Professional Development Time
Woodland Elementary School - Milford, MA
-- Contributed by Craig Consigli, Principal
One of the most difficult things to schedule, fund and implement during a school year is professional development. Often overlooked and underestimated is the importance of successful professional development for a staff. There are many benefits from a strategic professional development plan of action that will translate to student success. On the other hand, there are many roadblocks to implementing successful learning opportunities for all staff. At Woodland Elementary School in Milford, MA, we created a plan that utilized time after school, flexible scheduling, limited funding, and home grown experts. We have found some success in the early implementation of our plan and we are looking forward to a more comprehensive plan for the future.
In the glory days of professional development time in Milford, there was an abundance of time contractually set aside for staff development. Professional development time a decade ago consisted of a monthly half day and three hours of monthly meetings held after school. In retrospect, this was valuable resource that was taken for granted. Although historically professional development time has decreased tremendously in our district, it has not changed over the past several years. Each year our district builds four half days and one full day of professional development time into our district calendar. Additionally, we have one Tuesday a month that teachers are contractually obligated to stay for an hour. Typically this is reserved for faculty meetings. Between the half days and the contractual hour we have once a month, there are about 22 hours of professional development time. With the full day, our administration has approximately 30 hours of professional development time to work with each year on top of any time we can scratch out of a teacher’s schedule during any given school day. After any mandated trainings or district sponsored initiatives that our faculty is required to participate in, there is limited time for building-based or individual teacher initiatives and improvements to be scheduled.
Hopefully, most professional development plans start with a need. Often that need is one or two major curriculum changes, behavioral programs like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), technology implementation, or major shifts in teaching and learning like Response to Intervention (RTI) or Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) training. I suspect most administrators feel as unsuccessful as I do when trying to implement useful, sustainable professional development. In my experience, the easiest way to implement required or needed professional development is on one of the four half days or the one full day that is scheduled into our district’s calendar. The down side is that everyone is receiving the same professional development with no regard for need, interest, or sustainability. Past professional development planning practices had me checking things off a list rather than carefully putting a structure in place to create a culture of collegiality and shared responsibility in professional development.
In working with a core group of teacher leaders and district administration, we started to discuss the value of Tuesday faculty meetings. For the most part, they were a time that we would come together as a faculty to share information. In the 2013-14 school year, we successfully implemented a schedule that included one common planning time period for all staff members. Our leadership group started to look at the after-school time differently. We started passing any and all important information through a detailed weekly newsletter and anything that needed clarification came during common planning time. This past winter, we experimented with the Tuesday contractual hour. Teachers are a collaborative bunch and enjoy learning from each other. For the first trial, staff members committed to offering some professional development as part of their professional practice SMART (specific and strategic, measurable, action oriented, rigorous, realistic, and results-focused, and timed and tracked) goals. On each Tuesday during the month of January, we offered a different seminar. The topics for the seminars differed by subject matter and staff member. One of the reading specialists gave a seminar on reading and annotating texts. The occupational therapist presented a seminar on sensory issues in the classroom. The school’s board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) presented strategies for dealing with verbally disruptive students in the classroom. A couple of English Language Learner (ELL) teachers presented a few ways to differentiate lessons for English Language Learners in an inclusive classroom. I found that having a variety of topics is important so that every teacher in the building can attend something that is useful or helpful to his/her everyday lesson planning, teaching, and/or classroom management.
We had a great experience with our first round of seminars. Before I knew it, many staff members were volunteering to share a specific area of expertise. Contractually, all teachers are required to stay for one of the Tuesdays, but many teachers stayed for more than one, if not all of the sessions. The sessions were generally well accepted and were great ways for teachers to learn from each other. The seminars also promoted team building and collegiality and added to the positive culture of the building. Teachers felt empowered to share their knowledge with their colleagues in a non-evaluative forum. We replicated this format in February and April. We ran a total of 10 different seminars this year, but there was an expressed interest in an additional six more that we never had the opportunity to present as time wound down this school year. In hopes of bringing more structure to our seminars, we are developing seminars that connect by topic. In this way, we can string a few Tuesdays together and have more of a cohort of teachers working toward a particular skill. For example, we could have a string of seminars for beginning teachers or a different string for teachers that want to learn more about co-teaching or classroom management. The possibilities are endless and it is all lead by the greatest resources we have – the faculty.