Being a Reflective Educator: Doing My PD Homework

By Antonio Litterio [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Antonio Litterio [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By the time I post this, I’ll be heading to Miami for the CGC Mapping Our Common Ground conference/workshop. As I’m writing this, I’m working on my PD homework. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it–I am. It’s useful, it’s interesting, I can see how it applies to what we’ll be doing at the conference. But  it’s hard to put down The False PrinceSeriously.

There were some articles to read, but there was also a “So What?” activity to complete. A “So What?” activity is a reflection activity that asks participants to think about particular ideas or concepts (What) connect to prior learning and their own experiences (So What?–CGC actually did this part for us, explaining a common definition of each “What”), and then figure out what they will do with these concepts (What Next?). In this case, we were given a list of CGC’s guiding principles with explanations and then we had to reflect on what this meant for ourselves and our school. How can we get there? What do we need to do? What’s the action plan?

I work hard at being a reflective educator, but sometimes it is hard to put in the time during the school year. I reflect on the basics–how my lessons went and how students responded; my interactions with teachers in coaching situations or meeting about students I teach, but the big questions take a the downtime provided by summer to really delve into. I’ve learned a lot by doing this activity and wanted to share some of my reflections with you, since I’m working on not just being a reflective educator, but a connected educator too.

The portions below in regular type are from the CGC “So What” activity. The portion in italics is my reflections on how it relates to my own practice. It was difficult, because this is a conference focused on curriculum planning and development, following a specific learning ecosystem developed by CGC. Since most of my work involves intervention or work with teachers, it was a challenge to think about how

We need to define our learning terms.

“Before we can teach for learning, we need common understandings, simply and practically expressed, about what actually happens when we learn. We believe learning includes conceptual understanding, mastery of competencies and development of character traits and have defined each of these components. We support schools in designing learning based on these definitions.”

My teaching focuses on scaffolding understandings and reteaching to help students master competencies. Helping the school to articulate these competencies and then create plans to help students meet them will be extremely important. 

People can learn how to learn.

The most important advantage we can give students is to support them to become proficient, self-directed learners. Through our Learning Standards, we support the explicit teaching of the competencies that underpin learning, supporting students in becoming the owners and directors of their own learning.

My job is primarily teaching students how to learn, but I want to work to be more transparent about the process, both with students and with my colleagues. What are the gaps that exist and need to be filled in order to teach students to be learners? How do I assess to find the gaps and then create an intervention plan? How to I instill a love of learning while teaching students to learn? I think the last one becomes the most difficult, because often I am asking my students to work on what is hardest for them, and perhaps connecting that to an assignment that doesn’t meet their particular learning needs. However, I really don’t want to use how others are constructing their curriculum for not making changes that need to be made. I’m just not quite sure what to change yet or how to do it.

Learning happens best in rich, relevant contexts.

Learning is more enduring in authentic contexts in which students can engage with issues, dilemmas and perspectives in settings that are meaningful to them. We support embedding the learning of concepts, competencies and character traits in relevant contexts in order to close the gap between the world of curriculum and the world our students actually inhabit.

This is something I struggle with…I do intervention/remediation work. It is largely skills based. The concepts are things like “how do patterns help us make sense of our world”, and lessons largely connect back to what’s happening in the classroom. It makes it difficult to do this, but I know I want to do more. I have been toying with the idea of creating a bunch of broad Learning Lab Essential Questions (like the patterns question above) to help students make connections between what they do in my class and what happens in their other classes. I’m not sure, however, how well this accomplishes making the context “rich and relevant”.

In learning, less really is more.

Content coverage does not equal learning. To learn conceptually, students need to inquire, think and theorize. They need the space to make meaningful connections between ideas. That means selecting sufficient content to support deep, sustained engagement with our three kinds of learning….and no more than that.

How can I create this space in an intervention classroom? Often it means taking a step back from my natural inclination to explain, and the worry that if, in my small group setting, if I’m not up and talking and constantly working with students rather than letting them work somehow I am not doing my job (or others won’t think I’m doing my job–and yes, this has happened and does happen) I think this also means that I need to try to shift teachers’ perspectives of what I do—if a student works on a project with me, I’ll provide guidance, additional scaffolding, graphic organizers, etc, but this doesn’t mean the work will be perfect, and it doesn’t mean I’m constantly hovering over her to make sure she’s getting work done. If I’m doing that it’s my work and not her work.

