Schools today are charged with addressing ever-increasing demands: reducing the achievement gap, adopting evidence-based practices, meeting improvement in attainment levels, managing the requirements of special-needs students, and (most importantly) being up to date with changes in pedagogical approaches. Teachers must keep in front of the important developments that are occurring in education. This is where professional development is needed.
One key PD activity is the professional reading circle. Teachers and school leaders should read professionally on a regular basis to stay current within the various fields of teaching and learning. From professional blogs to google scholar to podcasts to journals and books, there are plenty of sites to build a selection of professional articles for this purpose.
In addition to professional reading undertaken individually, it is imperative that teachers and schools leaders discuss with each other the ideas and strategies gained as a result of reading the articles. Collaboration is essential to moving schools forward.
Here are six thoughts to help you use the readings on this website effectively. However, make sure teachers see the relevancy of what they are reading and how it applies to their personal context.
1. Determine interest: As a leader in the school/department you need to gauge the interest of your team and try and choose readings to match both the needs of the school and the needs of the teachers. Giving teachers the freedom to choose their professional readings, or at least letting them pick from a few pre-selected topics, gives them more ownership on this PD activity. (PD should be driven by student behavior and student performance.)
2. Keep the your team small: While you need the team to come together to discuss the readings, you need to have a small group to allow they have time to share thoughts and ideas.
3. Meet as often as possible: While monthly gatherings seem reasonable, given a busy school environment it may not be possible. If you have a large department, be sure to be organized so that people can easily break into groups and have ample time for discussion during the larger meeting.
4. Have teachers report on what they’ve learned: By doing so, others will benefit as well. You need to encourage each teacher to give feedback and to continue learning.
5. Provide Nibblies at Meetings: Providing snacks during a professional development session also puts teachers at ease because the food is an unexpected or appreciated perk, and this can make teachers comfortable enough to ask questions they might not have asked in a stiff setting.
6. Development Action Plans: As a leader you need to help teachers connect the essence of the reading to their role in the classroom. You need to identify what success will look like when implementing the targeted actions and what (after reading the article) teachers must expect to see reflected in student performance.
As we begin a new academic year, school leaders need to help keep professional learning focused on improving practice.