Professional Development Drought

*This blog post does not reflect the views of my school or anyone working within my school.

Professional development (PD) should be the cornerstone for anyone looking to better themselves no matter what career they choose. Educators seem to be at the forefront when it comes to attending PD. We are a profession that is constantly trying to make ourselves better and in some instances told we have no choice but to attend certain professional development because we cannot be licensed to be a teacher without a set number of hours of PD or college credits to match.

Since starting my teaching career over 16 years ago I have slowly and steadily watched professional development make the proverbial dive out of the sky as if it is an airplane that is slowly losing one engine at a time. Teachers aren’t going and the quality of PD isn’t always top notch. For me, I am lucky because I have had the privilege of being on both the delivery side of PD and the receiving end through work with the Chippewa River Writing Project. Through many conversations with colleagues and like-minded educators, I have come to a few conclusions as to why professional development is facing a potential breaking point for teachers and educators.

First, professional development is expensive. Many school districts used to help their teachers out and help pay for professional development. With constant cuts to per-pupil funding, declining enrollment, and other funding like Title II being cut, teachers are forced to pay for PD out of their own pockets. If you add up the cost of the conference, potential hotel expenses, gas, and meals. Teachers can potentially be looking at costs between $500-$1000 depending on the type of conference. Please don’t think I am complaining about what teachers make either. I am simply saying therepotentially is a lot of out of pocket costs to absorb.

Besides the financial burden of professional development, I feel there is low-quality PD being offered by our Intermediate School District (ISD) where multiple schools belong. They do a poor job of helping teachers. Our ISD is supposed to support and develop teachers and their skills. That is not happening. I do see them helping our new teachers, but that is it. I hear too much from their end about the high cost and poor attendance, etc. Why is it then that our ISD sits on almost 3 million dollars, but can’t offer quality experiences for teachers? I don’t know if this is true everywhere, but I know it is within my ISD.  They are not the only entities to blame for quality PD, but when considering the types of professional development that can be low cost or free for teachers, this is good place to start.

Now, put aside financial burden and quality of PD and the issue of teacher burnout existing. I never really gave much thought to teacher burnout until I was talking to a very close friend and colleague about why teachers are not participating in PD. He discussed that fact that teachers plates are becoming increasingly full. With reduced staff in schools, teachers are being asked to do more and more. When teachers prioritize what they need to do and get done, PD seems to be at the bottom of the significant list of items. I think of PD like a salad. We know it’s good for us and it can make us better or healthy. However, we just want to skip it and get to the main course or the main items on our plates. We don’t have time or the need to mess with the salad. I have even witnessed teachers turn down a professional development package that was worth over $1000 and all it would cost them is gas money to travel.

All of this lends itself to rethinking how professional development should be delivered to teachers. Yes, there are many online PD opportunities, but are they better than face-to-face? Is true collaboration taking place with online spaces? I do have a passion for the 4T Conference which is truly phenomenal. So, to say that all online PD is low quality is not a fair assessment. I do not have the answers and I am sure others don’t agree with what I am writing. On the other hand, I do feel it is time to rethink how PD is being done and what we can do to help teachers in this area.

Cheers!

 

PD

(Image Courtesy of Johnson County Community College http://blogs.jccc.edu/2017/08/11/professional-development-days-fall-2017/)

 

 



Welcome Back

Well, my summer break was officially over this past week as I trudged through my mornings with my coffee in hand trying to fall back into a routine that will be a part of my daily life starting Tuesday.  To those teachers and administrators that have been back for awhile, I hope all is going well. Welcome back everyone!

It has been a busy summer and one of the best I have had since going through the summer writing institute in 2010. With that being said, I went back to school Monday with an open mind and an understanding that things were going to be different again. It seems over the past 5 years that I have been teaching at the middle school level, there has been some type of change; whether it has been teaching assignments, new staff, or even new administrators. The week was interesting, but also very trying.

I applaud my principal for keeping an open mind to the use of technology in the classroom. We had a two hour segment titled 21st century learning and there were three staff members who presented, including myself.  My principal wanted us to share what we were doing in our classroom to engage today’s learner.  Three different digital tools were presented to the staff:

  1. Moodle
  2. Celly
  3. Schoology

I of course being the big Celly user introduced this to my colleagues.

The middle school science teacher discussed Moodle, which I do not use and do not really care for.  I find it difficult to navigate and not very user friendly for the students.

Finally, one of our high school language arts teachers showed Schoology. All 7th-11th graders will be using Schoology this year as a way to communicate, get access to assignments, and collaborate. Parents can even see what is happening in class.

One of the bigger issues at the helm was student growth.  Our beloved politicians in my state want teachers to be able prove they are doing their job by displaying there was student growth.  What is this supposed to look like?  Well, that is superb question.  One way our principal wants us to show student growth is by giving a pre and post test.  In addition, we were to discuss other ways within our departments how we could potentially show student growth.  The language arts department discussed writing portfolios and the possibilities digital portfolios bring.  With students from grades 7-11 using Schoology, it would be easy to pass their digital portfolios from year to year.  Schoology syncs well with Google Docs, so students can create folders within Google docs and put their writing samples in it.  The more important question is what is the definition of student growth? If a student scores one more right on the post-test than what they did on the pre-test, is that considered student growth? What is classified as being proficient? 75%. 80%. It was a conversation that quite frankly literally gave me a headache.

I deem myself as a hard working teacher and I know my students get better by the end of the year, but what truly is an accurate way to measure student growth.  I am curious if there is anyone who has suggestions.

