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Caring and Compassionate Confrontation

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When I was in my Doctoral program, I met in one of my classes Debbie who was the Corporate Education coordinator for the university. She ran workshops for teams from profit and non-profit organizations and corporations. I had mentioned that I had a background in adventure education with a focus using outdoor team building activities. She got excited and said that the university does team building on their off campus site and asked me to join her as a facilitator. At the time I was a chain smoker, about 2 packs a day, and had been smoking like that for about 10 years. These activities were outdoors so I would smoke during these day long team building days. We would have the clients fill out evaluation forms at the end of the day and use these evaluations to do our end-of-day debriefings. During one such debriefing, Debbie had found several comments about how my smoking disturbed several of the individual clients. She looked at me with such a caring look and said, “You are so good at what you do. It’s such a shame that your smoking detracts from that.” On the way home that evening I threw away my cigarettes and never smoked again. This ended up being a peak experience in my life in that Debbie’s unconditional caring facilitated major behavioral change in me.

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Fast forward to present day . . . this is about a 5th grade student in one of my gifted education classes. Last semester, J. was incredibly annoying. He got on both my and his classmates nerves way too often. He was a “know-it-all” with both the other students and me. He was loud, often claimed he knew the answer (he often did), and when he was correct, he would exclaim loudly, “I told you so.” When we had competitions such as with board games and Kahoot, he often won and would gloat. I had lots of one-on-one talks with him telling him that I believe that he is smart and insightful, but that he often alienates others (including me) with his comments. I emphasized that I wanted others to see his talents but with his comments and attitudes, others would not see them. I also told him that winning competitions does feel good but that he should congratulate himself silently as not to get his peers angry. We’ve been back from break for several weeks (I meet with them twice a week for a few hours each time). I noticed that he is not so loud, doesn’t make such antagonist comments, and lets me help him with technology-based assignments. On several occasions, I told him that I noticed his changes and that I am proud of him. When asked, he said he made a New Year’s resolution to make changes. Last semester I didn’t think he was listening to my suggestions, but he was! 

The following excerpts from the Harvard School of Education’s The Troublemakers (http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/18/01/troublemakers) support the idea of caring and compassionate confrontation.

We teachers all have our Joes, our students who consistently call out, talk back, refuse to participate or sit down or stay on task. They throw our lessons into disarray, make our heads pound. They keep us up at night strategizing, worrying. How can I connect? What strategies might work tomorrow?

How do we reach and teach our troublemakers? Most teachers have binders brimming with ideas: shuffled seat assignments, tracking systems, rewards for on-point behavior. But when these fail, what can you do when it’s you alone in your class balancing 29 personalities, the clock ticking and your 40-minute-long class is almost up?

Some strategies for working with these kinds of difficult students include:

Seek out our students’ strengths. All students have strengths. Perhaps they are avid photographers, basketball players, coders, or poets when not in school. But when it comes to our troublemakers, it can be easy for their assets to be overshadowed by behaviors that disrupt the carefully cultivated cultures of our classrooms. We cannot lose sight of these strengths. Yet it is not enough to know that our troublemakers are budding artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs. We must also seek to reframe and better understand the qualities we find most frustrating.

Strategize with students. We can only guess as to why a student might call out or fail to do homework. Rather than assume we know the answer, ask. From our students we can better learn what hurdles they face and in what ways we can support their success. And in doing this we demonstrate our commitment to our students.

Create opportunities for students to realize their potential and be publically recognized for their academic achievements. All students are capable of achieving remarkable things, they just might need our help to do so. In raising the stakes, but also the support, we can create opportunities for students to explore at the edge of their capabilities. And when they do succeed, celebrate these achievements. Our troublemakers are too often only publicly acknowledged for their disruptions. We can change this pattern by intentionally creating opportunities to publicly recognize their strengths.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 21, 2018 at 11:00 pm

Educators as Purveyors of Hope

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My advanced degree is in counseling. I sought this degree due to my affinity towards at-risk and adjudicated youth. One of the most powerful learnings from my training as a counselor was a comment I heard at a conference, Counselors need to be purveyors of hope since many clients get in trouble and/or seek counseling due to a lack of hope.

