Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Home Grown PD: Don't Wait for your District

In schools today budgets are tight.  Professional development dollars are shrinking.  In my case, our district just instituted four furlough days; all of them faculty professional development days. Luckily we like to plan ahead. In the beginning of the school year we voted to divide one of our "Flex" PD days into several smaller sessions. This means we took one of the 3 professional development days front-loaded in the beginning of the school year and agreed to make up the hours over the course of the school year. This works for our faculty. After all, in the beginning of the school year teachers are focused on setting up curriculum and classrooms. Dispersing one of these days allows us to target topics or issues that might arise after the school year begins.

When we began talking about what type of PD we needed it was different across the board- different grade levels and departments had different needs.  Our solution was to develop our own PD Learning Series where teachers led other teachers in targeted professional development.  Teachers had the opportunity to volunteer to present on any topic of their choice.  Below is the process we used.

Survey Says

So, what to offer. I began by developing a general survey asking the basics:

      • what days and times worked best for attendance
      •  is there any specific instructional topic/subject/area of interest teachers wanted to see, and (in my opinion the most important question) 
      • was anyone interested and willing to present 

After looking through the results, I had a better sense of the "guts". The responses led into a new survey (which admittedly was long but worth it) to break down specifics: what the interest level was for specific topics and how the teachers wanted to be involved. All of the topics featured were ones listed in the original survey.

From here, I tallied each category and broke it down according to interest.  Not pretty, but it gave me a great sense of what the interest level was.  After this I categorized each topic according to those that said they were "very interested" or "interested" (numbers represent %).  I typed this up for admin and created a separate list of topics that people volunteered to present:

Learning Series Options

Each teacher that offered to present typed a short description and chose times (we offered morning sessions from 7:30 am to 8:15 am and afternoon sessions from 3:45 pm to 4:30 pm). A Google Form was created and remains a "live" document, with teachers continuing to sign up for PD (I email the faculty the week prior informing them of what is available. I also email participants the day before the PD as a reminder). 

So far we've had great success with this process.  Teachers have the opportunity to choose a number of different topics to meet their needs.  In many instances we have teachers signing up for multiple sessions, well beyond their required two.  This process has also allowed some of our teachers that don't present to have an audience that is familiar to them as they build that skill.  

February concludes the first round (3 months).  We are now in the process of adding new sessions for March through May. I'd recommend this model for anyone interested in developing their own learning series!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Active Learning (and Tweeting!), Elementary Style

In November 2016 my colleague Sam Carpenter and I presented at the Illinois Education Technology Conference on Active Learning and Tweeting in an elementary school.  Below is our presentation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Happy 100 Posts to Me!

It's an anniversary, of sorts- my 100th blog post!  I thought it would be a good time to reflect on this blog and my purpose for it.  I was a classroom teacher for 15 years.  I absolutely loved it.  But after technology crept into education, I came to love that as well.  I was an early adopter and found that I enjoyed having my colleagues come into my classroom and ask me to show them how I was using technology with my students.  When the opportunity became available to become a coach, I jumped at the chance.  It hasn't always been easy, and hasn't always been as rewarding as I would have liked. But in year nine of this next chapter of my career I still hope that I am impacting students and education like I did when I was a classroom teacher.

I began this blog in 2012 when I was asked two weeks before the school year to be a teaching coach. I would be a part time computer lab teacher and coach at the same time.  Receiving a new teaching assignment at such a late date allowed me a bit of leverage with my boss- I told him I wouldn't be writing lesson plans to submit weekly to him alone but instead would blog my lesson plans as a way to provide transparency as well as model for other teachers what blogging looked like.


Over the next four years I would write various types of posts:
  • On Coaching- examples of great technology integration, how-to guides and resources for educators, and posts promoting my colleagues and celebrating their willingness to incorporate technology
  • On Reflection- topics that are personal to me as an educator but show how I continue to grow and question my contribution to the profession
  • On Tips for a broader audience- information that not only pertains to the university students I teach but also for educational leaders
It's a bit difficult to think of where I'll be after another 4 years, and if I'll write another 100 blog posts. I do know, however that I'll still be in the field of education.  Like technology, it's my passion.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

BreakoutEDU, Kindergarten Style!

This fall several of our teachers participated in The Global Read Aloud, working with classrooms across the United States to read the same books and share our thoughts and ideas about them.  One such partnership was with Ms. Cain, a librarian in North Dakota who is working with one of our kindergarten teachers, Ms. Thomsen.  Our collaboration takes places mainly through Seesaw where we share pictures and thoughts on the books we have read during this project.

Ms. Cain suggested doing a BreakoutEDU activity that was created specifically around our Global Read Aloud author study. BreakoutEDU with kindergarten?!  I had only done this with adults (and Ms. Thomsen had never even heard about it)!  Luckily, I had recently purchased a kit which made this the perfect opportunity to dive right in with students.

While the instructions for We Are Readers were well done and thorough I still modified some to make the activity run smoother for our little learners.  Following are the accommodations and lessons learned.


  • We decided to place the students in groups, and give each group a puzzle to focus on.  Since this was their first experience with an activity like this we thought it would help the students focus more and make sure everyone was engaged and had a role to play.
  • One of the puzzles involved students reading a narrative about travel and determining which direction the traveler went.  As students new to kindergarten there weren't many in early November that could master the paragraph so I made a recording and had an iPad available nearby with a QR code linking to the audio.  I also created a mat with 4 arrows so that they could easily manipulate each arrow as the traveler moved instead of having to memorize 4 sets of directions in sequential order.

  • The word lock involved the students solving a puzzle and then guessing the word the puzzle represented.  Again, to make this easier for our first time we decided to create a word list for the students to choose from.  One note:  the word list is in lowercase letters whereas the lock has all capital letters.  This made it difficult for some of the students to read and will be something we will make sure we address the next time.


We introduced the activity, each lock and the puzzle that accompanied it.  We talked about working together, persevering and how we would guide them but not give them answers.  In all, the students broke out in a matter of 25 minutes!  The activity was highly engaging and successful.  It was a wonderful way to wrap up our author series.