I am blessed to have a job and I love being a teacher. I know I will have another successful year based on the mere fact I will engage my students each and every day.  I want my students begging me to keep reading and writing.  That is my measure for student growth.

Keep reading and spread the word.  I want to write everyday during the school year.  I want to use it as a reflective time to help me form my thoughts for the book I am working on.

Cheers!


Understanding and Implementing the Common Core

Michigan is one of many states who have adopted the Common Core National Standards. More and more I read both negative and positive reviews of the CCSS. I am sure the more educators, professionals, and school districts unpack them, there will continue to be the emergence of these types of reviews. It isn’t a secret schools districts will be tested over the CCSS in 2014-2015. To me, schools will not be successful if they plan on implementing and reviewing the standards the year before they are being assessed. I am utterly shocked at the number of schools who have NOT implemented or even looked at the CCSS when my PD partner and I are delivering our breakdown of the informational writing standard. A word of advice to those schools; you better start.

In addition to districts and teachers themselves, I question what is happening at the university and college level in regard to the Common Core. For the past month I have had a mid-tier student in my classroom from a university/college that I will leave nameless in my blog. Mid-tier students have to complete so many hours of observation as part of the teacher-education program. These hours are completed before they begin their student-teaching. I remember having to do the same thing during my undergrad work. Last week my mid-tier and I were having a conversation about a lesson that needed to be taught in my classroom and after establishing it would be a lesson on grammar, I asked what they knew about the CCSS. The response I received just about knocked me down. Though they knew of them, they were not being discussed in the classes they were taking. According to my mid-tier our states Grade Level Content Expectations(GLCE) and something else called the high school content expectations(HSCE) was supposed to be the focus of the students. Now, how is not discussing the Common Core preparing new teachers for the classroom? I asked my mid-tier to go back and ask their teachers about the CCSS and why they weren’t being baptized into the world of the new National Standards.

The following week I had a follow-up conversation with my mid-tier and it according to them there seems to be a lot of finger pointing going on. Education professors are saying the English professors should be covering the CCSS and English professors claim the Education professors should be covering them. It seems we have a failure to communicate people! It’s obvious to me there is a problem. What is it? It’s not being taught. My mid-tier even brought it up in a class and other students wondered too why it wasn’t be addressed with them and the professor told them they wouldn’t be covering it at all. We aren’t doing young teachers-to-be any services if they aren’t being kept up to speed about curriculum and standards. Now, I am not attending these classes my mid-tier is taking, so I don’t know the whole story. All I know is something isn’t stirring the Kool-Aid. I did have an opportunity to fill out an online survey provided by the college/university and expressed my concern pertaining to the Common Core and I did receive an email back and was told my concerns would be addressed.

If individuals are under the impression the CCSS are going away, they are are wrong. The time is now to start thinking and acting and that does include individuals at the college level.

Cheers!


Motivation: For Teachers

The last few days of break have been very cumbersome for me. I have felt weighted down, not very energetic, and somewhat irritable.  Nevertheless, I knew the alarm would go off at 5:50a.m. this morning and I would have to be ready for my students. A very perplexing issue that has risen to the top of my thoughts over the past few days is the term motivation.  Yes, I truly believe as educators, we come back from Christmas break re-energized and ready to teach our students to the best of our abilities. 

 On the other hand, I know as a teacher in the great state of Michigan, we pray for snow days too.  Or at least I know I will be wanting a snow day. Why?  In my school district we don’t have another break until the start of our Spring break which is April 2.  Now, I know some school districts have a mid-winter break in February to try to break things up, but I do not.  So, I had to ask myself the last few days, what is going to keep me motivated to get me through this long stretch.  Because to be honest, mother nature doesn’t look to be on my side.

The first idea that came to mind was professional development.  This is a great time of year to be a part of some sort of professional development that your district or local university may be hosting.  I might suggest finding some professional development on the Common Core Standards.  I recently enrolled into a professional development book club about the Common Core and Project Based Learning.  I am looking forward to attending.  In addition, I am helping our Writing Project Sit with professional development about informational writing and the Common Core.  Needless to say, there should be plenty of opportunities for any educator out there to imerse themselves in PD.  I find PD does two things for me.  First, it obviously gives you a break from your students and your classroom where the stress can mount quickly.  We all need adult interaction once in a while.  Second, I always get that refreshing feeling that we all need. I become armed with strategies to use in my classroom and it almost feels like a coach has given me a pep talk.  Once again, I am ready to go!

Besides professional development, I encourage anyone to write.  Writing has helped me so much since being part of the National Writing Project. Troy Hicks, our site director, was intense and challenged us all.  I am the writer today and the teacher I am today because of him and the National Writing Project.  Writing is a great outlet to express your feeling and your ideas.  In addition, it makes you feel better when you are done getting your thoughts down on paper.  Writing can take the form of a poem, journal, song, etc.  I even encourage you to enter a writing contest.  There are plenty of them out there.  Figment.com is a great website that hosts plenty of writing contests. 

If professional development and writing don’t sound the most appealing, I encourage you to start a book club with friends or colleagues with a New York Time’s bestseller, or any other book that may be of interest.  If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea or might be too time consuming.  Befriend a colleague and go out for a nice dinner and perhaps vent to each other about the challenges you face in your classroom. 

Whatever avenue you choose to take to keep yourself motivated and doing your best as a teacher in your classroom, I know this time of year can be challenging.  Lean on each other professionally to help!

Cheers!