I have since become a teacher educator (with some teaching of elementary gifted students at a few Title 1 schools thrown in). I believe that educators do more counseling of children and young people than any other profession. Teachers, then, should be purveyors of hope especially for those students who lack the belief in their own capabilities and potential  This includes students who lack hope that they can do well in certain subjects; students who lack hope that they can do well in school-as-a-whole; and saddest of all, students who lack hope for their futures. The educator, as a purveyor of hope, gives these types of learners the overt message, “I will hold hope for you because I believe in you. The goal, though, is for you to develop your own sense of hope.”

Hope often gets a bad rap. For some, it conjures up images of a blissfully naïve chump pushing up against a wall with a big smile. That’s a shame. Cutting-edge science shows that hope, at least as defined by psychologists, matters a lot.

Hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Hope-related cognitions are important. Hope leads to learning goals, which are conducive to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track. A bulk of research shows that learning goals are positively related to success across a wide swatch of human life—from academic achievement to sports to arts to science to business. In contrast to both self-efficacy and optimism, people with hope have the will and the pathways and strategies necessary to achieve their goals (The Will and Ways of Hope).

Over the last 20 years, researchers have gained a clearer understanding of the relationships between hope and important aspects of students’ lives. Put simply, research demonstrates that more hopeful students do better in school and life than less hopeful students.

  • Hope is positively associated with perceived competence and self-worth (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2009) and negatively associated with symptoms of depression (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • High-hope students typically are more optimistic (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), develop many life goals, and perceive themselves as being capable of solving problems that may arise (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Accumulating evidence suggests that hope is related to life satisfaction and wellbeing (e.g., Gilman, Dooley, & Florell, 2006).
  • Hope is linked consistently to attendance and credits earned (Gallup, 2009a).
  • Hopeful middle school students have better grades in core subjects (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2011) and on achievement tests (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Hopeful high school students (Gallup, 2009b; Snyder et al., 1991) and beginning college students (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002) have higher overall grade point averages.
  • Hope predicts academic achievement, and the predictive power of hope remains significant even when controlling for intelligence (e.g., Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997), prior grades (e.g., Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 1991; Snyder et al., 2002), self-esteem (Snyder et al., 2002), personality (Day, Hanson, Maltby, Proctor, & Wood, 2010), and college entrance examination scores such as high school GPA and ACT/SAT (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002).
  • Higher hope has been correlated positively with social competence (Barnum, Snyder, Rapoff, Mani, & Thompson, 1998), pleasure in getting to know others, enjoyment in frequent interpersonal interactions (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), and interest in the goal pursuits of others (Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997). (Measuring and Promoting Help in Schoolchildren)

Some of the characteristics or skills sets of hope include:

  • Positive View About the Future
  • Can Do Attitude
  • Personal Agency
  • Engage in Positive Self Talk
  • Belief in Ability to Solve Problems
  • Belief in One’s Ability to Impact Positively on One’s Situation.
  • Maintaining Perspective
  • Sense of Efficacy

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For educators who want to help their students build these skills of hope, here are five research-based guidelines. From How to Help Students Develop Hope:

