This morning I had a few minutes to catch my Twitter feed via tweetdeck and noticed that my colleague in London, ON – Danika – had shared her students’ personal essays on their class blog. I took a few minutes to listen to the students’ voice recordings of their essays and realized that they were a perfect pairing for my own students’ memoirs – a work in progress in our classroom at the moment.
Students in my class have been working on their memoirs in our writer’s workshop over the past week and we are focusing on developing word choice (expectation 2.3 writing – regularly use vivid and/or figurative language and innovative expressions in their writing) and voice (expectation 2.2 writing – establish a distinctive voice in their own writing).
After making a few quick adjustments to my afternoon lesson plans, I was able to set aside a little chunk of time for my students to listen to the personal essays and discuss them. I facilitated the conversation to focus on content, organization, word choice and voice. The discussion was rich and I believe that hearing the examples written by Danika’s students provided my students with excellent models of personal memoir writing.
After my students took a few minutes to ‘rapid write’ their reflections on the essays, we posted our comments to their class blog – a networked learning teachable moment!
– image “Cat-5 Network Cable” cc by Darren Hester
This week we were to reflect on the staff development standards issued by the National Staff Development Council (NSCD) in terms of what staff development would look like in our own school when we assume the role of Principal or Vice-Principal. After reading through the 12 standards, I decided to narrow my reflection to three: Design, Equity and Learning.
Staff development that improves the learning of all students uses learning strategies appropriate to the intended goal.
Far too often, teachers find themselves sitting through lengthy (and well-intentioned) workshops where the design and delivery of content reflects the ‘sage on the stage’ model of teaching. It is not learner-centred, multi-modal, interactive or engaging. Although teachers are intended to provide instruction for students that is personalized to their learning needs and styles, the staff development designed for them is typically neither. As an instructional leader, my goal would be to model throughout staff development opportunities the type of learning environment that I would hope to see throughout the building. Here are some thoughts:
- Student work would always be at the centre of staff development (teacher moderation & planning).
- Staff would be encouraged to develop a Personal Learning Network using social networking tools such as Twitter (see Twitter for Teachers) to personalize their learning. See the National College for School Leadership paper on networked learning.
- There would be opportunities for job-embedded learning built into the day so that teachers could work together to support each other in their learning.
- TEams would be encouraged and given the opportunity to lead staff development and to model effective instructional practices.
Staff development that improves the learning of all students prepares educators to understand and appreciate all students, create safe, orderly, and supportive learning environments, and hold high expectations for their academic achievement.
Until I know that every staff member truly believes that all learners can achieve success, a learning environment cannot be said to be equitable. I am thrilled that the Ministry of Education will be releasing a new version of the Education for All document in the near future. As instructional leader, I would ask each of my colleagues to join me in honestly and critically examining the biases, assumptions and beliefs that underpin our teaching. I would model this by assuming a position of vulnerability by demonstrating my own self-reflection. I would ask questions such as:
- How does my teaching and learning embrace diversity (gender, race, socio-economic, religious)?
- How do my daily interactions with staff and students demonstrate my commitment to equity?
- How do my hiring practices model my belief in creating a safe and supportive learning environment for all members of the community?
Staff development that improves the learning of all students applies knowledge about human learning and change.
We need to continue to learn about the human brain and how it learns. Knowledge about how we think and learn is an exploding field. It is imperative that teachers have access to current information on what teaching practices will be most effective for learners with a variety of life experiences, learning styles preferences and learning needs. We know that our students need multiple opportunities to develop and hone their higher order thinking skills. I would want to use staff development opportunities to:
- engage in conversations around how teachers feel that their students learn.
- model my own professional learning about human learning and change.
- demonstrate how my own learning has changed and continues to change.
- participate in inquiry into how the brain works and what our students need to learn well.