I can barely sleep the night before any time I get with my school staff. The minutes we have together are so few and so precious, and I want them to be meaningful, inspiring, enjoyable, and have a direct positive impact on our students. As a school leader, I feel incredible pressure to make the time what our teachers deserve, because that, in turn, is what our students deserve.
A few years ago we did away with Staff Meetings and replaced them with Staff Collaboration Time. It is not just a simple switch of the name, it is a change in mindset. We don’t meet unless it requires collaboration. If it doesn’t require collaboration, it is delivered via email, through a short video, or even through a staff podcast.
It goes without saying that professional learning needs to be meaningful and aligned to both personal and school-wide goals. But, that is just the beginning. Professional learning can be so much more.
- Professional learning needs to incorporate new learning or new understanding. As I reread that statement, I keep putting a “duh!” at the end because it sounds like common sense, right? We aren’t learning unless we are thinking in a new way. I bet if we ask teachers if they were ever “taught” things they already know without anyone acknowledging that they already know it, we would get many powerful head nods. Just like with students, teachers deserve to learn new things or develop new understanding. Let’s not waste their time by telling them things they already know. One way to assure that new learning or new understanding will take place is to have collaboration be included in every professional learning. The saying that, “the smartest person in the room is the room,” is so true. When we have purposeful discussions with each other, chances are that even the most veteran teacher will leave with new ideas.
- Professional learning is best in a need-satisfying environment. Making sure that the learning environment allows teachers to meet their needs for power, freedom, fun, belonging, and survival increases the opportunity to focus on the learning. I am not proud to admit this, but I can recall a few times that as a teacher I focused more on secretly goofing around than on the learning during professional development. Just like our students, teachers are going to behave to meet their needs. They can either do it within the functions of the professional learning or in conflict with the learning they are supposed to be doing. Serve some food, acknowledge all that they already know, allow them freedom to make choices and move around, give them opportunities to talk to each other, and embed play and laughter into the learning and BOOM! not only will they learn, but they will feel good while they are learning.
- Using new learning strategies or technology tools makes professional learning so much more. To optimize the use of every precious minute, let’s not limit our learning to the topic of the day, but let’s learn new collaborative strategies and tools along the way. Introducing fun tech tools like Mentimeter or Flipgrid makes professional learning so much more–more informative, more fun, more engaging, more useful, more relevant, and more inspiring. The new tools a leader uses to support the learning are not limited to technological tools–trying out new collaborative strategies make the learning so much more too, and give teachers strategies and ideas to implement right away with their students. It doubles or triples the amount of learning we do together.
Teachers deserve good teachers too.
A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.
These three tips can help any professional learning be so much more than aligned with our goals. Let’s use that as the basement and work up from there. Please share ideas and strategies you use or experienced that make professional learning so much more–add them to the comments so we have an archive of great ideas. We are better together.