"Think back a few years ago when no one in our school was using standards-based grading.  Now, look at how many teachers are moving in that direction!" - a teacher from our high school.

I'm in my second year as an administrator in a district of approximately 1300 students.  The administrative team consists of me, the superintendent, and three building principals.  On any given day, I wear one of many hats: technology director, curriculum director, mentoring and induction facilitator, special education director, and also the guy who completes many of the state and federal reports.  I'll be honest in saying there are days when I wonder if central office folks can really make a difference. A few experiences I had today, including the conversation leading to the quote above, helped set me back on the path of feeling a part of this thing we call education

I tell myself almost weekly that I don't want to lose sight of what it's like to be a classroom teacher.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my current job and its challenges, but there are days (weeks?! months?!) I wish I still was teaching full-time.  When I taught high school math, it was easy to describe what I do on a regular basis to those outside the field of education, "I teach kids geometry and statistics."  Because school is a part of nearly everyone's upbringing, the life of a high school math teacher doesn't seem too mysterious.  When I decided to step away from the classroom, I quickly learned that I needed a "non-education" description of this new job.  I describe my role as a person that "helps teachers become better teachers so that more students can learn at a high level."  Pretty vague, eh?  Let me try to explain. 

One of the biggest reasons I took this job was to see if it really is possible for a school to move beyond "sit and get" professional development that lacks follow-up and a connection to student learning, to something meaningful**.  I realized that no matter how often I volunteered to teach or observe in classrooms, I would likely be seen as someone who has lost touch with what it's like to be a classroom teacher.  The key would be to to enlist the assistance of classroom teachers in planning professional development.  Our district leadership team (DLT) consists of building principals, two or three classroom teachers per building and me.  Here's an outline of the process we've used over the past 14 months or so.  First, we meet a week before school starts for a full (paid!) day together and begin outlining the big picture for the year.  We look at our activities from last year, several staff feedback surveys, and a self-study of our progress related to long-term targets we've set.  During this day, we also plan the first day of all-district professional learning.  Here continues the cycle of plan - execute - reflect. 
  1. Execute the professional learning activities with DLT classroom teachers leading as often as possible.
  2. Ask each staff member to complete an anonymous feedback survey, including a question along the lines of, "What do we need to do next?"
  3. I send out the survey results district-wide so that we all have time to reflect on the feedback.
  4. I use the results from the feedback survey and our outline for the year to create activities for the district leadership team to experience.  I'll call this the "mini PD" for the sake of further discussion.
  5. Before the next professional development day, the DLT meets for a half day and participates in the "mini PD" that I've planned. 
  6. We spend the rest of the afternoon or morning planning the next all-district professional learning activities using an outline I've created ahead of time.  Typically, the "mini PD" is an activity or two that might fit into our next all-district professional development day.  By trying it out with the DLT, it gives them a chance to experience it first hand before deciding if/how we should use it with our entire staff.
  7. The DLT executes the professional learning activities with classroom teachers leading as often as possible. 
    (Repeat feedback, reflection and planning based on that feedback)
Today, the DLT met.  The meeting started off with the usual "mini PD."  It's pretty typical for the team to tweak or even slightly overhaul my learning activities outline during the planning process, but today something extraordinary happened.  The learning activities outline was completely overhauled, proving my plan to be mediocre at best.  Even though it created some deep conversation about current practice, the "mini PD" the teachers experienced was quickly removed from the outline and postponed until a later date.  The plan we came up with is differentiated by building.  The teachers in this team made it clear by saying...
"I like the idea of doing .....but based on our feedback, we need to spend more time on...."
"We can't overwhelm our colleagues with...but we need to provide additional guidance with...."
It's a great group of teachers to work with, because they're not afraid to speak up when our planning does not look "teacher friendly," but what's really impressed me lately is the team's willingness to seek progress rather than procrastination - sometimes at the expense of pushing the limits of themselves and their colleagues.  For example, after sticking to a previously set staff deadline (when I initially suggested we provide more grace), the team shortened yet another deadline.  This team of teachers and principals is stepping out on a limb to avoid Parkinson's law, believing that more time isn't always needed to complete a task. 

The story I've shared here may not be incredibly memorable for those outside our district, but I hope it begins to illustrate the point that teachers play an important role in planning professional development.  Without their input, those of us without classrooms full-time are often left with a mediocre plan at best.  

How are teachers being used, if at all, in your district to plan professional development activities? 

**This year, our anonymous feedback survey data indicates we're trending in the right direction.