I work for a small (three elementary buildings and one junior high) school district in the Chicago suburbs. There are lots of things that make my district unique, but the one I've been thinking about quite a bit today is the district's commitment to job-embedded professional development.
Each building in my district has a literacy coach, and our primary job is coaching teachers and providing PD opportunities throughout the school year, after school and during the summer. One of the ways we encourage teachers to learn together is through our Model Classroom Lab program. Our model classroom teachers complete a rigorous application and interview process, and were chosen NOT because they are the very best teachers in the district (though I would argue they are among them), but because they consider themselves learners. Our model classroom teachers are constantly looking to improve their practice, and open their classrooms to their colleagues to learn alongside them.
Today I had the pleasure of facilitating our first lab session of the school year. The group gathered to explore conferring across the content areas in the classrooms of two seventh grade teachers - one in language arts and one in science. Our participants were varied as well: a math teacher, a language arts teacher, a fourth grade teacher, and a second grade teacher. Throughout the day, we spent time talking about where each of us is in our conferring practice and ways in which we want to grow. We watching two very different conferring styles in two very different content areas, yet found similarities and common ground. We'll repeat the process in February, and between now and then all of the participants as well as the teacher hosts will continue to experiment and refine their conferring practice. I'll support the teachers in my building, and the two elementary teachers will receive support from their building coach.
I've been lucky enough to host labs, facilitate labs, and attend labs as a participant. No matter what role I've played during these experiences, I leave the day feeling smarter about my practice than I did that morning. Because the learning occurred in my building with my colleagues and was supported by my teammates or my coach, I was able to take the things I'd learned in the lab and put them into practice right away. Sometimes those new ideas were great and worked right away, and sometimes they bombed. But even the flop has something to teach.
Job-embedded PD, whether it's coaching, a lab experience, a study group, or an in-district workshop feels different than off-site workshops or conferences. While I enjoy going out to learn from and with other people in my field, it's the immediate, in-my-face experiences that have made the biggest, longest lasting impact on my professional practice. I've seen this mirrored in my colleagues as well.
So even though I felt like a needed my roller skates today to get to all of the places I needed to be, it was all worth it. I know the kids we were watching and the teachers who participated and hosted all learned something today. They were smarter at the end of the day than they were at the beginning.
And isn't that what it's all about?