Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

PDing. Oh, How It Makes Me Smile!

“How do I make this happen?”
“That’s interesting, but I'm curious…”
“This is wonderful! I want to...spend time processing what we’ve talked about and reflect on my own practice.”
“Do you have trouble covering the standards?”
“These were great ideas. We should all be doing this! Show me how.”
“What kind of support do you get when you implement these ideas?”

There is NOTHING quite like being in a room with dedicated, passionate, hungry educators who are willing, in fact eager, to spend a day reflecting on their practice. They dig through their thoughts with fierce desire to make a positive change in their teaching. They find a way to a mental place that removes all barriers, allowing them to get back to improving their practice for the sake of teaching well, teaching fun, teaching students, teaching…period. And it’s an incredible experience to be a part of. This describes the day I had working with teachers from the San Mateo High School District this past weekend.

My friend, Dennis Smithenry, and I have had the privilege of sharing our Whole Class Inquiry strategy with a host of audiences over the past eight years. Basically, we have developed an approach that nurtures and creates a self-sufficient community of learners, where the whole class inquires through a range of challenges together.* This was the focus of our professional development day this past weekend. (My slides are attached here.)

It was a particularly rewarding weekend for me. We spent the day presenting to a group of teachers all from the same high school district. I think this made for a unique audience, unlike audiences at regional and national conferences where people in the crowd do not likely know one another. It was thrilling to see new information being absorbed, a myriad of questions being raised and smiles filling the crowd. And then slowly, the conversation level would rise as they turned to talk to their colleagues about how they could make "this" happen in their rooms! These teachers walked away with new ideas to kick around, and will feed off of their colleagues' similar excitement regarding the possibility for change because they started the journey together.

Another part of this day that was exhilarating for me was that the day was all about TEACHING. It wasn’t housed under a subcategory of education like, standards, technology, accountability, etc. It was all about the practice of teaching. Of course these ideas surfaced within the context of best practice and what we were introducing. But the overarching conversation kept the classroom as a whole in mind. We tried to help these teachers connect theory with practice, and more importantly, we talked about how to make this happen. We were focused on our students and what we could do to help our own classes. This day was about “our kids,” the familiar classroom where all the real-life drama and history and vision and learning occur. The place we call home-away-from-home because we spend more time there than anywhere else in our lives. The identity that is and always should be the focus of our reflection and growth. Teachers have a finite number of days to share, to inspire, to connect, to challenge. As an educator, whenever I have the opportunity to reconnect with those practices that best touch students’ lives, I feel rejuvenated. Speaking with these teachers was a very beneficial day for me. I am hopeful it was for them, as well!

*We are thrilled that our second book (cover shown above) will be released this spring, hopefully at the NSTA conference, and it will contain dvds to show how and why I’ve chosen to implement this strategy in my classrooms. It is also accompanied by the educational researcher’s analysis—done by Dr. Dennis Smithenry—of the study done that began this process in the first place. (Shameless plug, I know. But we are very proud of this book!)

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