"This is the Collaborative Environment I've Been Looking For!"

Based on positive feedback from a number of our teachers about the Professional Development model we're using this year, I thought I'd share the format.

First some background.
Our school has a mandated focus on Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) and integrating technology to support the learning we design for our students. I realize that IBL can quickly become a meaningless term (like authenticity, or critical thinking) and so when we speak of IBL, our school has chosen to focus our practice around the model of Inquiry developed by the Galileo Educational Network. As part of their mentoring with teachers, Galileo has created an Inquiry Rubric, to be used by teachers to assist in the planning and assessment of large scale projects. This rubric is not to be used on student work, rather it is a way for teachers to deepen and extend the work they are developing. Basically, the rubric is built around 8 elements of IBL:
  • Authenticity
  • Academic Rigor
  • Assessment
  • Value of the Work Beyond the School
  • Appropriate use of Technology
  • Active Exploration
  • Connecting with Expertise
  • Elaborated Communication
As a school, we have decided that this is the guiding document to help us develop Inquiry-Based work for our students. That being said, the Inquiry Rubric has also become the foundation of our schools PD plan this year.
Basically our PD days revolve around teacher sharing. One of the goals for our school is to open up our classrooms, as we attempt to make our individual practices more public. We are striving for a culture of sharing and collaboration, and this has been built into the structure of our PD days. Each teacher, either individual or in small groups, presents a lesson/unit/activity from their practice. The presentations are short (10-15 mins) and in preparing for the presentation, teachers focus their sharing around a few of the elements of the Inquiry Rubric, asking for feedback and suggestions on how the work might be tweaked or extended. Teachers might ask for ideas about potential tech tools to use, or ways to deepen the collaboration or the assessment practices. To put it simply, as a staff we come together around learning tasks for our students, and use the Inquiry Rubric as a lens through which to view the work, and provide detailed and specific feedback. (kinda like we do with our kids.. hmmmm)
Overall, this format has proven to be quite successful - at least in terms of teacher attitude. There has been significant buy-in from a large percentage of the teachers, and the feedback has been positive. Teachers are seeing value in this type of sharing, both those that share on a given day, and the rest of us that listen and collaborate. It is fantastic to have a structured way to hear what others are doing, and to be able to add ideas and resources to push each other forward.
So far, one key element that is missing is an examination of the longer term effects of this PD model. During our PD days, staff are engaged in the process. What remains to be seen in what types of impact this format is having on the types of IBL projects we are designing. More to come on that in the future..
What has also been powerful is that a couple of teachers have been willing to share project ideas that they have not yet taught, which allows the staff to be collaborators in the work that's being designed. These teachers have agreed to come back later in the year, share the project as it unfolded, and present some of the student work. I'm looking forward to hearing those stories, since now I've got a personal investment in their work! It's our staff-wide version of a lesson-study.
As a final note, here's one of the teachers from our school, sharing his thoughts on our PD format this year. Like I often do with my grade 7 students, I've asked teachers to create short podcasts after they present - reflecting on the experience and documenting what it might mean for their practice. I've collected a number of these from teachers this year - if I find time - I'll edit down some more!
Collaboration image from Flickr: ChrisL_AK

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