Posted on: by , Principal, New Dawn Charter High School .

I have been doing PD for a long time now.  We fully utilize the School Improvement Engine (SIE) tools, which include data driven practices (TERC), curriculum mapping, instructional rounds, and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). The beauty of the SIE tools, which will be the basis of my research for my dissertation, is that you can customize them to suit the needs of any school environment. This is New Dawn’s fourth year of operation. We have worked so hard in building capacity with our team, getting staff certified as Danielson observers, PLC coaches, and Data Coaches, that as I looked at finishing this last semester with a menu of PD, I felt frankly tired and bored of doing the same thing. I mean how many times are you going to have an hour long interactive session on how to do the workshop model or whatever else you need to cover to support your staff?

It was time to do something really hard. Let go of the reigns. This was something I grappled with as a teacher, and finally let go after watching my esteemed colleague and master teacher Dawn Samuel effortlessly manage student directed learning like she was baking a cake. For those of you stubbornly rooted in your own sense of what teaching should look like, I strongly suggest you look to your colleagues doing the OPPPOSITE of what you’re doing, and then try it. You grow so much. But anyway, I’m back to letting go of the reigns again.

For the last two years, I have broken my staff up into cohorts, all from different departments and different levels of experience in order to have some variety. In these cohorts, teachers would work together in PD on a variety of tasks, such as in TERC they would look at student work and disaggregate data.  This year, after some serious soul searching, I knew that the groups should really be driving the PD process. In October I tasked my PLC coaches and cohort leads to take their cohort groups through the tools in an Instructional Rounds Activity that combined Peer Review and a Review of Student Work protocol. I gave each cohort approximately six weeks to observe each other and figure out the common patterns of practice in their classrooms.

I very loosely constructed this investigation. Not many people were familiar with instructional rounds and how to observe without being judgmental.   I wanted everyone to struggle a little bit, and also look to the PLC coaches who have attended rounds with me at the Network level. This was important in seeing how capacity building was working in the building.  I set the expectation that each group was to report on student work reviews, lesson planning and the round experience.

The first thing I’m going to say is that I was completely blown away by how serious my people moved forward with this project.  In my head, and certainly not really communicated to anyone, I had hoped that folks would get together during the two formal days of PD we usually had planned. It went well beyond that. Groups were meeting frequently and super focused on observation.

The presentations were fantastic. Each group presented their work differently, but what became more and more clear as each set of data was explained. This is when things became a bit uncomfortable. It’s one thing when your principal walks around tells you that the overall level of rigor and questioning is not high enough, it’s a quite another when your colleagues are finding it. These are hard realities and folks were definitely uneasy as they saw with each group the same findings.

So what does this all mean for next steps? Well our cohorts performed instructional rounds once again. This time we will formally review the procedures and go through the process of finding problems of practice. We will compare these findings to the previous data from our first set of presentations. From there, we will design a set of prescriptive practices to begin moving the needle further up the rigor dial for this next semester.

Getting to this point in our PD plan was the fruit of these last few years of training. We worked really hard at training and developing capacity in order for this to happen.  The approach to developing leadership is ongoing. We as a learning organization are in a space where we can cultivate some very unique skills among our team to push learning forward. It’s a very exciting place to be, and I am certainly looking forward in seeing how our leadership will continue to push our learning objectives forward for our kids. Ultimately, this work not only benefits our learning as an organization, but makes for effective teaching and long term learning among the staff and students.

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