Learning is personal.

Individuals have different starting points, different interests and will follow different learning pathways. We support personalizing learning to the maximum extent possible, including the provision of appropriate levels of challenge and choice, and the provision of timely, constructive, personalized feedback, along with opportunities to act on that feedback.

My instruction is largely personalized, but how can I make it more so? I think integrating the International Learning Plan (ILP) into the program this year is going to help a lot with that. Last year was my first year, and yes, I assessed and set goals, but without a formal system to track those goals and the progress, I did tend to gravitate toward activities I could do with the whole group, rather than individualizing. I also would like to start harnessing the power of our 1:1 laptop environment to do this as well. I started a bit last year, but would like to do more.

 Everyone has a right to learn.

All people, no matter their learning differences or economic circumstances, should have optimal opportunities to learn. We support inclusive international education and concerted, collaborative efforts among our schools to contribute to the improvement of learning and teaching in locations where there is an expressed need.

Reading this I pretty much did a happy dance and jumped up and down. This is what I want to happen in our school–in all schools. Not that I’m always pro full-inclusion (e.g. is there more harm than good done if one does intensive phonics work with a 5th grader in the class when the rest are well past that or is it better to pull the student out?); however, I think a more inclusive environment puts the responsibility for the success of all students on all teachers.

I need to make more of an effort to work with teachers on how to reach all of the students at our school. This also means beginning to rethink how the school works with students who are having learning differences as well, and look at what is most appropriate for each student. Creating more opportunities for coaching teachers on how to differentiate and discussing students with specific teams (because we’ll have teams next year!) are really important. I’m still working on how to implement this, but I’m excited to try.

Learning is scalable.

The principles that apply to student learning apply also to adult learning and organizational learning. We support schools in applying this belief, bringing consistency and common meaning to processes such as professional learning and organizational change management.

This is a big one for me next year. I get to somewhat be a part of the PD process, since our focus next year is differentiated instruction. I really believe that schools need to make a bigger effort to differentiate their PD. I’ve been working on creating a self-assessment where teachers can rate their level of comfort with specific aspects of differentiation and use that to help guide them toward appropriate PLCs, in-house workshops, and PD experiences outside of school.

Learning is a social activity

While invaluable learning comes from personal reflection and moments of personal insight, we remain a social species. We support schools in creating cultures of sense-making through substantive conversation, encouraging planned, focused team learning and providing opportunities for students to lead learning conversations with their peers.

I really want to create more opportunities for students in my intervention classes to work together. I’ve done things like peer teaching, having a student who grasps a concept well teach another, and I often do group discussions about why particular strategies are effective, but how can I go beyond this? I tried something new this past year when I was teaching persuasive writing and added debate, having the students closely read an article together and then construct an argument as a group on an assigned POV, then the groups tried to persuade the other. Afterward the students planned and wrote their persuasive paragraphs for the side that they thought was the most convincing. I want to spend some time thinking about where I can integrate more of this. Writing is a natural point in intervention work to make this happen, but where else can I create space for learning that is social?

I’m really excited for a few days of collaboration, learning, and looking for deeper answers to these questions, and I’m can’t wait to share all of the new ideas and learnings that I’m sure will come from the conference.

How do you work at being a reflective educator?

Any answers to the questions above? Advice for me as I try to make my ideas into reality?

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4 Responses to Being a Reflective Educator: Doing My PD Homework

  1. Leanne Wright April 12, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    Hi Samantha! This is a wonderful post! I would love to know which articles you read in preparation for this homework, and how the “so what” questions were integrated into that reading. Sounds like a very productive activity!

    • Samantha Mosher July 24, 2017 at 10:21 pm #

      One was “The Educated Person” by Ernest Boyer (1995) and the rest were documents from the CGC about their guiding principles. The “So What” was a pre-workshop activity, so we were meant to do it after reading, but before arriving.

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