It’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed in this field that we’ve chosen. There is tremendous work to be done, and whether we’re standing in front of a classroom or leading a professional development initiative, the fact remains: it’s difficult to define all that must be accomplished, let alone find the resources to pull it off. But some people manage to do exactly that, and sometimes, the solutions are incredibly simple.
When Niagara Academy took the stage at our recent WNY-PLP celebration, the people at my table were audibly impressed, not only by their accomplishments, but by their level of excitement and their level of energy as well. This team of teachers spent the year helping all of the educators in their building develop a greater level of comfort with a variety of technology tools. The fact that all of their teachers are blogging now is cool enough, but what resonated with me most was their description of the PD model that employed in making all of that happen.
Those who do what I do often spend a good amount of time exploring Pearson and Gallagher’s Gradual Release of Responsibility model and encouraging teachers to use this instructional approach with their students. We speak about the need for consistent modeling and the power of guided practice and teamwork. We suggest allowing kids to pair up as they practice…to work together before they are held accountable for demonstrating mastery alone. In this way, learning becomes a community effort, mistakes are not as threatening, and learning is scaffolded in ways that nurture learners rather than pressuring them.
The PLP team from Niagara Academy understands this, and they understand it in a big way. They worked with teachers one on one throughout the year to coach them in their blogging practices. They built learning relationships with their colleagues slowly and over time, and they allowed them room to question and to practice and to make mistakes in a smaller setting, where trust could be established.
I wish that all professional development models could look like this. Gradually releasing the responsibility for learning isn’t a notion that is only relevant to our youngest learners. It’s what most brains require when they confront new processes and information. Yet, too much of what we do in the adult learning environment still doesn’t allow for that as much as it should. What Niagara Academy has accomplished this year speaks volumes about the potential for this approach. It’s exciting to witness professional development that works.