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April 7, 2021

Clear Out the Clutter in Professional Learning

The Big Tent #anewkindofpd

Though the world has changed and digital communication has become the norm, the postal system has valiantly carried on, and in the process has plagued my household for years. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting some mail — birthday cards, seasons greetings, W-2s. Each of these plays an important role in our lives and are best communicated in a tangible manner. But the rest of it, the endless credit applications, coupon flyers, alumni donation requests, are often overwhelming and nearly always ineffective. As we attempted to develop a system for dealing with the onslaught of mail at home, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels to my work life.

Just like the never-ending supply of mail, teachers are often overwhelmed and overloaded with the pressures of their job, and attempts to alleviate the burden with professional development seems to pile on, rather than help. Just as my partner and I were working on a plan in which our mail enriches and simplifies our lives rather than further complicates it, my colleagues and I are striving to develop a system that supports teachers where they’re at; to fuel their love of learning, rather than put a damper on it.

As we plan for this new approach to systems of teacher and student learning, the three questions we continually ask are:

  • What to they need to know and be able to do?
  • How will we know if they know it/can do it?
  • What do we do if they have it? Don’t have it?

Look familiar?

Probably anyone who has been involved in a PLC in the last decade or more has thought through these questions, though usually through a focus on student outcomes. We’re thinking about these questions in terms of supporting teachers. One of the reasons Teaching Channel has been so important in our work is because it not only helps provide models of the skills, strategies, and approaches that we would like our teachers to hone in their practice, but with Learning Plans via Teaching Channel Teams, we can set up mini modules for teachers to explore resources, reflect on what they see as well as their own practice, try out and document their use of the strategies in their own classroom, all while having the support, encouragement, and feedback of their trusted colleagues along the way.

While we still have a ways to go, we know we’re asking the right questions and are being strategic in our approach to planning. Not only do we need to ensure that teachers are aware of the supports available to them, we also need to make an integrated system so that teachers aren’t overwhelmed by the plethora of learning opportunities available. Just like our mail, considering what learning opportunities are most effective and in what format is also important. While we love our online platform, we recognize that some of our professional learning is more like a birthday card — it’s much better in person.

It’s been five weeks since the Pete Family Mail System was established, and although we made adjustments based on the crosscutting systems problems we didn’t foresee, overall, we’ve achieved our desired outcome of a more effective and enriching mail system. I’ve got my fingers crossed for the same outcome at work! Stay tuned…


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