  1. Identify and prioritize their top goals, from macro to micro. Start by having students create a “big picture” list of what’s important to them—such as their academics, friends, family, sports, or career—and then have them reflect on which areas are most important to them and how satisfied they are with each.
  2. Breakdown the goals—especially long-term ones—into steps. Research has suggested that students with low hope frequently think goals have to be accomplished all-at-once, possibly because they haven’t had the parental guidance on how to achieve goals in steps. Teaching them how to see their goals as a series of steps will also give students reasons to celebrate their successes along the way—a great way to keep motivation high!
  3. Teach students that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. Studies show that one of the greatest challenges for students with low hope is their inability to move past obstacles. They often lack key problem-solving skills, causing them to abandon the quest for their goals.
  4. Tell stories of success.  Scientists have found that hopeful students draw on memories of other successes when they face an obstacle; however, students with low hope often don’t have these kinds of memories. That’s why it’s vital for teachers to read books or share stories of other people—especially kids—who have overcome adversity to reach their goals.
  5. Keep it light and positive. It’s important to teach students to enjoy the process of attaining their goals, even to laugh at themselves when they face obstacles and make mistakes. Above all, no self-pity! Research has found that students who use positive self-talk, rather than beating themselves up for mistakes, are more likely to reach their goals.

Parting Shot: I recently watched the documentary STEP, which provides a great example of administrators and teachers instilling hope into a high risk population.

STEP documents the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team against the background of inner-city Baltimore. These young women learn to laugh, love and thrive – on and off the stage – even when the world seems to work against them. Empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families, they chase their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college.  This all female school is reshaping the futures of its students’ lives by making it their goal to have every member of their senior class accepted to and graduate from college, many of whom will be the first in their family to do so (http://www.foxsearchlight.com/stepmovie/).

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 5, 2018 at 10:40 pm

The World’s Largest Lesson: Global Goals Activities

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I have a strong belief that education should assist learners in developing the desire and skills for global stewardship. I discussed this in my post, Empathy and Global Stewardship: The Other 21st Century Skills https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/empathy-and-global-stewardship-the-other-21st-century-skills/.

Learners, grades 5 and 6, in my gifted class do the global goals projects one hour per week. What follows are some of the activities they have done.

Introducing and Choosing the Goals

The Global Goals lesson was introduced to learners through the following videos:

They were then asked to explore each of the goals via the World’s Greatest Lesson website: http://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/ using their newly constructed Global Goals glasses (template found at http://cdn.worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/2017/08/WLL-Glasses-V3.pdf).

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The final part of their introduction and exploration of the global goals was for each learner to choose one or two goals to further explore and research; and to list these on their personal blogs. They presented their selections to the rest of the class.

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Activity: Board Game Go Goals!

“GO GOALS!” board game. The purpose of this game is to help children understand the Sustainable Development Goals, how they impact their lives and what they can do every day to help and achieve the 17 goals by 2030. The game can be downloaded at http://go-goals.org/

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Activity: Exploring Wealth Inequalities

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This was such a powerful activity. I blogged about it in Exploring Wealth Inequities: An Experiential Learning Activity https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/exploring-wealth-inequities-an-experiential-learning-activity/

Here is a video from their activity:

Activity: Superhero to Help Rescue Climate Change

Learners completed the worksheets (1-3) found at http://cdn.worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/2017/09/WLL_ClimateComicContest_Final-1.pdf.

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The learner responses were posted on the bulletin outside of the classroom hopefully to bring some awareness to other teachers and students in the school.

Creating a Website

Learners, either alone or with a partner, are creating websites about their chosen goals using Google Sites (we are a Google apps district). They are required to include the following items:

  • An overview of the problem using reputable resources and with live links included,
  • Multimedia presentations (2) using Web 2.0 tools from this list provided to them via our Google Classroom –  https://www.symbaloo.com/embed/multimediatools8?,
  • A self-grading quiz using Google Forms,
  • A Green Screen or Flipgrid commentary.

They work on their sites when time is left after the experiential activities. (I will add an aggregate of their sites once they are done.)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 4, 2018 at 11:06 pm

Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations

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I am a process-oriented educator. I focus on how to learn rather than what to learn. I’ve addressed this in Freedom to Learn:

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In order to facilitate these desired elements of learning, I believe it is important to focus on the process of learning rather than the products of learning.

