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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The Couros Brothers Inspire Educators

 

Alec Couros referencing George Couros at Whistler Conference 2015 for VSB Admin

It is fairly common to hear couples that speak on the same topic at conferences.  It is less common to have siblings pursuing and presenting on the same area of study.  This year I had the good fortune to hear both of the Couros brothers speak.  Although I follow both of them on Twitter, @gcouros @courosa, read their blogs (The Principal Change by George and Open Thinking by Alec),  face to face contact is still best case scenario for me.  George Couros came to speak with Jordan Tinney at a PDK Vancouver (UBC Chapter) dinner meeting: ” Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning:  Leadership and Learning in a Changing World “. He awed the Vancouver, B.C. audience with his forward thinking about the mindset of innovator’s (2015, The Innovator’s Mindset:  Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity 2015 release) and implementation of a wide variety of progressive tools and strategies to stimulate curiosity and make learning visible, including various digital portfolios.  This was the first PDK- UBC Chapter meeting where people were tweeting from outside the room.  Interest in the topic and his 92.2 K Twitter following were undoubtedly part of the reason.  When I learned his big brother, Alec Couros, would be joining Vancouver administrators in Whistler for our Fall Conference, I was not sure what to expect.  His job as a professor at the University of Regina indicated ivory tower, but his 94.7 K Twitter following, tweets and blog posts indicated something more dynamic.

To my delight, his session was every bit as engaging and informative as his brother’s session with Jordan Tinney in Spring.  The session started providing a theoretical frame as to why educators need to establish an online presence and be the authors of their own story.  He also spoke to our responsibility to define respectful discourse on the internet and teach our students about appropriate posting before any damage is done.   Then he emerged into a whole range of ways to engage our students in their own learning using technology and available APPS.  Dr. Couros provided opportunities for online engagement via a Twitterchat and references so we could go back and play with new tools at a later date.  Educators with varying degrees of comfort with technology and differences of  background knowledge on social media walked out of the room excited about their new learning and with a manageable path they could navigate.

Both of the Couros brothers were able to inspire their audience with not just an openness to change but an excitement about the potential of change.   Their willingness to “boldly go where no “one” has gone before” (Do I need to cite Star Trek?) is energizing for some.  That is not to say that people who embrace change are not without fear.  With any change in life, there is risk.  Continuing on the “tried and true” path is the safest route and perhaps shields us from possible criticism for the questions we can’t answer or for not getting it “right” the first time around.  However as reflective practitioners, our role is to identify what we do well and what we could do better.  How do  we welcome and better facilitate the learning of our students with diverse cultural and linguistic profiles? With varied academic strengths and needs?  With questions we can’t answer?  With varied mental health?  With varied trust in the school system?  With delight in the experiences and energy our students bring into the classroom?  The Couros brothers were both able to shed some light on the possibilities.  They also provided the encouragement, background knowledge and manageable steps to keep us moving forward, not just for the sake of change, but for our students who will need to navigate in a world quite foreign to the one we grew up in.  Thank you, gentlemen 🙂