Things I Know 130 of 365: Professional development must be warts and all

Good design begins with honesty, asks tough questions, comes from collaboration and from trusting your intuition.

– Freeman Thomas

A group of teachers cam to visit SLA Tuesday. Particularly enterprising, their school is heading to a project-based model next year, and they’ve been using this year to experiment. While not fully project-based, their classes have featured a few projects throughout the year, and they wanted to talk shop.

When I sat down, they were talking to Tim Best about rubrics and expectations.

They wanted to adopt a similar approach next year, and I had a question.

I asked if they had a plan for getting the more hesitant members of their faculty on board.

No matter who comes to visit SLA, they never bring the most recalcitrant members of their faculty with them. Those who come to visit are of like minds.

This group had no plan.

They asked if we had any suggestions.

I had one.

Be vulnerable.

Whenever I’ve been part of a faculty or heard stories of a faculty that was adopting a new approach or program, there was never a sense of vulnerability.

Every launch, unveiling or introduction has been orchestrated with the promise of perfect like some sort of Kevlar-covered pedagogy.

Nothing ever is.

No matter what these teachers say next year as they start to shift the way their school approaches teaching and learning, it will not be perfect.

My suggestion was for each of them to sit down with a group of their peers and workshop a unit plan, project description or rubric they’ve built this year.

When new initiatives are launched, all many teachers hear is “We’ve figured out the problem with our school. You’re teaching the children wrong, and we’re hear to fix you.”

Asking their peers to sit down to a curricular discussion that values the knowledge and experience of everyone involved can be a way for their school to make thoughtful change.

Even better, those conversations will bring new eyes to the process in a structured way so that this beta group can refine their practice with the help of their peers rather than burning out mid-year next year because everyone is looking to them to keep pushing things along.

Some school initiatives fail because they are either bad initiatives or bad fits for the schools adopting them. Other initiatives fail because they’re thrust upon a faculty with pomp and circumstances, but lacking dialogue and reflection.

By inviting their faculty to the table as colleagues, these teachers could have a good shot at eliminating 50 percent of the reasons they might fail.

I like those odds.


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