When learning is viewed as a product, and the same performance measure applies to all students, learning facilitation can be reduced to cookie-cutter teaching: same pieces of information and instruction are seen sufficient for all students. In a product-centered learning environment emphasis is often in doing activities – worksheets, charts, pre-designed projects – that are either teacher-made or provided by the publisher of the curriculum. The important part of completing these products is getting them right because these products are usually graded! Skilled and obedient students comply with these requests and try hard to get their tasks done right, yet there are many students who just leave them undone.

What about viewing learning as a process? Because students begin their daily/weekly/yearly learning from different levels of knowledge and understanding, they also will end up in different competency levels. And that is okay, honestly. We are not clones. Students shouldn’t be treated like ones. When learning is understood primarily as a process of acquisition and elaboration of information, the natural consequences in the classroom are ongoing differentiation and individualization. Approaching learning as an individual process helps us refocus learning and teaching: the student is in the nexus of her/his own learning, (Is Learning a Product or a Process?)

The following principles from Rogers’ Freedom to Learn are directly addressed when the process of learning becomes the intent of instructional practices:

Much significant learning is acquired through doing. “Placing the student in direct experiential confrontation with practical problems, social problems, ethical and philosophical problems, personal issues, and research problems, is one of the most effective modes of promoting learning” (p. 162).

Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process. “When he chooses his own directions, helps to discover his own learning resources, formulates his own problems, decides his own course of action, lives with the consequences of these choices, then significant learning is maximized” (p. 162).

The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change. If our present culture survives, it will be because we have been able to develop individuals for whom change is the central fact of life and who have been able to live comfortably with this central fact. They will instead have the comfortable expectation that it will be continuously necessary to incorporate new and challenging learnings about ever-changing situations. (pp. 163-164)

Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved from https://principlesoflearning.wordpress.com.

To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the students. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like.

The benefits for my learners include:

  • They are not limited by my expectations nor the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an outside entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Their engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • They learn to tolerate and then embrace ambiguity.
  • Natural differentiation and individualization result.
  • They learn skills such as self-directed learning, taking initiative, locating resources, asking for help that can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • There is an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • They develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

The benefits for me, as the educator, include:

  • I work hard to pre-plan process-oriented classroom activities but the learners work harder than me during class time. Students should work harder than the educator during class time.
  • I am continually surprised at and elated about what learners produce. Because of this, I get to learn from them, too. We become a learning community.
  • I get to directly observe how each individual student approaches learning tasks. This furthers my ability to plan learning tasks tailored to the learners’ unique abilities and interests.
  • I get to experience the joy with them as they accomplish a learning task on their own using their own personal abilities, intelligence, learning strategies, and struggles. This joy rarely occurs with standardized curriculum and assessments.

Here are some examples of process-oriented learning activities I have done with my students:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 17, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Exploring Wealth Inequities: An Experiential Learning Activity

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One of the legacies I want to leave with my students (of all ages) is a desire to engage in global stewardship. For more about this see my post, Empathy and Global Stewardship: The Other 21st Century Skills.

As part of my gifted education classes, I am asking my 5th and 6th graders to choose, explore, research, and report via their own Google Sites on one or two of the 17 Global Goals found at The World’s Largest Lesson. Here is the list of global goals selected by my students:

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To supplement their online work, I am doing a series of experiential activities with them (FYI – this also supports my desire to balance technology and no technology activities, where student need to communicate and collaborate with one another without the use of devices). We began these activities with Exploring Wealth Inequalities, which I explain below.

Goals

  • Explore inequalities of wealth and better understand experiences of economic inequality.
  • To graphically demonstrate the vast differences in wealth between different areas of the world.
  • Generate ideas for action towards economic equality.

The Task

To use the supplies given to your group to create a model city.

Materials

  • Masking Tape – both for creating the boundaries and for building
  • Paper or Plastic Cups
  • Straws
  • Index Cards
  • Candy such as M&Ms, Skittles, Hersey’s Kisses.
  • Paper Bags

The Set-Up

The setting below is set up prior to the learners’ arrival.

