What is Powerful Professional Development?

I have a passion for learning.  I was a curious kid.  A risk taker. A reader.  As a beginning teacher, my learning was fueled by the plethora of professional development opportunities to learn that were available in the system, including district and school based professional development.  The British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) provides a structure and funding for vibrant, Professional Specialist Associations to organize groups of like-minded teachers into Local Specialist Associations.  I jumped in feet first and became actively involved as participant and executive member of The Primary Teachers’ Association.  My first principal invited me to attend my first meeting of The International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association).  I would go on to become the president of the local chapter, The B.C.Literacy Council, and then provincial coordinator.  Human Rights Education.  Special Education.  English Language Learning.  Outdoor Learning.  I had a wide range of interests and the encouragement from colleagues and administration.

There is no shortage of professional development opportunities for curious educators.  In fact, the big question, is how do we take the front-end loading and personal passions and incorporate the ideas into educational practices that support our students in their learning?  The focus on “Make and Take” or “ideas to try tomorrow”, were often novel but not necessarily transformative in my practice.

I was fortunate to cross paths with Maureen Dockendorf.   After 5 years of teaching in Abbotsford,  I began teaching in Coquitlam.  I promptly signed up to participate in a Teacher Inquiry group led by Maureen Dockendorf.  We defined areas of interest.  Clarified our question.  Came up with a plan to work with our students and colleagues to find possibilities and sometimes, answers.   Reported out on the learning to keep us accountable for doing the work and integrating other sources or learning.  The added bonus was it was fun.  It involved collaborating with colleagues.  It caused us to carefully considering the questions and responses of our students.  It led to reflection of who we were as educators in the class and how we were meeting the needs of our students.  It allowed us to go deeper in our learning.

The work of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert has been instrumental in the inquiry process becoming an influential force in the learning of educators and students in British Columbia.  The Spiral of Inquiry they developed has been instrumental in shifting the way we think about learning.

  • What am I learning and why is it important?
  • How is my learning going?
  • What am I going to do next?

Professional development expectations have shifted.  The merits of a powerful speaker conveying ideas based on solid research and practices continues to be inspirational.  The New and Aspiring Leaders Program designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education is masterful at bringing together inspirational speakers and facilitating with educators from all over the world.  Collaborative structures were built into the program to facilitate the sharing of ideas with educational leaders from all over the world.  Educators were astounded by the implementation of Universal Design in education for all students in Canada.

A number of strategies have become common place to facilitate conversation about the ideas.  Think Pair Share, sitting in table groups, focus questions, and mixer activities have become common strategies to encourage even diverse audiences to talk about the ideas being presented by the speaker.

Social media has become a tool to present, learn and engage with colleagues about ideas online.  I have seen this as a way to get people in the same room to engage with each other and the speaker.  Twitter has become my newspaper and educational magazine.  On a daily basis I will read articles, blogs and magazine stories that are recommended by the people I follow.

I also participate in twitter chats, some regularly scheduled like @BCedchat on Sunday nights at 7 pm PST, other slow chats over the course of a month, like @perfinker.  I share out things I’m excited about and sometimes plan to meet face to face with online , like annual Edvents facilitated by @Edvent247

I have been asked how I have the “extra” time to blog.  For me, writing is my effort to make sense of the ideas percolating in my mind.  Having worked as a faculty associate at Simon Fraser University, I developed a strong appreciation of sitting with ideas over a period of time before making a judgement.  It was not learning that came easily to me.  One of my colleagues in Coquitlam nicknamed me the Tasmanian Devil back in my SD#43 days.  Reflection takes time.  If I can reflect before formulating and articulating an idea in writing, then I am in a much better place to engage in a discussion.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural year of Short Course II offered by the British Columbia Principal Vice Principal Association.  The design of Short Course II  for experienced principals and vice principals incorporated the three elements I believe are required to exist in an infinite loop for professional development to be powerful enough to implement personal and systemic change.  The elements continue on throughout a lifetime, although not necessarily in the same order.

  1. Inspiring big ideas to consider
  2. Opportunities for meaningful collaboration with peers to occur
  3. Time to reflect on the ideas

Leading, learning and innovation was the focus of the four day summit offered by BCPVPA at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C.  The input was inspirational on so many levels.

  1. The Indigenous people in the area, welcomed us to the land and shared their teachings.
  2. David Istance not only presented but engaged with each of the groups. As many of you will already know, he was one of the authors of the OECD 7 Principles of Education that have been the catalyst of educational change around the globe.
  3. British born, Amelia Pederson, presented the doctoral work she is doing at Harvard and actively engaged with the group, table groups and individuals throughout the week.
  4. David Weiss, President and CEO of Weiss International, gave us his perspective from working with organizational consultants who lead innovative consulting and training projects.
  5. Innovative business owners in Kelowna welcomed our BCPVPA groups into their companies and engaged in conversations about their inspiration, their process of developing their innovative idea, the skill set required of their employees and their goals moving forward.

Opportunities were structured for collaboration with colleagues throughout the province over the course of the four day program and throughout the year.

