Monday, July 11, 2016

Teachers Are Students Too!

When you hear "professional development" do you  cringe or smile?  It probably depends on your past experiences, but I would say that I do both.  I absolutely LOVE learning more about teaching and learning.  I have been a teacher for a pretty long time , but I know I still have lots of room for improvement and growth.

The thing that makes me cringe when I hear professional development is when I am mandated to attend a workshop or meeting with no choice and no voice in what I learn.  Even if it's a topic that I like, I am still a bit leery about it.  I know, it's a poor attitude to have.  I also don't care for "sit and get" workshops  that don't stimulate my thinking or at least make me laugh.  I have to have a connection of some sort.  (See how teachers are like students?)

The best professional development is when I get to choose what I learn.  The CHOICE is so important to me (as it is to our students).  I am automatically more invested in the PD because it's an area of interest.  I already have some connection which is what my brain is searching for.

As teachers, we need to be mindful that we are students too.  We should NEVER stop learning and striving to improve.  We can wait until our district tells us that we MUST attend a certain PD or we can pursue our own interests.  Even though I am a technological turtle (I am always the last to learn), I have so many newly acquired skills because of technology and the Internet.  These resources are easily accessible and convenient.

I have recently learned about podcasts.  One of my colleagues had shared an interesting one that she had listened to.  I did not even know what a podcast was!  Now, I can say that I have listened to quite a few.  I take walks with my earbuds and iPhone and I'm exercising and working at the same time!  It really makes the exercise time go faster.

I have been a regular user/visitor of The Teaching Channel.  I love getting to peek into other teachers' classrooms.  There is so much food for thought there.  I am so inspired and motivated after watching these teachers!

I read as many professional books as I can and then I read them again.  It's sinful, as my mother would say, that I have such a huge collection of professional reading.  I look like a hoarder of teaching books. I can't help it…It's a sickness.  Reading these professional books really rejuvenates me during the summer.  It's like getting a shot of adrenaline or something.

One of my favorite ways to grow professionally is to share.  I want to hear other people's ideas and I want to share what I know.  Again, I think of our students.  Don't they seem to thrive in an environment where sharing and collaborating are  common place?  That is why I love to read blogs and ultimately why I wanted to start my own.  I want to connect with like minded educators who are willing to share.

A few years ago, some teachers at my school started a group we call TIPS. TIPS stands for Teachers Inspired by Professional Sharing.  We started this when the Common Core was new to us.  We were also facing great changes in our teacher evaluation system (OTES).  These were some big changes facing us, and we wanted to feel supported and in control of our learning.  It was a time when morale was low and people were a bit uncertain of the future.

We started this group and invited anyone to join us.  Our mission statement is "We are a group of teachers committed to creating and maintaining a positive learning environment.  We strive to implement best practices in teaching so that our students may achieve to the best of their abilities."  The foundation of our group is really to try to visit one another's classrooms and share and learn.  We made an observation form based on the items that were being observed in walk throughs completed by our principals.  But our observations are not in any way evaluations.  We are just colleagues sharing ideas.  We always frame our comments in a positive way.

Observation Form 

Besides visiting each others' classrooms, we meet once a month to not only share notes from observations, but also to exchange ideas.  Our meetings are very structured and productive as we have a few "jobs" to keep us accountable.  There's a timekeeper, a secretary, a happy talker…These "jobs" keep us on task, so we are sure to keep the meeting moving forward and relevant.  We have a meeting agenda too which keeps the focus on the important stuff.
Sharing Form

Basically, the first part of the meeting is devoted to observations.  If you visited another teacher's classroom, you tell what you saw and share any ideas or practices that inspired you.  (Always focus on positive.)

The next part of the meeting is for sharing teaching tips and ideas.  If you found a great website to help students with math, share it.  If you learned a great engagement strategy, share it.  Anything that you think other teachers may want to know, you can share.  Sometimes we have inspirational videos or articles from magazines.  It's a very open forum and a very supportive environment.

The last part of our meeting is devoted to needs.  Maybe you need an idea to help with a challenging student.  Maybe you want someone to observe you and focus on a certain problem or area that you want to improve.  Maybe you feel stuck on a concept that your students are just not getting.  Whatever the need is, the TIPS group can help.  We can do so much when we put our resources and talents together.
Meeting Agenda Form

Our meetings typically lasts for about 45 minutes.  In the beginning, our group was rather small.  But each year, the group seems to grow.  We have started branching out a bit too.  We began putting lesson ideas on a shared drive for our school.  This serves as an idea bank or model for teachers planning lessons for evaluations.

We have also started leading some of our own professional development.  Last year, we had a Daily 5 class that was held throughout the year.  We met once a month (a different time than TIPS meetings). We focused on learning and supporting each other as we implemented The Daily 5.  There were some teachers who had been using D5 for a number of years, and there were some teachers who were just learning.  The key to our growth was that our PD was ongoing.  It wasn't just a "sit and get."  Part of the class requirement was to visit other classrooms and see Daily 5 in action.  I really enjoyed that class and felt like it kept me accountable.

This year, a couple of teachers are leading a class on The Cafe.  I am really looking forward to this as well.  We will meet throughout the year and learn and grow together.  I think this is the best kind of professional development because it comes from us, the teachers.  We CHOOSE what we want to learn and we take ownership of our learning.  The TIPS group and these classes are not things that our principal or district administrators told us we need to do.  These things are FOR teachers BY teachers.

We have a bulletin board in the teacher's lounge where we post the minutes from our last meeting as well as additional observation forms.  The bulletin board also serves to inspire us and give us a place to share.

I'm thrilled to be a student and a teacher.  I love to teach, but I also love to learn.  Just like my students, I am motivated by choice, and I need ongoing professional development.  I might get that from my district, but I prefer to take ownership for my learning by utilizing resources like blogs, podcasts, videos, and teacher groups.

How do you take charge of your professional development?  Can you share a great resource or website?

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