The unfurling New Zealand fern frond, the Koru, represents new life, growth, peace and harmony.
I am a bit of a “Hector the Collector” of quotes. I keep them filed away, either on bits of paper tacked to my bulletin board, in folded over pages of books, in a file folder or even locked away in the old memory bank. They serve as reminders for how to live my life aligned with things that are important to me both personally and professionally. When Teachers Stop Growing, So Do Their Students is a quote that I can still remember from a presentation in University. This message has as much meaning now, 28 years later, as it did on the day I shared it with my pre-service classmates, when the whole world of teaching was just about to open up for me.
As teachers, we are in the learning business and we are always learners ourselves. We often do not have enough hours in the day to engage in deep meaningful learning with our colleagues as often as we would like; however, when we do set aside time, it makes us far better teachers and creates far more success in our classrooms and schools. One of the regularly scheduled times that we set aside for deep, reflective learning at Greystone is during our Professional Development Days. Our Professional Development Days are an excellent opportunity to reconnect with our school’s vision and reflect on our professional practice, in the company of our peers, in order to learn and grow together.
The learning from our most recent Professional Development Day on March 11th included:
1. Revisiting Inquiry in the Classroom
We viewed a webinar on Inquiry from Neil Stephenson at the Calgary Science School. Neil ‘s webinar included an excellent clip from High Tech High.
Before watching the webinar, we had our journals ready so that we could jot down thoughts and reflections related to the following questions:
– What stands out for me in this clip?
– What challenges my thinking?
The clip provided the following definition of what it means to be a good teacher:
We know you are a good teacher by the sophistication of your kids’ work. If your kids are producing work that is worth doing and has lasting value and learning that is worth learning, then you’re a good teacher.
– Do you agree or disagree with the definition of a good teacher? Why?
2. Reflection and Dialogue
We spent time with our “Critical Friends” on staff talking about our reflections and sharing our classroom practice for feedback from colleagues.
3. Critical Thinking/Inquiry Practice for Teachers
We skyped with Neil, from the Calgary Science School, to discuss ideas around what makes a learning task authentic and purposeful as opposed to simply something fun for kids. We used an example from the book “Making Learning Whole” by David Perkins to illustrate this point. It was an excellent discussion as teachers, in groups, needed to examine two highly engaging tasks, in order to decide which one had the most rigor and utilized higher level thinking.
4. Feedback for Outcomes Based Report Cards – Articulating Big Ideas Across Grade Levels
One of our teachers, Jessie Krefting, introduced us to googledocs and teachers practiced using this tool to record and share feedback based on information presented to them from our team of teachers working on Parkland School Division’s Comprehensive Reporting Project.
5. Student Blogging
One of our teachers, Craig Letendre, shared the student blogs he has been developing with his class. He shared his most recent “aha” moment when he described to all of us how the feedback students are providing to each other through the comment section is proving to be highly motivating to his students in their growth. He is exploring how to further develop student skills in providing each other with feedback by using criteria from the projects as a starting point for comments. He is also establishing criteria for what would make a project or assignment “blogworthy”. The highlight from Craig’s sharing was the interest sparked among our teachers in developing this as a tool for ongoing feedback for growth with students AND communication between home and school (possibly replacing report cards throughout the year?!) The challenge…we need MORE TECHNOLOGY in the hands of our students!
6. Feedback for Growth
I challenged the teachers to continue to obtain feedback from multiple sources to provide them with opportunities to reflect and learn. Since our student led conferences were right around the corner, I asked teachers to consider how they would obtain feedback from parents to assist them in their professional growth. Several teachers amazed me with the thoughtful questions they created and with the input they have requested from parents – this is an example of our teachers’ dedication to learning and it speaks volumes about the highly professional qualities our teachers possess.
7. Student Led Conferences
In grade level learning community teams, teachers collaborated to plan and organize their student-led conferences. We have tried a variety of formats for conferences every year. We listened to our parent community when members of our School Council told us that as much as they appreciate seeing student work, they still want to have individual time with their child’s teacher(s). This year, many of our teachers provided students with their report card information prior to conferences and rehearsed with them how they would share their learning with parents. Students showed evidence of learning which demonstrated their level of understanding of the outcomes. The parents received their report cards at our student led conferences and it was used as a tool to guide students in the conversations about their learning that they had with parents. We know we haven’t “arrived” yet in creating the best possible student led conference structure and we will always be growing with this as we continue to gather feedback and reflect on how to best use conference time as an opportunity to make our parents partners in learning.
We believe that the time spent creating a community of learners that includes students, teachers and parents is paying off big time – especially when we overhear comments like these during our student-led conference evenings:
– What an amazing team of teachers you have working at Greystone! (parent)
– Thank you to your LC 9 team for the experience in working with them to place your students. It is always a pleasure to be here at Greystone and work with the staff. Everyone is so helpful and supportive of each other! (High School Team)
– Citizenship and Social Responsibility is the most important part of the report card as that is what really matters in life! (parent)
– Thank you for the incredible supports Greystone provides to the students! (parent)
– I don’t’ need to look at the report card right now because it’s the conversation that matters most, this (report card) can wait until later. (parent)
– You guys sure do like the food and potlucks around here.(guest)
– It’s about family for us! (teachers)
The only thing that could be improved on in the area of our teachers growing and learning together? We need more time for this more often!!!! Great things continue to happen for kids when everyone in a school is committed to always growing and growing all ways.