Early out PD.
You know those days that always feel like the longest day of the year. The ones where the periods are shortened, but they feel like eternity. The days where teachers scramble around like mad trying to ensure at least a little bit of learning is taking place in a small chunk of time with the foreboding feeling of a long afternoon sitting and listening to something that we should care about, but really don’t.
Yeah, we had one of those days except it was different.
I had for the first time in a very long time and perhaps one of the very few moments in my career an epiphany or feeling where I came home jacked up and super excited for learning, for working with amazing people(and people I never connect with on a regular basis), and feeling good about things in our school.
What we did that worked so effectively was provide a PD that allowed for voice and choice as well as an opportunity for teachers to be treated like professional adults. They could choose their session they wanted to attend(which is nothing new and something we have done many times before). The next key element was that the session was a long block instead of smaller time sessions where deep learning simply cannot happen. Additionally, the longer block of time allowed the teachers to create and make their own work. In the session the teachers had a choice in what they would walk away with and how they would take their next steps in their learning and growth. It was geared around moving our culture and mindset forward to a place that we need to get to as a staff.
And it was awesome.
About a month ago some of us were super lucky and fortunate to attend what I believe is one of the best conferences – Deeper Learning. We knew that we had to find a way to bring back the feelings, emotions, and mindsets that were developed while we were out there. We met for a half day to discuss ideas, brainstorm how to share to staff things that they would WANT to know, and figure out how to deploy a starting point to move into action.
We spent the morning developing ideas and sessions. In the end we came up with five sessions that ran roughly 100 minutes. Honestly, do you ever gain much from a short 40 minute session? If our goal is to promote positive culture, growth mindset, and deeper learning, then time has to be provided to allow these things to develop.
In the end we divided ourselves up and launched five different sessions. Here is what we created for my session with another instructional coach, Chad Uhde (@udhawk)
Identity Crisis – This session will explore how to create a new name placards to spruce up our name plates outside our classroom using Google Drawings, Silhouette Cameo, soldering wires and LED, and more. By creating a hands on approach to this challenge teachers will gain an understanding on how to use the tools in our makerspaces while also pushing their learning comfort zones with a desired goal to make our building look a bit nicer.
I cannot speak for the other sessions, but I know I was nervous. We knew we had to make this work. We wanted teachers to experience the tools for themselves and leave with excitement about what they accomplished along with how they could take what they learned and apply it to their classroom.
We sat down and created an agenda for the session. We made a mad dash to gather supplies, rearrange the room to fit our needs, and make sure we were ready to go. We made sure to also explain the norms and treat the educators just like students or anyone who comes into our makerspace, Coffeechug Cafe.
I am not going to lie, I was not sure how things would turn out. I am so glad we did what we set out to do because I could see teachers pushing their comfort zones, taking so much pride in their work, experimenting with new thoughts and ideas, and feeling good about themselves. I witness teachers helping one another, asking questions about other work, seeking ideas and support, and working at times by themselves and other times with others. I witnessed them walking out with a smile on their face. I witnessed all the things that we hope to create within our classrooms. I heard brainstorm applications to the classrooms. I felt the gears turning in their heads, then stopping at a grinding halt, the frustration brewing, and then the breakthrough moment when things connect.
It was amazing. It was so good that we had people working for one hour over the time they were able to leave. Let me ask you – how often does that happen at your PD sessions?
I left so inspired by the teachers that were in our workshop. We still have work to do. We had teachers in the following morning. We have more coming in the upcoming week. We had educators working on their designs at home. The learning extended beyond the sessions because they were invested and wanted their product to look good. They had pride. More importantly, they were beginning to ask and think “What if I did this in my classroom?”
There is something special when learning can happen at a pace that we are comfortable with individually. Set the parameters, explain the support system, and let people go. Makerspace, project based learning, STEM, etc., use whatever buzzword you want. In the end if we can create conditions where people feel safe to try new things, take an invested approach to their learning, and feel supported, then the sky is the limit.
I thank every single person who was in our session. I learned a great deal about myself, about others, and about what is needed to continue to push our culture and community of educators to the next level of positive support and culture. It is time we remove the patchwork system of mandates and begin to really dive into our culture. We must ensure people feel supported. We must ensure we feel connected. We must ensure that it is okay to try new things. We must ensure that is alright to smile and feel proud about our work and not be attacked by others.
In closing, I cannot say it any better than a new, but powerful and game changer educator in our building who is pushing the boundaries of art education in our school.
“Before this session, I was a bit hesitant of the idea of a makerspace as an art teacher. After all, I feel that my room is within the same capacity; students having the freedom to build, inspire and create works of art. But, I like challenging myself and my processing/ideas, and also I wanted to try something new, so I decided to jump into this session. After hearing and seeing the options that are housed within this makerspace, I am really interested in utilizing this within my curriculum, especially for those students who feel disengaged or need the extension for learning. There seems to be such an obvious connection between the two spaces (Makerspace and Art Room). When this session concluded, my brain was flooded with ideas and new creations for my students to make and use. Having this session really helped me actually SEE the possibilities for myself and my students.” Alex DeLong
I was reminded that if we don’t create conditions for our own educators/adult learners to be challenged in a positive way, then how will we ever create the conditions for students to have the same experiences. We must model by what we do, not what we say and the educators in our session lead by example.
Now, how do we continue to promote, create, and establish these type of learning environments for educators so it is not just a once in a blue moon opportunity?