Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sharing Our Staff Development

Those of you who have read this blog for a while realize that while this also serves as my personal blog, its initial (and still main) purpose is in support of our staff development efforts. It’s a place to stimulate and continue the conversations we have in our staff development sessions, as we explore constructivism and the use of technology to create a more student-centered approach to teaching and learning.

One of my blog goals for this year is to do a better job of sharing our staff development efforts. I hope to give readers from outside of Arapahoe a better idea of the specific activities we are doing and the discussions we are having, as well as give the teachers participating in the staff development a place to comment on the specific sessions. (While we’ve always used the blog to continue the conversations we’ve begun in the sessions, we haven’t focused so much on commenting on the quality of the sessions themselves.) I realize there’s no way that I can accurately portray our staff development on the blog, because you really have to experience the three-hour sessions yourselves to get a feeling for what’s happening. The power and success of what we’ve been doing comes from the discussion, interaction, collaboration and push/pull of the teachers in the face-to-face sessions. But I hope to at least give a window into that process on the blog in hopes of possibly stimulating a good idea for someone else.

So, last Monday we had our first session of the new school year. This was before teachers had to officially report back, and before students start back (they start next Tuesday), so we were able to have both cohorts of teachers (46 of us total) meet together for a little over four hours. The session was divided up into four sections, although the time was not evenly split.

The first part was a discussion of the introduction and first three chapters of the book Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement by Dufour and Eaker. Like many school districts, ours is making a major push into Professional Learning Communities. We have an altered calendar this year, with ten late-start days (two hours late) spread throughout the year for teachers to work together in PLC’s. Many of the ideas in this book complement what we’ve been trying to do in our staff development, as well as we hope to support our building as we develop mission, vision, values and goals. Four teachers (two from each cohort) took on the task of planning and facilitating our discussion of these chapters (everyone got a copy of the book to take home and read over the summer). You can read a nice summary over on Michele’s blog, but basically we discussed both the negatives and positives of past school reform efforts as well as what was necessary to make this one succeed. The big take-away for me was, as Michele said, “it’s up to us, the teachers, to make this work.” I think most of us left that discussion feeling positive that we do have the power and ability to use this process to make good things happen for our students. Thanks Michele, Brad, Lauren and Jared for planning and facilitating our discussion.

The second part of our morning was the ranting and raving portion of our session. In other words, I talked for a while. Over the last two years we’ve been doing this staff development (well, two years for cohort 1, only one year for cohort 2), I’ve been known to occasionally launch into passionate, emotional, and slightly crazed soliloquy’s that are affectionately (or perhaps not so affectionately) known as Fischrants. These are usually in one of our sessions, but occasionally play out on our staff development blogs (typically in the comments of either this blog or one of the cohort member’s blogs). They are instances where I really try to push an idea whose time may or may not have come, and the folks in my staff development typically push back. The topic for this Fischrant was Lifelong Learning and Personal Learning Networks. I shared this PowerPoint with them (as always, to try to spur thought and conversation), and then spent some time talking about how I think learning networks have always existed for humans, but that they have evolved over time. And that in our current time, with the Internet and other flat-world factors, the scope and power of learning networks has expanded exponentially. I then closed with a plea that they needed to do three things:
  • First, they needed to think long and hard about this.

  • Second, if they thought I was even partially correct, then they needed to start thinking about how they can help their students create, develop, manage, learn from, and contribute to their own learning networks.

  • And third, that they needed to work on creating, developing, managing, learning from and contributing to their own personal learning networks; that they could not possibly do a very good job helping their students if they hadn’t experienced it themselves.
Like most Fischrants, I think this one was partially successful and did some good, but also probably convinced some of them that I’m completely insane. (Those are not mutually exclusive outcomes, by the way.)

The third portion was really a continuation of the Personal Learning Network piece, as we gave them time to learn. The suggested activities to choose from included:
  • reading some blogs

  • writing/reflecting in their own blog

  • reconnecting with Bloglines or exploring/setting up Google Reader or iGoogle

  • thinking about personal learning networks – both their own and how they could help students create them

  • watching the Andrew Zolli keynote from NECC and reading The Coming Death Shortage from The Atlantic (part of their assignment for next time is to watch the keynote and read the article, but they could choose to do that now if they didn’t like the other choices).
I wasn’t sure how well this would go over, as some folks taking a class really want the time filled with “instruction,” but they were all very engaged so I think it went well.

