Happy Summer! As this is my first one at home in handful of years, I spent the beginning of it on something of a self-imposed hiatus, reading and writing and hanging out with my girls. I’ve also spent some time thinking more about this space and what I would like to do with it for the next few months. Summertime has always meant more time for the things that I love most, including writing. This summer, I have even more incentive to devote myself to this practice, as I’m gearing up for the WNY Young Writers’ Summer Studio, a writing camp for middle school students that I’m directing this year. Teachers have also been invited to attend as well, to gain exposure to new instructional strategies and to coach me as I teach. This is a whole new model for professional development, and one that fills me with excitement and fear all at once. This is where I know I need to go in order to serve these kids well and in order to grow as a teacher myself. Taking the time to reflect, inviting others to share their observations with me, and bringing kids and teachers together to collaborate around the writing process is not a bad way to spend the summer. Having this space to reflect in will be valuable, for certain. In the next two weeks, I’ll be meeting with the teachers who are participating this summer, and the notion of blogging as reflective practice will be a part of that conversation. I’m eager to get a read on their comfort level with this, and I’m beginning to think about the ways in which that might become a part of the learning we do together.

I can’t believe how quickly things change. Ten years ago, I was still in the classroom, confronting the issues that all teachers do–including that pervasive sense of alienation that comes from being the only adult in a sea of students all day long. In those days, professional development often looked like one day workshops that took place on conference days. I still see a place for that sort of training–it’s where we gain awareness and get our first introduction to new ideas. It wasn’t until I was brought into a PLC around differentiated instruction, though, that I really found myself inspired to lead professional development sessions myself. It was during that experience that I began to understand how teaching is truly about being a life-long student. That awareness is what keeps me excited about the field that I chose to dedicate my life to twenty years ago. And to think that I worried about job burn out then!

Over the weekend, our nephew was visiting. Colin is a English Education major at Canisius College, and he’s set to start his student teaching in the fall. It was a bit surreal, talking shop with the same person I used to take to Discovery Zone before it closed. It was also incredibly fun. Before we left on the camping trip that we had slated for his stay, I gave him a brief tour of the corner of the edublogosphere that I’m most familiar with, and we took a peek at some of the new technologies that forward-thinking professional development specialists are starting to use to make learning more powerful and collaboration easier. By the time I logged off the internet, his head was swimming. I can relate.

I remember leaving undergraduate school wondering if I would ever have the opportunity to learn in that way again–in a community that sustained itself over time. Maintaining the energy and the passion that we have for the work that we do can be difficult once our preservice days are over. I never wanted to become stagnant. I never wanted my work to get stale. Nobody does. Yet, it happens. The reality of that always nips at my heels a bit.

After talking with Colin, I realized how incredibly fortunate I am to be in the position that I am in right now. This summer, I get to work with kids, and I get to work with teachers. I’m going to be “observed” again. I get to be coached! I will also have more time to write in this space and to learn from others who are doing the same. Twenty years ago, I “learned” to teach. And then I graduated. Ten years ago, professional development was something that was given to me. Five years ago, it became something that I gave to others. This year? Well, I know that the boundaries defining how we learn as teachers have expanded far beyond what I might have ever imagined, and yet I know that there is so much more that I could be doing. I’m not even sure what that may be yet, though. I’m getting more comfortable with that knowledge…that uncertainty.

Learning never ends. That was the conversation that Colin and I had this weekend. In the coming months, I’m hoping that this space will become a place for me capture what I learn as the work that I am doing continues to change shape and take on new meaning. I’m also looking forward to nurturing the professional relationships I have with others online and face-to-face as well. Those relationships, I’ve discovered, have inspired more personal growth and learning than anything provided to me by way of textbook or workshop. In this way, knowledge isn’t something I simply give or take. Learning isn’t something provided, at all. It’s something we grow. It’s something we share.


1 Comment

  1. A development in Professional Development – I’m the retired director of the Willamette University School of Education and in my (failed) retirement I developed a method of observation and optional supporting software.

    In the Data-Based Observation Model, the teacher and observer collaboratively decide what is important to the teacher in terms of classroom behaviors (teacher and/or student). The observer then collects objective data on those behaviors (here’s where the software is useful), and when presenting the data to the teacher asks the following sequence of questions:

    “Is this what you thought was happening in your classroom?”
    “Do you think a change is indicated? If so, what will you change?”
    “How an I support you?”
    “When should I return to gather data to see if your change was effective?”

    This process puts the reflection in the hand of the teacher, increases the level of professional discussion, and empowers the teacher to be the self-directed professional. Another significant part of this model is “Don’t Praise, Don’t Criticize, Don’t Solve the Problem.” Any off those will shift the dynamic away from the teacher and into the observer role of judge and all-knowing-one (and we can never have all the answers).

    The software is a collection of timers (duration) and counters (frequency) that gather data on a large number of behaviors such as Class Learning Time, Level of Questions, Teacher Talk/Student Talk, Response to Misbehavior, and many more. Additional tools can be easily created. The reports are straightforward data reports with no checklists or likert scales of Poor to Excellent.

    More info on the model is on my blog: Data-Based Classroom Observation. Please leave comments and ideas.

    And download the software at my website: eCOVE Software

    eCOVE stands for Collaborate, Observe, Value, Empower. It’s in use in 46 states and about 20 countries for professional development, special education, administrator observations, second language instruction, school psychologists.

    Peace, John

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