The gift of time: Often underrated and underestimated
Educators know there is much to investigate, debate, and expand on in our profession. Inevitably you will hear, “there doesn’t seem to be enough time”…but time, we seem to find. Just go on Twitter and peruse for awhile, you will find dedicated educators taking risks, asking questions and issuing provocations to one another. We somehow find the time because we know our professional development (PD) is essential to the contribution we can make as teachers to student growth and innovative practices. Contrary to some current thinking out there, educators (and their practice) are always evolving, as is the curriculum that guides us.
So given the gift of time, how do we use it most effectively or more so, in the most sustainable way?
The answer: collaboratively. This sounds simplistic but it is anything but. Combining efforts and initiatives to produce more time for educators to dig deeper into action research or develop pedagogies, requires conversation and engagement at many levels:
- Administrators who are open and willing to advocate for their staff members at a district level, as well as allow a democratic process of choice of topic and study via school-based PD committees.
- Program consultants and senior administrators who visit schools often, plant seeds and have an understanding of the school community and its areas of investigation, as well as knowing those teachers who are actively pursuing such research. With this knowledge, they can easily merge the school’s efforts with greater district initiatives.
- Senior administration that gives credence and sees substance in both large-scale district PD opportunities as well as grass-roots initiatives, and provides funding as the needs arise, in real time.
- Teachers that have a willingness to meet both formally and informally to further their own action research and nurture it regardless of funding or recognition.
A tried and true recipe involves: balance and the nurturing of a growth mindset. So what are the ingredients we have to work with (which most school districts have to offer):
- on average 5-6 PD days (usually 1-2 being district/provincial ones)
- some districts offer a professional growth day that each teacher is entitled to. Teachers choose their PD opportunity based on criteria and approval (if districts don’t offer this, this is a good place to start)
- of the school PD days, one is usually devoted to the end of year/school growth plan
- districts via program consultants and ministry initiatives offer time via cohort opportunities
- the “one-off” presenter or keynote series being offered by the district for the year (this should not be discounted: implicit as well as explicit opportunities frame an important balance to individual meaning making)
Method: (by example)
A “grass-roots”, school-based initiative can turn into sustainable PD and action research if:
- a group of teachers use their individual pro-growth,
- the inquiry is incorporated into the school plan and thus can access school-based PD as well as “meet the needs of the learner” budgets,
- it can be endorsed and fall under district funded cohorts.
This can result in a small group of teachers having 4–5 days of personalized, deep learning and investigation at the onset.
A small group of teachers from three different schools facilitated by a teacher-librarian and the Early Learning program consultant had a vested interest in concepts of: documentation of learning, Visible Learning (as directed by Project Zero, Harvard) and Reggio-Emilia inspired practices. They met informally as a whole group and networked extensively amongst one another in their schools, largely on their own and using their professional growth funding.
With strong support from the principal and the program consultant networking among other schools, this small cohort began to open their classrooms as a demo classroom for other district colleagues. This resulted in the short demo turning into a half day workshop/demo, involving teachers from other districts, university faculty and other early learning stakeholders in the community. The program consultant and district began to fund these initiatives as an investigative practice and district cohort.
In the schools where these workshops were taking place, the parent community and other staff members began to take notice of these grass-roots attempts, excitement and innovative practices and, by request, this cohort began to run a larger staff initiative … what can be called “growing learners/pedagogy from within”.
With other teachers trying things out, thoughtfully and with intent in their classrooms, and with positive impact on student learning, this became a school-wide focus and was incorporated into the school-wide plan.
Eventually the district asked the original cohort to present to the superintendents conference and the university asked the group to lead a session in their innovative practices series.
This group of teachers, who initially nurtured their own interests to build upon their practice and increase student engagement on their own accord, had turned their experiences into expertise that was not only sustained among the school, but on a larger scale in their educational community.
Flash forward four years, the group is still functioning (with much support by the principal) in different capacities and right now is investigating as a cohort, on behalf of the district for the ministry pilot of: Communicating Student Learning which looks at different ways to report student learning and evaluation as an adaptation to report cards.
To sum, this was done by the will of a small group of teachers who were able to access individualized professional development funds, added to this was district funding under a cohort model accentuated by school growth plan implementation funds.
Collaboration, communication, compilation and a belief in “bottom-up” expertise can grow meaningful and sustainable professional development experiences that start with students in the classroom and end there.