. I have decided that there is one main goal for the next event of this format at our school. We need to attract more customers. We did not reach our 10 sub capacity, so we need to work on:
  • Getting more departments involved. Approach chairs first during leadership meetings and find out what the teams are doing together already to develop skills.
  • Managing the calendar to avoid conflicts such as off campus visits and district wide subject training that require many subs. Several colleagues were out just the day before and did not want to be out for a couple more periods the next day.
  • The local on site leaders could capitalize on their relationships with the staff to encourage more participation. Use one to one (personal word of mouth) invitations to get people to sign up.
This process left me feeling exhilarated and yearning to do more. At our subsequent Site Staff Development Committee meeting, we all agreed that the model was one worthy of repeating following our next year's Friday morning school wide collaboration. We have the date tentatively in the books for the first week of October 2016. 

It is important to note that it took several people running things in the fore ground and background to get this thing going. Our Principal believed it would be a worthwhile endeavor so she invested in the substitutes. Our Assistant Principal of Instruction, Tom Mitchell was instrumental in working with the administrative assistants (Lynn Kempf and MariaPia Bella) who organized the paperwork and scheduling and coordinating the subs. Our tech coaches were prepared for whatever questions came their way and each had a presentation ready for the group instruction at the beginning of the block. 

Our District Tech Coaches
Paula Torres @lohstorres1
John Stevens @jstevens009
Demi Niemetschek @demi_deocales
Wes Batcheller @_batcheller

Even our new librarian Shannon Will, (@lohslibrary) was in the room to assist. We all worked together to monitor the group during main instruction to ascertain if individuals needed more or less attention. This was a brilliant, synergistic team effort- all of us coming together to provide a nurturing environment for adult learners at our school. I think we set the bar very high!