Digital Sandbox

This Blog is designed to provide the reader with information on how to adopt technology into the classroom by relooking at traditional classroom tools and transitioning into new ways of teaching and learning. The Digital Sandbox explores the future of learning through the recreation of 21st Century learning environments.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Professional Development; A Key To Transparency

The greatest challenge for me as a school principal is to develop a cohesive staff in which each teacher performs optimally in his or her assigned role while supporting others in theirs. It has been my experience that mutual trust, shared vision, good internal communication, being non-judgmental, and adherence to goals are the keys to transparency.  Over the years our teachers had to learn how to manage change, by embracing the challenges of Common Core standards, student centered learning, new assessments and teaching digitally, while focusing on improved instructional strategies designed to enhance student literacy. In all cases, professional development has been the proven way for our school to increase individual readiness levels for managing these changes as we viewed these changes as opportunities to improve student learning.

I believe that the transparency to professional development is in the vision. To be transparent a vision-based professional development for us includes three key components (1) Collaborative Leadership Through Non-Judgmental Idea Sharing , (2) Making a Commitment and Avoiding Pitfalls, and (3) Providing Feedback on Results. I believe that our professional development practices have been successful at the site level due to these three key components.  But most of all we first had to establish our vision of what we wanted to accomplish in terms of student success.

As a school we define vision based professional development as not being about individual perceptions of the future but about an improved future for everyone involved. We had to consider that our professional development plan would undergo some roadblocks and established these obstacles as obtainable to a cause of action. We knew that our new vision had to introduce a change into action as it relates to a shift in practices. These are the recognizable changes that are occurring today in our school as technology continues to advance by changing our learning culture.

Collaborative Leadership Through Non-Judgmental Idea Sharing
Non-judgmental idea sharing and collaboration is formulated through consensus of our talking points. At the end of each year we determine our talking points. Talking points are about what we failed to accomplish due to the lack of focus. These talking points give us a reference to setting our long term goals and are formulated from a vision statement. Each year our vision statement changes and long term goals are created to form a strategic plan that includes specific short-term goals. This year's vision statement is "Opening new worlds for personalized and purposeful learning." Our strategic plan includes clear descriptions and directions for integration and implementation of all goals at all levels.  This approach provides us with avenues to change in a gradual and organized fashion.

As a school we have found that professional development has to involve teams of stakeholders working together. Working in teams allows the workload to be shared and enhances the quality of the work produced, since the participants can share perspectives and work cooperatively to find solutions. We have several layers of professional development teams led by teachers. Each team has a specific goal to meet that is aligned to our building goals. These teams are specified by purpose and include; the Building literacy team, the 21st Century Learning team, and the student advocacy team.

The Building Literacy Team
The Building Literacy team chose writing as our targeted literacy skill. The committee identified 7 components or sub-skills for all students to master in ALL content areas. The sub-skills were rank ordered.  Each month the team chooses a different strategy or technique that is taught to ALL students in ALL contents. The team’s primary resource for improving instruction is “Teach Like a Champion.” Once a literacy skill is chosen each staff member is trained by a teacher expert within our building. We believe that if we focus on the adults who teach our students and we all do it the same way, we will see great results in student learning. And because we now have the power of a strong culture, we are asking teachers to participate 100% at their level of understanding, realizing that other teachers will offer support within teams and trainings.  It’s all about the accountability. Teachers are given many opportunities to share out in teams and that information is then brought to the Literacy Planning Committee.

21st Century Learning Team
The 21st Century Learning team has invested time in exposing teachers and students to mobile learning devices. They also have defined the kinds of things that students will be doing with technology. Next year the team will invest time in developing online learning courses. These learning courses will span the horizon by experimenting and designing course work using various digital resources. These resources will integrate e-books, iTunes U, with Google Course Creator using various forms of Google apps. The idea is to create multiple forms of mobile learning opportunities as we venture forward in creating and sharing digital content. 

Student Advocacy
The Student Advocacy team provides knowledge resources for student centered learning that focuses on the development of student led conferencing and portfolio development. To address student advocacy the team is developing ways to help students set up their own personal learning environments. Some future ideas include instructional tools that will help students to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments. Curriculum for student advisory time will also be developed for all three grade levels that support digital literacy. These digital literacy skills for the 2013 - 2014 school year will include topics on Skills for the Digital Age. Themes for the month will support critical thinking skills, communications, collaboration and digital citizenship.

Making A Commitment And Avoiding Pitfalls
These are  incremental changes in the learning culture that is not about how students learn, or about the pencils, papers, and textbooks. It is about how people are working. People today work with laptops and word processing tools. It is not so much about going to the library or reading a textbook. It is about the workspaces; the work spaces that are changing as it becomes possible on media devices to research, not at the school library. It is how students can research the riches of the world as they're stored on the web. This is about the new libraries of consumable text. It is about the new workspaces that have created the possibility of sharing knowledge infinitely.

To avoid pitfalls we have viewed change both on an individual and an organizational level. This means that together we have sought to improve the skills and abilities of all of our staff. Since the teachers are the ones chiefly responsible for implementing the change, our professional development specifically addresses their needs and concerns. One factor I have realized as a building principal is that teachers are reluctant to adopt new ideas or practices if they doubt their abilities to make them work. Change requires the willingness to risk failure, and that can cause anxiety. As a principal I have also recognized that successful professional development seeks to improve the climate of the school. As a faculty we have placed ourselves in a growth mindset and have recognized that policies and practices can stand in the way of meaningful change, as can a debilitating school climate.

Providing Feedback On Results
We have also recognized that our professional development will not be successful unless we provide feedback. This feedback is then used to guide revisions or to showcase improvements. Successful professional development programs provide support systems for those involved in the process of implementation. In addition, professional development can serve as a support mechanism for both motivating those whose desire to improve and at the same time strengthen the opportunity for personalized learning. To continually check our professional development results we have developed multiple surveys using Google forms. Google forms are an easy way to collect data to measure both desired input and ideas for continual improvement. It is our plans in the near future to establish resource sites like Edmodo, Facebook, and Twitter where digital information can be stored shared and curated among teachers to enhance professional learning opportunities.

"If professional development programs are to continue in our public educational system, then professional development practices must undergo a change-a change that would meet the needs of the individual practitioner as well as those of the school as a whole. No professional development program could ever be deemed successful unless the plan itself addresses the needs of the students and stipulates how their learning will improve." Michael D. King

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