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Randomly separate learners into three different groups. Bring them to their area one group at a time and explain the task.

The Wealthy Group:

The wealthy group has more area in which to work, more supplies, and bags of candy with much more than enough for each learner. The facilitator explains the task offering lots of help if they ask for it. They can leave the boundaries of their area. If they ask for more supplies or goods, the facilitator will get it for them – taking it from another group if needed. An unspoken, hidden rule is that they can offer and give any of their supplies to the lower income groups

 

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The Middle Income Group:

The middle group has everything in moderation – a moderate amount of area to work in – a moderate amount of supplies to build their city.  They each get a bag of candy with a few pieces of candy per bag. The facilitator explains the task but doesn’t offer support.

 

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The Poorest Income Group:

This group is given a taped off area in which there is very little room to move; very limited supplies; and a few pieces of candy to share among the group members. The facilitator briefly and impatiently explains the directions to build a model city with the supplies provided.

 

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Debriefing

Students are shown the following video:

. . . and then discuss the following questions:

  • Were you treated fairly?
  • What aspects of this game represented how the world’s wealth and power are distributed?
  • How did the members of the different groups feel about their situation?
  • After playing this game do you have a better understanding of the situation or attitude of poor people/nations? Of the situation or attitude of wealthy people/nations?
  • Who are the “haves” and the “have nots” in the world today? Who are the “haves” and “have nots” in our country today? In our state or community? Why?
  • Should the “haves” be concerned about the situation of the “have nots?” For what reasons? economic? moral/religious? political? Why might the “haves” give money or resources to the “have nots”? Is this a way to solve the problems of poverty?
  • What might the “have-nots” do to improve their situation? What are some actions that “have-nots” have taken around the globe and at home to address the inequalities of wealth and power?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power in this country? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power throughout the world? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?

(http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/edumat/hreduseries/tb1b/Section2/activity2.html)

Here are some of the comments from my students during the debrief.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

Introduction to Design Thinking for Educators Workshop

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I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on design thinking for educators at the New Mexico Association for the Gifted Fall Institute. Here is a round-up of what we did.

Warm Up: Instant Challenge

Participants were asked to warm-up for the session with a challenge from the Destination Imagination Instant Challenge App.

Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless! https://www.destinationimagination.org/blog/new-instant-challenge-app/

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Introduction to the Squishy Circuits: The Medium for the Design Challenge

I then had the participating educators familiarize themselves with Squishy Circuits to prepare them for the upcoming design challenge and to deepen their engagement with the workshop content.

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An Overview of Design Thinking

The following videos and graphics about design thinking were introduced and discussed with participants.

John Spencer’s Video on the Launch Cycle

Design thinking was introduced to the participating educators through showing them John Spencer‘s video.

The Characteristics of Design Thinking

The following graphic, which I created for this workshop, was discussed.

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Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education developed by Barbara Bray and me was then introduced to the participants.

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The Design Challenge

The major challenge or task was to create a design using Squishy circuits based on a partner’s specifications. Only the designer could touch the materials not the “client” who verbally described her desired design. To further explain this challenge, I showed a video of my gifted elementary students engaged in the challenge.

. . .  and some photos of the participating educators doing this challenge.

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Sidenote

One of the partner teams was one of my colleagues, Anna, an amazing art teacher, who was the client paired with a gifted ed teacher, the designer. Anna provided the verbal directions for her partner to make an elephant drinking water. We were reaching the end of the session without its completion. I told them to just let it go – the elephant was complete but the lighting was not. During the time that the workshop participants were walking around looking at one another’s creations, Anna and her partner completed the elephant using the LEDs to light up his eyes. The look of pride and empowerment in both Anna and her partner, who obviously has never completed such a project and was glowing with well-deserved pride, was priceless – touching me quite deeply. The moral of the story for me: Teachers should be provided with PD opportunities to deeply engage in learning to the point where they feel empowered. I believe this will help increase the transfer of learning to their own classrooms as they will want their own learners to feel that same sense of empowerment.

