Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Best PD Available: Sometimes It's Right At Our Fingertips

A busy week has swept by me once again, full of school functions, school visits, speeches, and track meets.  Too much to write about and not enough time to write about it well, but in the little spare time I have had, my mind has been occupied to the point of explosion by exciting thoughts.

The one thing that has really struck me this week is the importance of teachers watching teachers.  I have had the pleasure of sitting in 5 of our 8 semifinalist classes and visiting their schools, and I have walked away from each observation with ideas for either my classroom or my school.  I have been thinking about the importance of mentoring programs; gotten a glimpse of integrated arts at work; watched kids come alive in a science classroom; seen how reading, writing, speaking, and supporting arguments can be so easily integrated into a social studies lesson; and witnessed technology playing a seamless role in classrooms.  I have pages of art ideas, book titles, and contact names in my notebook that I have furiously gathered on the side.  I have returned to school, eager to share with my peers.
This makes me think about the role professional development plays in our schools.  Professional development is usually us sitting in a classroom or at a conference having a professional speak to us.  And we then either put the information in a binder or privately implement a new practice into our classroom, returning to our schools where we too often teach behind closed doors.  But I have found that sitting in these classrooms and walking through these hallways really makes me reflect upon my own practices.  Do I give students enough time to process before they answer?  Are my objectives for a lesson made clear?  Do my class sizes impact how I teach writing and how could I overcome that?  What is the culture we set in our school?  This week has been some of the most effective professional development I have received, because sitting in other teachers’ classrooms does not only give me new ideas, but it forces me to reflect upon my own beliefs and practices.
What if within our districts our doors were more open and we spent more time visiting other classrooms?  I teach in a regional district of 8 schools. What if I was granted the time to sit in every other middle school classroom and they, mine?  What if we had the chance, as 8th grade teachers, to spend time in 9th grade classrooms? What if 9th grade teachers spent time in our 8th grade classrooms? I can’t imagine anything more transformational than this.  We could suddenly share ideas and materials, offer support, help one another in nonthreatening ways.  Our doors would be flung open and we would be a much more reflective staff.  We would become teacher leaders, natural mentors, and collaborators.   

Teachers yearn this.  
Is there any reason why we can’t make it happen?  

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