How are you working toward good quality, meaningful professional learning in your setting?
In my district professional development for the past few years has pretty much been nonexistent. The budget gets frozen in October or November so that even the money allocated for PD is not spent on PD. Then the School Board sees we were able to get through the year without the money and they believe we didn’t need the money to begin with. What they don’t understand is the backward slide this has created – impacting climate, curriculum, instruction and ultimately, student learning. Very recently the district seems to be in an upward swing – positions have not been cut this year for the first time in a few years. We are lucky to have early release Wednesdays where some ongoing professional development takes place – depending on the knowledge and skills of the PLC facilitator. The district hired a secondary level literacy coach and math coach this year. These positions are beginning to have an impact on professional learning. I am looking forward to seeing how these positions will be utilized and the long-term impact this opportunity can provide.
Which of the leadership move(s) strike you as the most realistic for you to pursue in your setting and with your colleagues?
I see myself pursuing all five leaderships moves depending on which school I am in for the day and which group of teachers I am working with. Some teachers I am building a rapport with so we are at the dignity level. I am often in classrooms, many of which also have special ed or ELL support, so teachers are beginning to feel more comfortable having other adults in their classrooms. I collaborate with people constantly – I can’t really do any part of my job without it. I would say quality suffers a bit because teachers feel pressed for time so we don’t always get to have the rich, reflective conversations I would like to have. I also try to shift thinking from blaming the teachers who came before to a “this is where our students are so what can we do to make the students’ math experience the best it can be.” If I had to choose one to focus on I would focus on this last one.
What obstacles to change are you trying to overcome?
Sometimes it is difficult to remember that change takes time. As mentioned above, the district is clawing its way back to having the positions we once had but the lack of resources and PD is still an issue. I completely agree with Steve when he said, “ Without support in the face of misguided complaints of a few vocal parents, few teachers will change. Without support for quality professional development and time for sharing ideas and practices, little change is possible, and without the support for calculators, computers, and newer instructional materials, change is nearly impossible. Although beliefs and will are more important than money, without a reasonable financial investment – the most tangible form of support – little change is likely.” (p. 79) If teachers do not feel supported, they will not take risks and change will not occur – unfortunately the most obvious way teachers feel support is through financial means – not in salaries, although that is nice, but having the resources, time, and professional development they need.
Steve's final statement on page 85 sums it all up for me in regards to leadership:
"In other words: Until and unless we are treated - and we treat each other- with dignity and respect, there will not be enough trust for transparency. Until and unless we have much greater transparency and openness (a mind-set that we can learn from each other), there are few incentives to collaborate. Until and unless we collaborate and remember that learning (our students' as well as our own) is a socially mediated process, it is unlikely we will significantly improve the overall quality of our work. And until and unless this foundation is built, there is insufficient support and in inadequate culture for meaningful accountability that ensures that every student who tries has the opportunity to learn."
If all the pieces are not present, we will succeed! So I must do my best to have all aspects of leadership present in my daily work!
When it comes to professional learning I would have to say that the different examples would have to be used based on the conditions of the learning opportunity.
I feel so fortunate that I left the k-12 arena and have spent the last 25 years in adult education. We have very little resources but we are the most collaborative group of teachers. We are fortunate that our schedules have some flexibility given that we teach day and night. Since our program has grown to the largest in the state, we have taken on many initiatives as an entire school and also within our departments. Our focus is usually through a book study, much like this one, where we read, discuss and try to improve our practice. Last year we pursued the book “Teach Like a Champion” and collaborated cross discipline and then within our discipline trying strategies in our classroom. Within my math department, we also support each other in trying new activities, new strategies and new textbooks. We meet monthly with some focus in mind whether it be Common Core, using manipulatives, or developing a new curriculum. I think the strength of our professional development is developing a “community of learners” as Steven Leinward suggested in the reading.
How are you working toward good quality, meaningful professional learning in your setting? Which of the leadership move(s) strike you as the most realistic for you to pursue in your setting and with your colleagues? What obstacles to change are you trying to overcome?
In my setting, we are exploring Mass Customized Learning. Some, but not all, staff are attending workshops with Bea McGarvey periodically throughout the school year. (I just attended one yesterday). The district, as well as the state, hope to transform the “structure” of instruction. I believe in the vision. I feel as an early elementary teacher that I am not sure where to start with the grade level that I teach. How much can 4 and 5 year old students actually manage independently? How does the structure of MCL begin?
I would like to pursue MCL by observing other elementary schools in the state and to experience how they are implementing the change in their districts and in their lower level schools. I would love to be able to begin a more customized education plan in the coming school year, but I am still completely “fuzzy” on how to do it in my classroom and grade level. That is my mission right now and to also get my grade level teachers on board with the change. (That can sometimes be the biggest obstacle!)
ATOMIM is an affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in New England.