Here is the slide deck from my presentation:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Qualities of Effective Educator Professional Development

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Most administrators and teachers believe in the importance and value of professional development.  Sadly, though, too many teachers believe that those mandatory, one-size-fits-all professional development sessions offered by their schools are a waste of time and money.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement, “Even high quality professional development must be directly relevant to the needs of teachers and genuinely improve teaching and learning.” Weingarten said. “And low-quality professional development, frankly, feels like detention.” (New Report Reveals That Teacher Professional Development Is Costly And Ineffective)

Teacher professional learning is of increasing interest as a critical way to support the increasingly complex skills students need to learn in order to succeed in the 21st century. Sophisticated forms of teaching are needed to develop student competencies such as deep mastery of challenging content, critical thinking, complex problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and self-direction. In turn, effective professional development (PD) is needed to help teachers learn and refine the instructional strategies required to teach these skills. However, research has noted that many professional development initiatives appear ineffective in supporting changes in teachers’ practices and student learning.(Effective Teacher Professional Development)

What follows are the general guidelines I use to plan and structure my professional development workshops. Recently, I facilitated two weekends of math instruction for elementary teachers. I use these workshops as a reference in this discussion.

  • Voluntary
  • Models Best Classroom Practices
  • Active and Hands-On
  • Fun and Engaging
  • Engages the Mind, Body, Emotions
  • Time to Tinker and Play
  • Collaboration
  • Ability to Tailor to Own Needs
  • Natural Integration of Technology
  • Reflection Built In

qualities of effective PD

Voluntary

Teacher PD needs to be voluntary.

The fact that adults are voluntary participants in the learning situation has profound implications for how learning occurs. They are generally highly motivated and primed to get the most out of the situation as possible. They will tackle tasks with enthusiasm, provided they are seen as relevant. This means that they are more likely to embrace participatory learning techniques such as discussion, role playing, small group work and the analysis of personal experiences.

The reverse side of voluntary participation by adults is that they can just as easily withdraw. Unlike the disruption that occurs when participation is mandatory, adults are likely to do one of two things. They will either quietly withdraw altogether or, if that is not really an option, they will continue to show up and do what is minimally expected of them, but will essentially become passive participants. (Principles underlying Effective Practices in Adult Education)

My weekend math workshops were offered to elementary teachers in a specific school district as a voluntary opportunity. A grant did provide them with a stipend for attending but as one of the attending teachers noted, “Even with a stipend, I wouldn’t volunteer for a weekend workshop unless I was interested in learning how to be a better teacher of math” (in this case).

Models Best Classroom Practices

First and foremost, teacher PD needs to model best classroom practices. “Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like” (Effective Teacher Professional Development). If the desire is to have educators create and implement engaging, interactive, and fun learning activities, then PD needs to be a mirror of these practices. I always believed that is is hypocritical to lecture about these best practices. It should be a process of modeling.

In order to model best classroom practices during my math workshops:

  1. I used videos, mostly from The Teaching Channel, to show elementary teachers modeling best practices in math within their own elementary classrooms.
  2. I did math activities with the teacher participants as if they were students in my elementary classroom.

Active and Hands-On

Active learning engages teachers directly in designing and trying out teaching strategies, providing them an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students. Such PD uses authentic artifacts, interactive activities, and other strategies to provide deeply embedded, highly contextualized professional learning. This approach moves away from traditional learning models and environments that are lecture based and have no direct connection to teachers’ classrooms and students. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

Other than explaining activities, showing videos and presenting some technology options, all of learning activities during the weekend workshop were hands-on and active.

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Fun and Engaging

Somewhere along the line of professional development, it became a way too serious endeavor. I believe this is a major reason why teachers don’t enjoy their professional development opportunities.

