May 15, 2023
By Jenna Fournel, Director of Teaching and Learning, Center for Inspired Teaching
Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students.
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Several years ago, when Sarah Elwell was a librarian in DC Public Schools she took part in Inspired Teaching’s “Building Literacy in the Social Studies” program. “It was absolutely different but necessary, and I don’t know many curriculum development projects or programs that link like that one did to the pedagogical experience in order to create the kind of curriculum that is going ot have us take students out of the box. It was definitely professional learning that was uncomfortable for me but I grew so much.”
That hunger for meaningful learning has driven Sarah since she entered the profession.
“To be frank professional learning saved me,” she says. “Without professional learning, I would have never become the teacher that I needed to be or the educator that my students needed me to be.” Now Sarah is the Assistant Director of Professional Learning for the American Federation of Teachers and in this role, she’s responsible for creating learning modules for teachers across the country. With attrition in the profession making headlines due to dissatisfaction with the job, she sees PD as a solution. “Do [teachers] feel they have efficacy in what they are doing? Do they feel as if they are making a difference? That comes from very strong professional learning support.”
How does a teacher find those job-affirming learning opportunities? Sarah recommends looking for:
- Content that really connects to what you teach.
- The reputation of the entity providing the professional learning. Are there any endorsements or testimonies? If it’s an established professional organization, look at their social media posts as well as those from teachers who have participated in their PD.
- A strong research basis for the offering.
- Opportunities that are cocreated or facilitated by educators.
- A blend of theory and application.
- Built-in time for reflection.
- A focus on student achievement and capacity building.
- Equity-centered practices.
Sarah notes that too often in one-off PD sessions, a facilitator unloads a bunch of information. But the participants can bring much to the learning and good PD “lifts up the experiences and the great knowledge that is a resource in the room, facilitating that conversation and discourse. I do not think that you can disentangle teacher empowerment from high-quality transformative professional learning.”
Part of that empowerment comes from helping teachers find and fund the professional learning they need. “As a new teacher I had no idea that I could advocate for any professional learning that was outside the school or the district,” Sarah notes. “Knowledge is power. Having mentors that share that with newer teachers and also newer teachers tapping into that is really crucial because districts, schools, communities, families, they’re all going to agree that they want the most prepared, most invigorated educators in front of students. That’s a united concept. Yet securing the funding to get professional learning may seem like an insurmountable challenge.” Sarah offers these ways to tackle that challenge:
- Connect your request to your school or district’s strategic plan. Make a clear connection between the learning opportunity and how it will fulfill the goals of that plan.
- Offer to bring back what you learn and share it with colleagues. “This can get more buy-in because then the ripple effect is going to be felt not just by your own students but also within the school community.”
- Explore the tools Learning Forward offers to advocate for high-quality professional learning.
- Consider National Board certification, a lengthy and significant endeavor but one that has advocacy for professional learning built into the process.
- Connect with colleagues who have successfully advocated for funding before – find out how they made it happen.
When you see professional learning as central to your practice, finding exceptional opportunities becomes part of the fun of the job. Sarah noted that this ongoing learning ensured she was never bored or disconnected from her work. “I felt supremely confident in my knowledge base and pedagogy. But I don’t think I ever taught something the same way twice because I was always wondering how could I take it to the next level to be highly effective … to make those memorable and transformative moments for students.”
As you engage in professional learning at the end of this school year or during the summer, may it be memorable and transformative for you!
What We’re Curious About
Each week a member of the Inspired Teaching community shares something that’s piquing their curiosity. Maybe it will spark yours too!
BEING A LEAD LEARNER
Sarah Elwell, Assistant Director of Professional Learning, American Federation of Teachers
I remember being at a conference and I met a woman whose business card said, “lead learner” and that really captures how I feel. I feel like I am always learning. I am so curious about so many subjects. Almost everything I come into contact with I have questions about, and those questions lead me to want to learn more.
In the context of professional learning, right now my “lead learner” curiosity is paying attention to:
- Outdoor education and place-based learning.
- Support for executive functioning skills with students
- Ignite My Future, a project with quite a few activities around computational thinking, an algorithmic frame to look at the world that helps prepare students for not just STEAM learning but all types of creative and innovative problem-solving.
And then Learning Forward has just revised their professional learning standards to include a whole slew of equity-centered pieces. As I look online there’s a lot about how to use professional learning to help educators with equity-based practices in the classroom, but not a lot about how to make the professional learning itself steeped in equity learning. I’m extremely curious about the possibilities and what that will look like.
Today’s resources come from our Instigator of Thought challenges, a series of bite-sized professional learning modules that you can try out any time, anywhere. These challenges can be done all by yourself or in community with your colleagues so you can share notes and learning together.
Descriptive feedback orients students toward their learning process. In this Challenge, you will track how often you provide generic praise and try some new language for meaningful feedback.
The posters we put in our classrooms communicate expectations to students, but what other intentional or unintentional messages do they send? The goal of this activity is to encourage you to consider these messages and their connection to your goals.
Brain science shows that exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, your students have to walk the halls of your school several times a day. This challenge invites you to reconsider how you might use those walks to do more than get from place to place.