jen2.jpgBy Jennifer Pilarski, STAT Teacher* at Norwood Elementary

*Baltimore County Public Schools has developed the Students & Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.) initiative which has provided each school a teacher who is a professional development resource and instructional coach.

Teacher-centered Learning

If you are a teacher, you’ve been told to create a student-centered environment, shouldn’t those creating PD for teachers have to do the same thing? The traditional forced faculty meetings and lecture style professional development are just as ineffective as lecturing to our students. It is time to provide teachers with customized and personalized learning opportunities and to capitalize on the leadership and expertise within the staff.

Just like how we encourage student choice in the classroom to promote engagement and learning, teachers benefit when given the opportunity to personalize their professional development. Teachers were able to select from a variety of PD options that matched their needs and interests. Since teachers had more choice, they were more willing to apply their learning to the classroom and reflect on its impact.” –Samantha Kotzum, First Year Teacher

Each teacher has his or her own needs and wants as a learner. There are varying levels of experience, knowledge, and interest within any school building; new teachers have different needs than veteran teachers and special area teachers have different needs than classroom teachers. Teachers also have different needs regarding the time they can spend engaged in professional development (PD). At Norwood, we tried to account for all of these factors and adult learning theory as we designed our PD plan. Our plan includes grade level meetings that occur during the school day, one mandatory after school team building activity, and optional PD sessions that occur before, during, and after school.

Opportunities for Collaboration

“The PD model at Norwood is differentiated, based on 21st century shifts, grounded in research and high leverage practices, and collaborative. Teachers learn from each other, with each other, with coaching, practice and feedback. The growth mindset at Norwood guides and motivates every teacher to accomplish more and better than they ever imagined!” –Pat Goldys, Principal

The staff of a school must remain cohesive and collaborative. It is essential that the staff continue to have opportunities to come together as a group. Each month the staff shares their experiences about a topic, this echoes the relationship circles conducted in each classroom, or we collaborate to solve a problem in an EdCamp model meeting. In these sessions there is no true facilitator or leader; every faculty member has an equal voice.

There are topics that every staff member must be trained in, such as changes in system policy and school-wide initiatives. These are presented and discussed in grade level meetings so that the information can be personalized for each grade level. Even if the information is the same, the conversation regarding application varies greatly based on the group.

Choose Your Own Adventure

“I have been teaching over 20 years and the PD offerings at my own school have been exemplary! I can “choose my own adventure” and have participated in book studies, hands-on technology workshops, meaningful dialogue with colleagues via EdCamps and much more. We have many experts at Norwood and are able to learn so much from each other. I love the opportunities for collaboration and personal growth.” –Valerie Gorlin Tarbell, Teacher

The bulk of our PD sessions are optional offerings. There are job-embedded opportunities that I facilitate during the school day. As the STAT teacher I do not have my own classroom, so I can support teachers through co-teaching, co-planning, coaching, or covering a class so teachers can observe or demo for each other. After school we provide a variety of PD options. We have weekly sessions hosted by our Technology/STEM Teacher, Behavior Interventionist, and myself. We found that many teachers wanted to attend these sessions but were unable to commit to multiple days per week, so we added PD Stations to our plan. There are four concurrent sessions that are run twice. Teachers chose the two they are most interested in and they often coordinate with colleagues to share information from sessions they missed. Faculty can also participate in book studies that are conducted face to face or online.

The most important part of the PD plan is that it remains fluid and responsive to the needs of the teachers. After each session the participants provide feedback about the content and format as well as provide recommendations for future topics. Teachers are also invited to present based on their personal expertise and experience.

The result is a culture of learning and growth that enables teachers to continually improve their practice and share their strengths with each other. We meet teachers where they are and empower them to achieve more.