Saturday, August 13, 2016

Breaking Out Of Normal Professional Development

Far too often educators attend professional development that fails to model current best practices. How many times have you been bored to death in required meetings before school begins each year? I want to take a moment to recognize our administrative team for thinking out of the box and breaking out of the typical teacher training. I'm also grateful that they chose to use the school library for these meetings! You will read a reflection from Lakeside Assistant Principal, Mathew Thornton (@Mat_Thornton), later in this article. This is significant since Mr. Thornton is a former student of mine who also happens to be one of my bosses!

English Language Learners Present In Their Native Language

Mr. Thornton asked Mrs. Melody Steiger, our ESL teacher, to invite some of her students to present to faculty during August professional development. The resulting session was one of the most effective I have witnessed in my career. Melody had her learners present to the faculty in their native Spanish language for a lengthy period of time.

There was no announcement to prepare them for the session. They simply began speaking in Spanish, and only a minority of our faculty could respond when prompted by the students. Directions were given, worksheets passed out, and opportunities for verbal responses were provided. After 10 minutes of this, many faculty became confused and frustrated. At the end of the session, Mrs. Steiger reported that what the teachers experienced is exactly what many English Language Learner students may come up against in the classroom. I immediately had a greater level of empathy for our ELL students. After this, the learners had an opportunity to tell smaller groups of teachers where they were from and some of the obstacles they encounter in school. It was an amazing hour of student voices being shared.

Disability Training

Back in April, we hosted a disability awareness lunch program in the library. The "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" activity was so powerful for students, it was decided to incorporate it into our professional development meetings before school.  The activities would allow our educators to experience some of the disabilities their students may have. I was excited that this hands-on event would be held in the library facility!

Visual Disability Station
Our Special Services Administrator, Mrs. Courtney Eubanks, helped us organize the event. In addition, our Family and Consumer Science teacher, Mrs. Tonja Bolding, offered to bring in some of her Special Olympics Partners Club students to help lead each activity. The events included simulations for tactile disabilities, visual disabilities, and autism sensory overload. There was also a squeeze machine demonstration. Our faculty rotated through each learning station in 10-minute intervals.

Tactile Disability Station

Skype With A Freedom Writer

Back in the spring, one of our English Language Arts teachers, Mrs. Kimberly VanMeter, had a Skype session in the library for some of her students. This session was with one of the original Freedom Writers, Tiffony Jacobs! The event had such an impact on some of our students, we decided to connect with Tiffony again to let her share her story with the faculty. Her message was inspirational. Tiffony described how Erin Gruwell immersed her struggling students in content and caused them to want to write. The voice she gave her 150 students continues today through the Freedom Writers Foundation. This message made me realize that anything is possible for our students. It impacted many of our faculty. In fact, tonight one of them messaged me on Facebook to let me know she had found the Freedom Writers movie on television. The seeds of change have been planted, and our learners will benefit!

Students Introduce Minecraft to Faculty

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our summer school adventures with Minecraft. Two of our students, Jared and Shawn, have been coming to the library non-stop since summer school ended to create more in the world of Minecraft. They built an impressive model of our high school library in the program. I showed every administrator and teacher, that I could, the work of these two young men. In fact, they even presented Minecraft to all our district teacher librarians, and I posted evidence of this on social media.

Check out the video clip of their presentation above.

Mr. Thornton invited both of them to show Minecraft to our faculty during one of our professional development meetings. They did a great job! It was encouraging to hear them share their voice in front of everyone. They modeled how Minecraft could be used in the classroom by showing how they worked to build the library to scale using blocks. They also shared how they wired it with lighting. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Breakout EDU

I learned about Breakout EDU while attending the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Forum in Denver this summer. This activity brings the escape room concept to the classroom! After I shared it with our social studies/ history department in their summer meeting, Mr. Thornton asked me to help facilitate it for the entire faculty. We purchased additional BreakoutEDU boxes and began planning.

My librarian partner in crime, Mrs. Kaitlyn Price, and I decided to use the Dr. Johnson's Lab: Zombie Apocalypse game to introduce BreakoutEDU to the faculty. This would have them problem-solving clues to find an antidote that would save the world. The faculty seemed to enjoy the experience (even though it was frustrating at times). As a result, many teachers are asking to borrow our BreakoutEDU boxes for games during the first weeks of school.

Reflections From An Administrator (Mr. Mathew Thornton)

Good administrators set expectations for teacher performance. Great administrators rise "above the line" and model those expectations. This year, my principal and I decided we would rise "above the line" for PD content curation and delivery. We surveyed staff at the end of the previous school year to identify needs and desires of PD content and mechanisms of delivery. We developed sessions based on that data, and then we eliminated every session or discussion that wasn't devoted to providing teachers with tools to enhance their trade. No announcements. No sit and get. No content that could've been fulfilled via email or memo. We wanted teachers to take the lead. We wanted students to take the lead. We wanted to challenge our teachers to consider perspective when dealing with parents and students. We wanted to establish empathy as a foundation for responding to student needs (academic and needs that matter more than academics). I was scared. Who knew what the kids would say or how they would say it... At the end of the sessions, I was exhausted, my feet hurt, but my heart was full. I heard this from one teacher: "this is the best PD I've had in 25 years." From another: "It's nice to move and not just have to sit and listen to you guys." From another: "I missed that kid. I didn't know he could do that, and I just flat missed it." I, personally, learned things about some of our kids that I never knew or would've known had it not been for this experience. I hope I'm never the same because of it, and I hope my staff never will be either. And... I surely have the same hope for Lakeside PD! Never the same! Invite kids in to speak truths to you, to teachers, and to admin. Think of how proud their parents will be and how potentially stunned (in a good way) your teachers/ admins will be.
Final Thoughts

I'm rushing to write this a day after these events so that our experiences might inspire you to be the change in your school. It did take a lot of extra effort from many administrators, faculty, staff, and students to make these events happen. The results were the same enhanced experience I have witnessed in other collaborative efforts. Immersing ourselves in this personal content helped me better realize the challenges our learners may have. I want to reach every type of student regardless of their background. I want them to know I care about them and their journey.

Perhaps we should all strive to be like Erin Gruwell, the teacher that brought change to so many students. How will you model empathy for learners this year? How will you empower students? How will you... be the change?

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