Saturday, November 5, 2011

Running for cover- Some disclaimers about a professional development idea...

On the P2PU open course I'm taking (stalking? neglecting?), Writing and Common Core: Deeper Learning for All, we're studying the Common Core Standards and writing instruction. In one of the discussion threads, an instructional leader shared the challenge many in her position might face. She wants to establish a professional development routine of teachers writing together, and also wants teachers to share what's working and not working in instruction. Her challenge sounds familiar to me because it echoes some questions that hang like a fog in my work as a coach- How do I engage teachers in the type of writing practices that might support their thinking and reflection about writing practice? How do I contextualize the time we might spend in professional development writing in the important practice of reflecting on our effectiveness and sharing student work? Since I struggle to answer the question daily in my work, it is always nice to crank out a tidy suggestion that sounds like I can answer it, especially on Saturday when I've got a little coffee in me. I want to offer the disclaimer- As tidy and practiced as this answer may sound, the author fumbles and screws up the application of this thinking daily. Still, I read my response on the screen and reflected that the practice I advocate is my belief and an idea worth sharing.

Here it is, revised to include the disclaimers:

I see that you're concerned about two things: the teachers' possible reluctance to write and the difficulty of creating a culture of shared reflection.Since you've got the dual challenges, I might think about focusing on creating a positive culture for writing in professional development and really creating a safe environment first. I might preface things by saying that I know so many positive instructional practices are happening and the goal in the writing is to capture and celebrate small successes and "short-term wins.” By asking staff to focus on only successful decisions and results, I would listen for places where teachers recognized something that wasn't working and improved it and celebrate those.* Every teacher has had the experience of teaching an unsuccessful lesson period 1 and quickly making it more successful for period 3. Writing together about these "small wins" might generate the safe culture for teachers to reflect and share.**

*As tidy and practiced as this answer may sound, the author fumbles and screws up the application of this thinking daily.

**Caution: These ideas are much more difficult in practice than they appear in this blog post. In fact, the author frequently backs down from trying ideas like these all the time. When working with adults, the author often flees from hard work, running for the cover of relationship building, and sharing a laugh with teachers.