Teachers and Students, Learning Together

A Flexible PD Model that Breaks the Rules!

Let’s face it, most districtwide professional developments have one requirement…”keep the students home.” Models that are based on this ‘one or the other’ type of thinking are missing out on a chance to create an embedded model of professional development that is centered on the acquisition of skills and the application of these practices into every classroom. The key to developing a flexible PD model begins with a willingness to break some rules.

A traditional approach

The traditional professional development models tend to operate off the idea that ‘teacher learning can not happen alongside student learning.’ As a result, school leaders go to great lengths to find ways to offer professional learning. These include getting substitutes, planning for morning/evening sessions, sending teachers to learn at other places, working within existing school schedules and/or planning time, and designing school calendars where students stay out of school so professional learning can occur. These models are keeping the ‘school equation’ balanced.

The school equation (1 x 28 x 52 x 5 x 180 = ?)

The general assumption is that one teacher, 28 students, 52 minutes, 5 days a week, and 180 school days equals school . This dominant structural model plays such an embedded role in school systems and as a result when professional learning is added to the equation the equation becomes unbalanced. What is most commonly missed with this train of thought is that the equation equals ‘school’ and not ‘learning.’

The learning equation (? x ? x ? x ? x ? = Learning)

The learning equation is about a deep understanding that all the aspects that make up learning are ‘variables,’ and can be changed! Educators know that students can learn with or without a teacher, in classes of 1 or classes of 100, in 10 minutes or in 75, and most importantly that ‘the equation’ is different for every student. Hidden within understanding of changing the equation lies the opportunity for new designs in professional learning.

A flexible approach

Over the past few years our leadership team has been on a journey to create a culture of powerful application based professional learning. We began with a simple concept that the equation for learning had variables and that within those variables we could challenge ourselves, and our system, to create a new equation that resulted in learning for students and professionals.

In addition to the vision; ‘the learning equation,’ we provided the following guidelines:

Flexible PD guidelines:

  • High levels of student learning drive the model
  • No additional expenditures to balance equation (substitutes, added days/time to calendar, …)
  • Professional learning focused on practices acquisition and application

Once this PD concept was launched, the impact was immediate and the results were transformative. At one site, Summit View INC, the model quickly evolved from an idea to an effective framework for learning. Principal Jeff Peterson highlights the student centered instructional designs as the biggest victory in this concept as the students’ learning experience is enhanced, rather than compromised. At the same time Peterson and the teaching team crafted regular professional learning experiences that had immediate impact in the classroom. Peterson, in partnership with building teachers, wanted to develop specific instructional practices, but needed to solve the problem of the time that it takes to ensure understanding and quality implementation. The Flex PD model allowed for a change in some of the ‘school variables’, to create space to introduce new concepts. Concepts such as integrated arts, coding, and core literacy frameworks are just some of the many topics that have gone from concept to classroom as a part of this flexible PD model. The flex model is most powerful when it is regularly incorporated into a school as teachers have a chance to move through the all the stages of practice acquisition.

Summit View has used a couple of different logistical plans to make sure that the professional development is as powerful for the students as it is for their teacher who happens to be learning at the same time in a different place. One example includes a co-teaching team planning a series of problem solving activities for small groups that allows the teacher not participating in the teacher learning to facilitate a larger number of students because they are so deeply engaged in their learning activities.

Another session involved an upper elementary class meeting with their primary “buddy class” and were able to help them through the story writing process and at the culmination of their sessions will have written a book with their buddy.

An additional benefit of teachers learning in the same place at the same time that students are learning is that professional development activities/practice can be in the format we find most beneficial to students’ experiential learning. For example, teachers participating in a professional development session on conferring with students have the opportunity to actually practice conferring on “real live” kids and can later share their experience with colleagues as training continues, or students can describe to the teacher learners what the experience felt like.

A balanced approach:

The flexible PD model was a new design that required an understanding that the equation needs to be designed to equal learning, as opposed to school. This concept was designed to work in balance with student learning, but also with our larger overall professional development program. Be it new teacher development, district priorities, or personalized PD, it is the role of leadership to change the equation to create organizational learning systems that support the primary outcome: learning.

About the Authors

Dr. Ryan Krohn is currently the Assistant Superintendent in the School District of Waukesha. Ryan’s work is centered on redesigning aspects of the current instruction based system into a system that is designed for learning.

Twitter: @pullED_learning
Email: RyanKrohn.edu@gmail.com
School District of Waukesha Website: http://www.waukesha.k12.wi.us

Jeff Peterson is currently the Principal at Summit View Art, Design and Creativity Magnet School
in the School District of Waukesha. Jeff has implemented an instructional delivery approach
centered on creativity in the magnet school he leads.

Twitter: @JeffJpeterso
Email: jpeterso@waukesha.k12.wi.us