The final portion was pizza, soft drinks, and catching up with each other. I know this part went well.

Their assignment for next time (a three hour session in the first week of September, where they meet in three different groups) is:
  • Reading Chapter 4 of the PLC book, with their focus being creating a mission and vision for our 21c staff development efforts (as well as thinking about our school-wide mission and vision). Two teacher participants will plan and lead the discussion in each of the three groups.

  • Explore creating their own personal learning network, and think about how to help students do that.

  • Watch the Zolli keynote and read The Atlantic article, the focus here being both on changing demographics and increased lifespan, and what that means in terms of K-12 education and lifelong learning.

  • To reflect in their personal blogs (or in a Word document emailed to me if they are completely uncomfortable with doing it publicly – a few are) on the ideas we are talking about, things they are trying in their classes, successes and challenges, reactions to our discussions today, reactions to the Zolli keynote and accompanying article, or whatever they feel would be helpful for them to reflect on.
So, I know this was rather long, but hopefully it gave some folks an idea of what this staff development session was like, and perhaps may spur some ideas for your own sessions. As always, I don't hold our examples up as being perfect or fantastic in any way, but I am attempting to be just as transparent with our staff development efforts as I'm encouraging the teachers in my building to be with their teaching efforts. Hopefully by being transparent - by sharing and communicating and collaborating and being open with what we do - we will all learn more from each other and, ultimately, do a better job helping our students learn.


  1. Hi Karl: Welcome back! Thanks for sharing your PD with the world-- I will try to do the same as well this year. I liked your "Soap Box" concept: insanity is good sometimes!

    I have two new mashups in my repertoire: check them out at


    Best wishes for a successful school year!

    Barry Bachenheimer
    West Caldwell, NJ

  2. Karl - FYI - I just downloaded your newest version to show the staff at my school at the behest of my very non-techie principal who saw an older version this summer. She also wants to show Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk - I was amazed to say the least. I hope this means we really are making headway. Was great meeting you at NECC and sitting in on the session you and your staff did. Thanks again.

  3. Nice work, Karl. Love the PowerPoint, I empathize with your insanity.

    I'm sure you spoke of this already with your teachers, but I think that your teachers really need to know that their students have already formed (and are continuing to form) their own personal learning communities - using the various social networks that Internet connectivity can freely provide. At this point, however, the amount of quality learning that actually takes place in such communities varies.

    Which is exactly where we need to step in as teachers. We need to guide our students in the process of learning - they've got the tools, but most of them have little direction (any quick glance of the myriad of MySpace and Facebook profiles out there can attest to this fact).

    In my opinion, we will be most successful if we leverage what the students already do - to our advantage. That way we can better ensure that quality learning is actually taking place as we guide our students in the development of their personal learning communities.

    For what it's worth,


  4. What's so fun is that, in our brief meeting at NECC, you came off as such a soft-spoken person... if your teachers say that *you* rant, I think I'd just flat out scare them. :)

    On a serious note, thank you for sharing this. As an administrator who is still trying to figure out how to best create a coherent, logical professional development plan for our school, reading posts such as this are invaluable.

  5. Chris - I'm not sure about the "soft-spoken" part, but you would definitely frighten them. In fact, you frightened me just a little bit . . . :-)

    That's why I'd love to have you come visit sometime. Because not doing the hard work to figure out how best to meet the needs of our students frightens me even more.

  6. Karl,

    It was very helpful having a more concrete explanation of your inservice process.

    I find myself in the surprising position of being in charge of planning a very complex new inservice model for our campus this year, so before I meet with our AP, I'm collecting my thoughts.

    Reading this post and Chris's was very helpful.

    My ideas have really coalesced around making sure that what we ask teachers to do is based on their input, and is also coherent and cohesive, so that we are building something, rather than throwing random ideas out each session.

    Our structure will be very different than this one--weekly inservice time in segments of about 40 minutes--but this still gives me a lot of ideas.

    I'm looking particularly for some good concise readings on constructivism, which I'm sure you can point me to? What are some pieces you've found very effective for discussion?