Professional Development

Charging Up in June? Say It’s Not So!

A celebratory ‘count down’ calendar greets any who enter the staff room. Teachers’ lesson planning books are skeletal and often hidden under stacks of files. The classroom daily agenda is officially posted but cotm_countdownnsidered ‘flexible’ due to frequent interruptions such as field trips and/or year-end celebrations or just organized “clean out time”. Staff meetings agendas include any number of end of year checklists and staff interactions are characterized by expressions such as “not long now!” or “on the home stretch!” Minor student infractions are easily overlooked and/or tolerated as are those of the professional staff as socialization over tea and breakfast take priority over scheduled duty. And to top it off, the extreme heat outside makes getting a bit of fresh air seems more fantasy than reality.

Sound familiar? Given that the above description could even remotely resemble school environments in the Middle East today, the question remains, how can school leadership teams (SLT) motivate and support on-going professional learning amongst and within the learning community up until the last day of the academic year? A cursory review of education journals and websites indicates that these last few weeks offer an invaluable time for both individual teacher and collegial planning and organizing for the next year. For example, conducting and analysing year-end bench mark assessments, moderating student work samples, revisiting and updating Individual Education Plans, sorting teacher and student resources and co-planning for the first few weeks of the next academic year. In addition, an integral element of the teacher professional growth model requires teachers to reflect and articulate professional learning goals for the next year and taking the time at the end of the year to share and actively plan for success makes sense.

I appreciate that motivating teachers at the end of a long year is challenging and consequently requires courageous and innovative thinking. Over the years I’ve witnessed inexperienced SLT’s try to cajole the teachers into action with unsurprisingly poor results. Teachers, and especially tired teachers, can be very stubborn! Conversely, I know of SLT’s who have organized a whole scale and scripted program for end of the year planning which often ends in an unfortunate situation where teachers are both tired and grumpy and now resentful! The reality is that neither of these two approaches has enabled a schools’ leadership team to successfully close out one academic year as well as effectively plan for a strong school opening in a few months’ time. Perhaps it’s time for a new approach; an approach that acknowledges both the existing school context as described above and the fundamentals of adult learning.

  1. Encourage and create a positive culture of professional learning. Capitalize on teachers’ inherent curiosity about innovative approaches for teaching and learning. Cultivate and celebrate a culture that enables teachers, individually and collectively, to engage deeply as a learner and to reflect upon the impact of their learning on student achievement.
  2. Promote the expectation that all members of the professional community are responsible for their own growth and learning. Encourage this attitude through carefully scripted questions, prompts and feedback which help teachers to refine their learning goals and progress. Assist teachers to understand their unique learning needs and explore together how these impact wider school goals and targets.
  3. Ensure that each and every learning goal is purposeful and aligned to support individual professional growth (i.e. improved questioning strategies), recognized school improvement targets (i.e. a new program implementation) and larger system or district initiative. Plan for and utilize a variety of group learning activities. Carefully guide and scaffold individual, small group, and whole group learning so that teachers fully engage with the learning. At this time of year, if you are introducing a new way of working or planning, initially connect this to an existing practice and slowly build the complexity of thinking and task. Remember that the goal is to stretch and expand the teachers’ thinking about his or her performance. Pay attention to the groups’ energy and build in frequent ice breaker and energizer activities as these are effective in building trust and comfort for learning together.
  4. Keep the learning meaningful – relevant and practical. Organize the time so that each day there are opportunities for job related activities such as hands on ah-ha-wordle-10gzot0review of student data, make and take sessions, peer review and planning of potential resources, collaborative content review and development. As the SLT, your task is to ensure that teachers have the resources necessary to encourage, capture and sustain teacher participation. In addition, SLT staff can foster deep understanding regarding the connections between learning today and its impact on student achievement.
  5. A key role for the SLT is to articulate high expectations for teacher involvement and learning. During these last weeks of school, effective SLT members are upbeat, positive, encouraging and professional. Purposeful SLT members are visible and consistent in supporting and encouraging teacher participation in the school’s learning program, offering timely feedback and questions that extend thinking and reflection and constantly reminding teachers that by working together as a professional collaborative community, students’ learning experiences will be enhanced during the next academic year.
  6. Build in some fun! Similar to our students, adults learn best when they are relaxed and intrinsically motivated. During these last weeks, ensure that there are multiple opportunities to celebrate and laugh together by recognizing milestones and achievements as well as sharing goals and aspirations for the future.

Without a doubt, the academic year is winding down and for many, the urge to gear down can be pervasive. Over the next few weeks, the challenge for SLT’s in our schools is to charge up and establish an environment and set in motion a plan which encourages and motivates teachers to recognize that this ‘down time’ offers an opportunity to learn and grow together and in effect, guarantees a relaxed and well-deserved extended holiday. Next week, I’ll offer some ideas and tips about harnessing the energy and expertise of those who are leaving the school. Stay tuned!PD Pen

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