  1. A facilitator was assigned to each group and welcomed us into our table group and posed discussion questions and processes to keep us on track.
  2. We sat in the same daily table group and had the opportunity to get to know each other and engage with the ideas and questions together.
  3. We also had the opportunity to meet with other people with similar interests to develop our own inquiries to focus our work throughout the year. I was able to connect both professionally and personally with colleagues from Delta and Richmond to tease out my ideas.
  4. Informal opportunities to collaborate were part of the program, such as the wine and cheese at a local winery and the Open Deck time on the roof of FreshGrade.
  5. Online opportunities were provided to meet with our table groups over the course of the year.

By the time I had finished Short Course II, I had defined the first of my professional growth goals.  This is a management requirement for principals and vice principals in the Vancouver School Board in in British Columbia.  However for me defining an inquiry goal has always been part of grounding me in my practice.  Doing it prior to the start of the next school year allowed me to reflect on the previous year, consider new learning and thoughtfully plan my year so I could act deliberately rather than reactively.  During Short Course II, we agreed to meet with other SCII participants and participate online with our table groups.  It being the inaugural year, the anticipated challenges with technology presented themselves.  However it provides a pathway forward to continue to engage with colleagues over time.  The more we got to know each other, the better the conversation.  The inspiration, the collaboration and grappling with the ideas over time, provided an amazing model for powerful professional development.

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To Blog or Not to Blog

The perfect sunset.  The funny moment. The great jazz performance.  There are all kinds of reasons that people take to social media to “share”.  Tweets and blogs abound.

  

I started my first travel blog,  Hoodooquest.blogspot.com, on my first trip to China as a way of learning about this “new terrain of blogging” and to share my Chinese teaching adventure with family and friends.  My friend, Jan Wells, informed me she read it every morning with her coffee and the newspaper while I was in China.  Then I discovered that people I didn’t know, read it too.  This gave me the confidence to jump down the “rabbit hole” into the world of blogging.

I’ve always written a journal. I have volumes, starting with the pink Holly Hobby diary, on family, school, friendship, skiing, romance, food, travel, motherhood, injustices of life and grand celebrations.  They are highly personal and come with disclaimers that they should be destroyed and certainly not read when I die.  Yes, I have always had a flair for the dramatic.  Blogging can encompass a similar style of writing with strong voice and opinions.   However the public aspect of blogging requires an additional lens.  I am processing my own thinking, but very aware of engaging an audience.

My early blogs were specifically intended as teaching tools (T2fish.wordpress.com, tecumsehcomputerwhiz.wordpress.com).  They had specific learning outcomes and a body of content to present.  They targeted Tecumseh students but the stats reflected the interest was beyond the school community.  My next evolution of blogs were very similar to newsletters.   They shared relevant information with a specific audience and I tweeted them for accessibility to a greater audience:  For the foodies – SeriousIdulgences.wordpress.com; For educators and community members interested in social justice for children-  cultureofpeace4kids.wordpress.com ; For PDK members in Vancouver – pdkvancouver.wordpress.com.  However I learned most about engaging an audience when I used Kidblog to introduce blogging to gifted students.  Those kids created amazing blogs about their passions and our conversations about audience inspired interesting thoughts about reaching a like minded community of learners to provide feedback and mentoring.  I’m just beginning to touch on the things they taught me.  It was at that time that I started to actively follow blogs and the twitter feeds of people who inspire me and make me think, such as Jordan Tinney, George Couros, Chris Kennedy, Steve Cardwell and Ruben Puentedura.

This input, suggested reads, my professional  inquiries, collaboration with colleagues and students have made Inquire2Empower (carriefroese.wordpress.com) my most interesting blog to date.  I started writing it as a way to build community with other literacy educators in British Columbia.  It has emerged to a place where I not only share information but also develop my thoughts on a variety of professional topics including literacy, leadership, thinking skills, educational technology, human rights …basically all of those issues that are near and dear to my heart.  The public nature of my blog, holds me accountable for taking the time to reflect on my learning and articulate my thoughts. Once it hit over 2,000 views, I realized people were interested and I had developed an online PLN.

Inquire2Empower is very much question driven, as suggested by the name.  During my first temporary contract as a teacher, I was doing a maternity leave.  My burning questions were why did I hate teaching reading when I loved to read?  How could I engage students in the lesson with contrived, didactic material?  It taught me early on in my career that the pursuit of the answer is what has the real power to make a difference my practice.  Blogging and tweeting brought to light the concept of Virtual PLCS (Casey Reason 2015).  Social media has very much facilitated the formation of a wider community of informal groups that have emerged into symbiotic relationships.   The world of blogs and twitter have provided a structure for me to reflect on my learning but also provided opportunities to participation in Ignite Nights in Vancouver and Coquitlam that personalized the online connections.   It also opened up risk taking ventures like “One Word Burger”.  It has provided amazing choices of speakers for professional learning and the people attending are eager to participate.  It also allows for the follow up and consideration of the ramifications after complex sessions, like Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model.   It has opened up opportunities for me to personally present to interested audiences.  Multiple pathways of learning.  Isn’t that what makes the world of education so interesting? Yes, for me, the answer is “to blog”.