Planning and facilitating professional development is a humbling experience, especially if you invite and listen to feedback. So when teachers say that professional development is disconnected from the reality of the classroom, you have to listen. And let's face it, professional development is just plain challenging for all those involved.
This year, when our high school math PLC was mid-year and knee-deep in curriculum alignment, the teachers I coach shared with me that their alignment PD, although good work, felt disconnected from what was really happening in the classroom instructionally. They wanted to focus on how to teach the new curriculum, not just how to design benchmarks. Challenge #1. Unfortunately, because the district was extremely short on subs this year, a traditional studio model, our district’s PD strand for studying instruction, was not an option for PD around instruction. Challenge #2.
Working together with this PLC, these two challenges became our buddies. The team was willing to try something new in the face of these challenges and I was ready to take a risk with them. With our district's focus on moving toward a 1:1 model and blended learning environments, I began to rethink how we provide PD, specifically studio. Could we actually do studio if it took the form of blended professional learning, where teachers collaboratively plan and teach, record video of teaching and learning, reflect both face to face and online, and make shifts to improve instruction, all inside their regular teaching day? Could we do it completely without subs while still supporting teachers in this work together? Listen to our podcast below to find out how we succeeded, and keep reading for additional explanations and resources.
In May of 2016, we piloted our first Blended Math Studio. The focus was identified by the team when our math consultant visited three weeks prior. During her curriculum alignment PD, she modeled an exploration math lesson that included a number talk as a class opener. The team decided that they wanted to focus on number talks in order to study if this would help all students strengthen their mental math skills, as well as be able to talk about their mental methods. For our first Blended Studio, this was a good choice, as it allowed teachers of all math content areas and all grades to study the same practice.
While there was in-depth support behind the scenes of the actual Blended Studio day, for the participants, the process ran quite smoothly. Lab teachers ran their number talks and participants either observed in person or watched the video that was uploaded to the Tch Teams group. They reflected online using sentence stems to help them describe the learning and the practice specifically, and to make direct links between instruction and learning. As a final thought, they posted what implications surfaced for their own practice. There were five lab lessons throughout the day, and as the day progressed, the teacher learning was evident in not only the shifts in practice, but the increasing ability to reflect meaningfully and descriptively about practice.
After the debrief of the pilot Blended Math Studio, I was once again humbled. Teachers wholeheartedly shared their challenges with the process and they shared what they learned. Overall, we agreed that the Blended Studio was a model worth replicating and sharing with others as a relevant job embedded PD model. Professional development is successful to the degree that it is implemented and sustained. Blended Studio is deeply job embedded, which implies that it is implemented and sustained PD. Success!