Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wonderings from Summer Professional Development

It was not my intention to take a month off from blogging.
But, alas, I did!

So, now I am wrestling with how to begin again.  I am determined not to let the entire month of July slip away without a blog entry.

Let me share some of what I've been up to...

Most of July was spent in professional development.  The highlight was my whole staff's participation in the Inspired Teaching Institute.  This training is intended to be a "shot in the arm" for teachers, to remind them why they chose this profession, to renew their excitement about the art of teaching, to encourage them to be instigators of thought in their schools.  The Inspired Teaching philosophy emphasizes the whole and individual child, with teaching being creatively tailored to meet the unique needs of the students in the classroom, while maintaining rigorous academic expectations for all.  There are no scripted lessons here, no formulaic solutions, no "one size fits all" prescriptions, but, instead, a unique opportunity to work with other teachers, exploring how we ourselves learn and teach, trying new techniques and approaches, making mistakes, and reflecting.   Yes, this was an invigorating professional development experience, one filled with compassion and respect for both teacher and students.

It was particularly delightful that this was "experiential" training - the Institute was taught in the same way that the instructors hoped we would teach our own classes. We learned new and creative practices by doing them together.   The Inspired Teaching Institute comprised two weeks of my July professional development, and I had lots of great takeaway, including:
  • The extraordinary value of creating a safe learning environment for students...the need to build a joyful, caring community of learners at the outset of the school year, a place where everyone has a role, so that students feel able to take risks and make mistakes.  
  • We watched the bare walls of our training site come alive and bright with our individual work - pictures, stories, diagrams, quotes, and poetry.  This transformation of our personal environment did a great deal to increase our connection with one another, in a very brief period of time.  I have no doubt that classrooms should likewise be built up with student work rather than sterile posters and signs from a school supply store. 
  • How good it is for students to be thrown outside their comfort zone, to experience "struggle" and "challenge" in new, lighter ways.   I, who hate being the center of attention, found myself overcome with laughter at my inability to follow a rapid hand motion pattern that was part of a circle time game, thus throwing me into the spotlight time and time again.  Yes, non-competitive and even "silly" games are not just community-builders but confidence-builders.
  • Honor different learning styles.  I am going to examine the flow of my day and intentionally structure a variety of sitting and talking experiences with "up on our feet" possibilities.  There are so many great ways to enrich any topic with improv, art, music, and  kinesthetic learning.
  • Teach through questions.  Incorporate a lot of reflection.  Ask students - How did you figure that out? Why do you think that is? Get students thinking, puzzling, wondering. 
  • There is much rigor in a teacher's planning, a teacher needs clear objectives - but, I wonder, does the student always have to know these?  Isn't there power in the questions that you instigate, the reflection that you cause?
  • Teaching is like jazz - yes, you have your lead sheet, but be ready to improvise off of this, if what you have planned is not right for this group, this student right now.  Perhaps the best learning experiences happen when you have clear objectives, goals, and plans, and you know these so well that you can be flexible when something new comes up - enriching the curriculum with unforeseen input from the students themselves.
Perhaps most importantly:
  • Teaching is intellectual, physical, and emotional.  Each and every day, remember and take action - What do I need to do to get myself ready to be in the presence of children?

My school is in fact a demonstration school of Inspired Teaching's philosophy - thus, the training was in effect, "preaching to the choir."

There were many other teachers besides us in attendance.  I think about the others a lot.  I wonder what it must be like to receive such upbeat, inspirational training as a solo teacher in your school?  How hard it must be to return to the new school year being the one and only teacher who has had this training experience?  There is tremendous value in our whole staff receiving training together.  We reflected together daily, we spent time later in the month revising our curriculum plans to incorporate what we learned, and we've made plans to check back in with one another throughout the school year, to help one another keep these ideas in action in our classrooms.

Here's to summer, professional development, and collaboration! I hope for great things this next school year, as we continue our work to ensure each child's success.