In this episode, we are talking all about professional learning in a post-Covid (though are we really post Covid?!) world. We are going to talk about some of our frustrations, as well as brainstorm some solutions to how we can bring back our professional learning!
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This week we are taking a break from mastery-based learning. We are going to instead focus on something a little different: Professional development and learning. We are going to talk about some of the struggles we are facing this year, as well as some brainstorm some possible solutions.
Prior to Covid, there were lots of opportunities for educator learning. It would be during the instructional day – we would get release time so that we could all meet and learn from one another. It was such a helpful experience to transform our teaching practice.
Since Covid started, however, it has all shifted to outside of school hours. This is tough because not all teachers have the capacity to learn after a long day of teaching.
We recognize the there are supply teacher shortages, so it is difficult to release teachers from their classes in order to lead some learning. It ends up getting thrown into the lunch hour, or outside of school hours.
To top it off, lunch has been taken over by so many meetings, extracurriculars, etc. Teachers are maxed out! There is no real lunch time anymore.
We are hopeful that if we go back to a regular semester, a lot of this will be alleviated. In Ontario, schools are currently in quadmesters or a modified semester.
The modified semester has a two week cycle, where on week one students take 2 of their courses, and the following week they take their other two courses. Each class is 2.5 hours in length – double what they are in a regular semester. This means that teachers have one week of one class and a prep, and the other week they are teaching all day (minus their lunch). It is exhausting!
We are very hopeful that a shift in the semester format back to a 5 period day will return a bit of sanity, and hopefully some professional learning to the school day.
Many educators already commit their after school hours to their families, as well as their own personal and/or professional learning. For example, both Rachel and Katie are taking courses outside of school hours; Rachel is taking a coding course; Katie is taking a course for her Masters of Education. There are many other educators that do the same – they have their own learning goals that they pursue outside of school.
As such, having dedicated time during the school day to do some professional learning would be greatly appreciated, and would be far more inclusive to all educators.
Rachel was recently listening to a podcast by Tom Schimmer. This episode was with Pav Wander from The Staffroom Podcast. On this episode, they were talking about teaching loss; all of the loss that we are experiencing as teachers because we haven’t been able to experience them during Covid. Professional learning is one of those things that we have lost – it almost feels like you are grieving that loss, because it is a missing piece that you are used to having in your practice.
Add to that the missing social interactions among colleagues (staff meetings are all virtual these days), no regular school day, etc. and it make sense why it would be referred to as teaching loss. Even trying to do coaching without in-person options has really exacerbated the teaching loss being experienced.
Keeping all of this in mind, it’s hard to figure out how to make learning possible and desirable to teachers, without requiring too much of their own personal time. Lunch time and after school sessions, while tempting, are a big ask this year. Lunch feels so short, and tends to be the only time that educators have to relax, eat, supervise clubs, etc.
While it may seem logical, the persistent offering of PD outside of school hours can potentially be seen as an equity issue. Educators are in all different stages of life; some teachers have young children that they have to take care of, others may have to work a second job. There are also some teachers that may not have access to quality or reliable wifi at home, particularly in rural areas. Even if those aren’t the reasons, it’s important to acknowledge that some teachers may be absolutely exhausted and unable to sit in front of a screen and engage in learning after such a long day.
There are so many different reasons why people aren’t able to log into professional learning after hours – and all of these reasons are valid.
It’s important that teachers feel that their time is valued. When PD and/or meetings are only offered outside of school hours, it does not feel like our time is being valued.
There is so much messaging around mental health and wellness, and making sure that we balance work and life, yet this goes against those very same messages.
Solutions/Ideas for Professional Learning
Now that we have had a chance to share some of our frustrations, it’s time to think about some possible solutions or ideas!
Reach out to your administration
- Have clear and targeted conversations that explain why PD is necessary, and see if they are willing to support release time to allow you (and your team) to work on professional learning.
- Schools typically have money budgeted for release time for training and PD. While it may not be a lot, it’s a good starting point.
Boards should offer PD to smaller groups during the school day
- There’s no reason why PD has to be a whole group offering – they should break it into smaller group offerings over a number of days in order to avoid supply teacher issues. They can offer times outside of school hours IN ADDITION TO times during the school day.
Break up PD into smaller chunks
- If learning sessions are a maximum of 30 minutes, there is far more buy-in – an hour seems like a long commitment, whereas 30 minutes feels manageable.
- Bite-sized learning of 15-30 minutes, one skill or concept at a time, incorporating a mastery-based learning approach
Record Professional Learning sessions and share out afterwards
- If the learning isn’t discussion-based, then recording and sharing afterwards is a great option. It still requires the teacher to have the time and ability to watch it, but it’s a potential solution.
Create one-pagers of bite-sized learning
- Include really short instructional videos, exemplars and a small task to go and implement
- Compile a collaborative database of resources that teachers can then access when they have the time and energy to do the learning.
- Must do (watch video and look at exemplars); Should do – go try! Submit it to the database; Aspire to do – go dive deeper, go learn more!
- Have a whole range of one-pagers that teachers can then access
How to track engagement? Track those that have watched the videos, and take those email addresses and reach out. Alternatively, you could have a form that they fill out afterwards in order to engage in the next step as needed or wanted.
Interactive questions through Screencastify or EdPuzzle are great ways to track engagement and check for learning. EdPuzzle has the added benefit of submitting an audio answer, which is a great way to differentiate.
Another suggestion if you are having teachers submit something they have created? Include an extra step that doesn’t automatically insert something they’ve created into a database. Not all teachers have the confidence to publicly post and share something with others – it may take some feedback or a personalized conversation to make them feel confident enough in their work, and to encourage sharing more publicly.
Build in Collaboration!
- Feedback and support are great ways to open conversations
- Open office hours or drop in sessions are a great way to allow for casual/informal conversations and learning
- Twitter chat – a lot of collaboration exists on Twitter among educators. It’s a great way to connect and share with others
- Pair up with someone from a different school! One of the big things we are missing this year is that interaction with other schools to hear and see what is going on in different buildings.
You can ask teachers if they would be interested in connecting with another teacher from another school, possibly even a different subject area! It doesn’t have to be a complicated process – it could be as simple as sending an email to connect two people, and letting them take it from there.
As Brian Aspinall often says, the best PD is the teacher down the hall – now it’s just the teacher down the street!
Sometimes the greatest PD is the teacher down the hall.— Brian Aspinall (@mraspinall) November 14, 2021
- Teaching Sprints is based off of a book all about how to problem solve issues and effectively brainstorm new ideas and solutions by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz.
- “Teaching Sprints” is a method based on that book, all about how to support overworked and exhausted educators, while still providing and offering quality professional learning – it’s all about identifying micro-goals and implementing these small goals, and reflecting on how it’s going and next steps. It doesn’t have to be a big shift or change – think smaller!
- Implementing these teaching sprints could be a new and effective approach to Professional Learning, particularly in such a difficult year.
Hopefully some of these ideas will help benefit you and/or your colleagues! Better yet, hopefully schools return to a more normal semester, and we are able to have a little more Professional Learning during the school day!