Collaborative Learning Teams

Collaborative Learning Teams

I love the beginning of the year–there’s so much possibility, a lot of blank space on this white sheet of paper which I have titled 2016-2017 School Year.  I’ve decided that something that I really want to work on improving at our school is the quality of in-house professional development. I’ve decided to start a mind-map of what would be the essential qualities of PD

pd journal note

One of the challenges I’ve faced in the past with in-house professional development  is that we’ve lacked vision and purpose for it, so when we decided to do PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities), it lacked the interest and enthusiasm for self-directed and collective learning; many of our staff believe that the only way to learn is to attend a workshop or have a presenter “teach” us, as if learning is something that happens to us and not as a result of our own engagement. Coupled with the fact that there was a lack of understanding in admin of how to structure a PLC and manage it, it was not surprising that staff rebuffed at the idea of it. Bad PD is almost worse than no PD, because if negative expectations become the norm then the openness to collaborative learning is highly diminished.
The fact that I was beginning to see these attitudes emerging meant that I needed to roll up my sleeves and get to learning more about professional development so I could influence our leadership team in ways in which we could improve it.
Although I love blogs, I turned to several books to get more in-depth understanding of how to improve professional development : Models of Professional DevelopmentLeading Professional Learning: Tools to Connect and Empower Teachers Better Conversations, and Learning By Doing.  (A lot of summer reading, I know.)
Something that I loved from the work on PLCs from Richard Dufour and Robert Eaker was this idea of cultivating a culture in  “educators [creating] an environment that fosters mutual cooperation, emotional support, and personal growth as they work together to achieve what they cannot accomplish alone”. The goal of PLCs  is to take an interest in learning and turn it into a commitment to improvement in that area. So, the professional learning community that Dufour and Eaker envision has six characteristics:
• Shared mission, vision, and values
Collective inquiry
• Collaborative teams
• Action orientation and experimentation
• Continuous improvement
• Results orientation
I also appreciate Sharon Hord’s elaboration on PLCs to include an emphasis on reflective dialogue as a vehicle for collective learning. When I was reading about this, it seemed to mirror some of the power of peer-coaching data that is shown to improve implementation. I thought about Jim Knight’s coaching conversations and how asking better questions can develop those dialogues. It seemed to me that I could connect some dots and come up with a dynamic approach to in-house professional development, which includes a lot of the elements of a PLC, peer-coaching and expanding our notion of best practice.
Since we’ve been reviewing our data on writing, I thought it would be easier for us to rally around a common goal: improving student writing.  Also, I wanted to provide better resources since my staff’s professional research skills were weak; thus I am introducing a book study. Furthermore, I want to differentiate upper and lower primary school’s objectives and put them into collaborative learning teams (my re-branding of the PLC). The lower grades (Early Years to Grade 1) are developing attitudes to writing and an awareness of the writing life. I found some amazing books from Matt Glover and Katie Wood that help teachers modify the elements of the writer’s workshop for younger ones and shape their perception of themselves as authors through a deep dive into illustrative study. In the grades in which writing skills are being consolidated (Grades 2-5), they can look at the 6 Traits +1 of Writing as a model to develop habits of student self-reflection of their work and look to mentor texts as a means to develop their craft.
In order to combine some of the elements of effective professional development for our small school, I want to include these elements in the learning teams:
  1. Create a mission statement for their learning teams.
  2. Create a personal goal that is linked to their appraisal.
  3. Regular discussion of their reading.
  4. Share student work samples, rubrics and other assessments.
  5. Non-critical dialogue from a learning partner (peer-coach)
  6. Demonstrations of their teaching by learning partner (monthly observation)
  7. Planning and reflection of those plans.
  8. Mid-year checkpoint, in which the learning team shares what has been working and not working for them.
  9. End of year presentation, which includes looking at MAP data and reflection on our goals.
  10. Celebration for the work and effort that they made.

I know that this is my first time that I will be given autonomy for PD and I’m excited by the trust and freedom of my new principal. We have an early release day on Wednesdays which is allocated time for this effort. Of course since I am trying to combine several aspects of effective professional development, I am a bit anxious with this experimentation but I know that overall I have staff who will be open and willing to try something different. I will definitely update later about our progress.


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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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