Professional Development: Formalize Summertime Thinking
This professional development idea shouldn’t be seen as another bit of work, or overstepping sacred summertime or holiday boundaries. It should be seen as a way of formalizing a few of the great ideas educators think, but never get organized, written, or shared. How many great ideas are lost, or never see action? How many times do educators get to learn from others, across level and subject-area boundaries in their own district? Here’s a way an educator’s goals and ideas can be more than just another out of context thing-to-do in an evaluation process. Goals and ideas with meaning, from summertime are sparks of clear thinking, and can motivate individuals and small groups across districts.
At the end of a school year, educators usually get caught up in closing activities, closing grades, and closing out another year before an extended summer vacation, or time off. There’s rarely time for a good chance to reflect on how the teaching year went. There’s almost never a planned sharing time for successes, and failures, or conversations with peers, or more than one person—unless it’s a hurried administrator. The most appropriate time to set a plan for collecting goals and ideas for the next year may be set up for it at the end-of-school-year. Thinking about teaching goals for the next year at the end of a completed school year, and during a summer respite, keeps those goals in context and gives creative ideas life. If it is an expected closing-out and summer, gathering activity with meaning, tangible seeds can be planted for thinking and best practices for the new school year—across school and district.
Consider it as a bit of appropriate educator summer work. While students are enjoying time off and hopefully working on that summer reading list, their teachers could do a bit of thinking, reading and planning in a very specific way, too. They do this anyway. The suggestion is to formalize this teaching reflection. When educators arrive back to school after their well-deserved time off, with their energy recharged, a scheduled opening days workshop time should happen. This is where teachers can gather to share these ideas they’ve thought and prepared, in a formal way, with mixed level and varied discipline groups. It’s is a great welcome back professional development beginning. Sharing with fellow educators before ideas and goals are added to an individual educator’s continued learning folder broadcasts those good ideas to colleagues, and gives teachers necessary feedback, as well as more ideas. It can be more than goal gathering, it can be the incubation of ideas that never would have been hatched otherwise.
We all know that that every teacher does this sort of reflection and preparing for the new school year in an informal way. It’s difficult not to think about things you’ve done or would like to do. Time off has a way of clearing the thinking clutter. There’s no reason the best ideas teachers think shouldn’t be part of a formal collection of good ideas for sharing and possible action in a school or district. Beyond being goal starters in an educator’s folder, reflection to action ideas offer an opening days professional development activity, where faculty from throughout the district can interact with varied levels of curriculum departments and disciplines beyond the usual meet and greet. That rarely, if ever happens in any district. Imagine the in-district professional development presentations that could be born out of these beginning meetings, as well as the super star educators, who will get some very overdue district attention. At the very least, try some formalized summertime thinking with your faculty, followed by a useful professional development activity, at the beginning of the new school year, for setting new classroom, school, and district goals, as well as innovating a new approach to collaboration across the grades.
Certainly all schools and districts are different, so working around policy and contractual issues may come into play, here, but the benefits for unleashing good and creative teaching ideas as well as building collegial alliances and collaboration are positive, and not to be overlooked. Of course, there will be some fine-tuning of organized and standardized formats for doing this, and collecting ideas, most likely online, too, but that is a necessity as well. The bottom line is, that in doing this, not to forget the importance of capturing this off-time thinking, as well as the values of sharing it with peers across discipline boundaries. What works at 1st grade could be modified to work at middle or high school levels.
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology experience, as well as a blogger on all things education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.