Fun has a positive effect on motivation levels, determining what we learn and how much we retain. If the learning isn’t fun, it won’t be effective. That’s not just a sneaking suspicion – it’s cold, hard, scientific fact.

  • study in the journal, College Teaching, found that students could recall a statistics lecture more easily when the lecturer added jokes about relevant topics.
  • In her book, Neurologist, Judy Willis showed how fun experiences increase levels of dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen – all things that promote learning.
  • In a study for the Journal of Vocational Behaviour, Michael Tews found that employees are more likely to try new things if their work environment is fun. (Why Fun in Learning is Important)

Regardless of age, grade, content area, one measure of success I use is the quantity of laughter and squeals of joy. I heard lots of laughter during my workshops.

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Engages the Mind, Body, Emotions

As an experiential educator and regardless of the age level I am teaching, I emphasize multi-sensory, whole person learning.

We learn best when we think, feel and do.  That’s the message of Dr. Adele Diamond, a cognitive developmental neuroscientist who currently teaches at the University of British Columbia in Canada.  We might refer to this as “whole body learning.”  According to Dr. Diamond, the executive function of the brain — the prefrontal cortex — works best when we go beyond the rational mind by also involving emotions and physical behaviors.  That makes sense since the more we involve other parts of the brain, the more neural connections we make that reinforce learning. (Brain Research: To Improve Learning, Use Whole Body)

My math workshop was not exception as activities that use the body, mind, and emotions were introduced to the participating teachers.

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Time to Tinker and Play

Teachers and librarians, like their students, need hands-on experience with tools and with playing to learn as that helps them build creative confidence. (Crafting Professional Development for Maker Educators)

Teachers, during PD, should be provided with time, resources, and materials with which to play. It sets the expectation that they will be active agents of their own learning. It gives them the message it is okay to play and experiment with the materials; that tinkering is often needed as a part of learning new skills.

Given that the nature of the workshop was hands-on and active, workshop participants were time to tinker with the resources and materials provided.

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Ability to Tailor to Own Needs

One of the justified complaints of teachers regarding their schools’ professional development is that it is often of the too generic, one-size-fits all variety. To be effective, professional develop should help teachers address their own classroom needs. Participating teachers were given lots of resources and opportunities to develop math activities specific for their grade level and students.

Integrates Collaboration

High-quality PD creates space for teachers to share ideas and collaborate in their learning, often in job-embedded contexts. By working collaboratively, teachers can create communities that positively change the culture and instruction of their entire grade level, department, school and/or district. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

At the beginning of the workshop, participants were asked to form groups with same grade level teachers forming what I called mini-PLNs. Part of the workshop time was devoted to teachers developing materials for their own classrooms and students. During the time, the teachers could work with their mini-PLNs. They were also asked to share, throughout the weekend, the activities they discovered and developed. These sharing sessions often led to feedback and ways the activities could be modified for a variety of student populations.

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Naturally Integrates Technology

Technology use within all learning and teaching environments including professional development should be ubiquitous; it’s use should be determine by its potential to enhance and increase learning.

During my math workshop, participants used technology to:

  • Access the workshop slides.
  • Explore learning activities for the manipulatives I provided: dice, pool noodles, Legos. playing cards, beach balls.
  • Try out online math games: ABCya, Toy Theater Math, Prodigy, and Code.org.
  • Take photos of math examples in school building.

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Builds in Reflection

High-quality professional learning frequently provides built-in time for teachers to intentionally think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice by facilitating reflection and soliciting feedback. Feedback and reflection both help teachers to thoughtfully move toward the expert visions of practice. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

As a final reflection for the weekend, I asked participating teachers to use the following prompt to create a mini-poster of their learning. It also modeled how to use such a reflection process with their students.

. . . and here is a video recording of one of the participating teacher’s reflections:

As a parting shot, here are the slides I used during the workshop:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 8, 2017 at 12:34 am

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