Thursday, September 2, 2010

Collaborative Professional Learning

Wednesdays are our after-school staff meetings.  Nobody likes staying late after school, and this week some of our teachers have had to stay late for 3 nights because of meetings, training and a back to school night.  Today we had a few "business" items to deal with, including the new responsible use policy I had put together for IT, but the main focus of our meeting was a discussion about collaborative professional learning.

Today's meeting was different from any staff meeting I've attended at my current school (though I have been involved in similar meetings in other schools).  We were given an article to read, and to pick out the things we agreed with, would argue with and anything we would aspire to.  Here was my list:

Agree with:

  • teachers should be learning virtually all the time
  • collaboration among educators builds shared responsibility
  • in professional learning communities leadership should invite staff input and action in decision making
  • shared practice involves the review of a teacher's behaviour by colleagues and includes feedback and assistance to support individual and community improvements

Argue with:

  • professional development that has the highest impact takes place in teachers' own schools.  I disagree with that because I think the professional development that has had the most impact on me has been Project Zero.  After almost 20 years of teaching, attending the PZ Summer Institute at Harvard was life-changing for me.  I stopped doing about 80% of what I was doing before and began teaching in a completely different way.  Other PD that has had an enormous impact on my teaching has been the Apple Education Leadership Summits I have attended and the Google Teacher Academy.

Aspire to:

  • coaching other teachers in IT
  • being involved in more reflective dialogue

Having chosen one of each of these and written them on a piece of paper we did an activity called "snowballs".  This activity allowed us to find out what others were thinking, without putting anyone on the spot and asking him or her to read out what had been written.  The activity involved screwing up the paper into a ball and then throwing it around the room.  We picked up someone else's "snowball" and read what the person had written.  It was all anonymous so we had no idea whose list we were actually reading.  After several rounds of this is was clear that there were many other teachers who had written the same things as me, which led to further discussions.

So all in all it was an interesting and invigorating staff meeting and I look forward to more like this in the future.

Photo Credit:  Aspiration by Antiapathy (Jeff E.)


  1. Sounds like a great, un-threatening way to get people thinking! What was the article??

  2. Maggie, this sounds like a very interesting meeting. Do you mind sharing the article you were given to read?
    The snowball activity is a great way to share!

  3. The article was photocopied from a book. Apparently all Curriculum Leaders will be given this book soon. The book was called Becoming A Learning School and it was produced by the National Staff Development Council. I have an address of this organisation: I'm very much looking forward to getting a copy of the "real" book and reading more.

  4. I have been following your blog for a while now, and it is always so great to read you!

    I feel truly identified with this post: from your statements, the meeting dynamic and activity and looking forward to hearing/reading more about becoming a Learning school :-)
    Thank you!

  5. Fun idea for mixing up a staff meeting and making it more involved and hands on for everyone. Anytime a meeting can be used as a time for reflection and discussion on issues that really matter in education, it is a good thing!

  6. We got the text Becoming a Learning School last year as part of our participation in the NSDC Learning School Alliance. It has been my favorite book to help me plan professional learning in my school. The CD that comes with it is full of useful tools.

  7. My Gr. 2's love the snowball game! The last time we played, each student started by printing his/her own name on the top of the sheet of paper and then wrote one positive comment about him/herself. After tossing the snowball, the next person wrote one positive comment about the person whose name was at the top and so on. At the end, all sheets were returned to the original owner who had a page full of great comments! Have a great year!

  8. Maggie,
    Thank you for sharing your experience and particularly how this meeting was different from other meetings you have attended. I hope that your school leadership team will read Chapter 5 about how to develop a school schedule that allows for the kind of collaboration you and your colleagues enjoyed in this meeting can happen during the school day on a regular basis. Please feel free to contact me and share more example of your experience with professional development.

    Joellen Killion, co-author of Becoming a Learning School.

  9. Thanks for your comment Joellen and I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the book. I'm honoured that you found the time to read and comment on my blog post.