Teacher as Designer: Educators Helping Educators at our Spring Professional Learning Days | Edvance Christian Schools Association
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Teacher as Designer: Educators Helping Educators at our Spring Professional Learning Days

Written on March 8th, 2016

FullSizeRender[6]In my last blog I outlined our shared vision through our three Dimensions of Learning:

  • Culture and Character
  • Mastery of Knowledge and Skills
  • Beautiful Work

Embodying these practices in our classrooms and schools takes time and sustained attention through professional learning. This needs to happen in ongoing professional learning structures within each of our school communities; Edifide, OCSAA, the OACS, and the Ontario Christian Teacher Academy are committed to providing a dynamic calendar of professional learning opportunities that will also support these core practices.

One of those learning opportunities for elementary schools is the spring PD days hosted by the OACS and Edifide. At this year’s event, teachers are given time to listen to stories of the dimensions in action, and then collaborate with each other in grade groups or shared specialty areas to discuss the following questions, core practices, and possible data to support growth. At our recent day in Hamilton, one teacher commented that it was “the perfect balance of theory and practice”.By using thegroups and resources EHE grade groups on edCommons, teachers can also access OACS curriculum resources in digital form, as well as share with each other valuable resources that they have developed as designers themselves. By creating a system-wide community of sharing both in person at events like the PD days and then by extension on edCommons, all of us can deepen our own capacity to design learning for students.

The Professional Learning Day is structured around four major sessions. In each session, one or two teachers share with the room a story of this particular dimension of learning in action. Using those stories as an inspiring starting point, and with the help of a facilitator, each table then enters more deeply into discussing and supporting each other in their particular work and experience, sharing joys and struggles, priorities and fears.

The first of these five professional learning days is already behind us; over 130 educators came together at Calvin Christian School in Hamilton in February. Not everything went perfectly, but the feedback is extremely positive. According to one participant, “This was one of the best PD days I have been to. The theory went straight into classroom practices. Thanks very much!” Another really valued the collaboration: “I enjoyed the time to discuss each topic in smaller groups. It was helpful to hear what others are doing and to glean new ideas for colleagues.” There was also encouraging feedback about each session which I’ll include in the outline of each session.

Session 1: Culture / Character
Discussion Questions:

  • How do you encourage a healthy culture and character development in your classroom and school?
  • Has this area been a focus for you and/or your school?
  • Which core practices are intriguing or important to you personally?

Core Practices:

  1. Pursuing a growth mindset as students and as teachers with a belief that effort will lead to growth
  2. Creating classroom or school wide norms for social/emotional health with students in order to clarify how people will treat each other in the school community
  3. Creating a school wide “habits of a graduate” or “character code” that is woven into classroom learning targets and community times
  4. Empowering students to lead and speak in full school assemblies/chapels and school tours
  5. Celebrating student and teacher embodiment of the character traits the school wants to encourage
  6. Leading devotions as “morning meetings” where each child is welcomed, engaged, and has an opportunity to speak/participate
  7. Using circles with open-ended questions as check-ins and reflection to empower all learners to participate and share their social/emotional states
  8. Support students to lead their own learning in sharing with parents through student-led conferences: their growth in character, in knowledge/skills, and through producing beautiful work

Comment from Hamilton participant: “Those who have gone to Genesee [Community Charter School, a learning trip last December] need to keep talking/sharing. It sounds like it was a positive event.”

Session 2: Mastery of Knowledge and Skills
Discussion Questions:

  • What are essential knowledge and skills for your grade level or specialty area?
  • How do you or your school incorporate Ministry Expectations as a curriculum map for your program?
  • Which core practices are most intriguing or important to you personally?
  • Is your school implementing any of the assessment tools below to evaluate growth?

Core Practices:

  1. Linking mastery of knowledge and skills to engagement with beautiful work and character in authentic projectsFullSizeRender
  2. Clarifying purpose of learning through student friendly learning targets/goals clearly displayed and communicated
  3. Linking effective assessment—of, for, and as learning—to mastering learning targets/goals
  4. Co-constructing with students the success criteria for accomplishing learning targets/goals
  5. Differentiating instruction and ability groupings
  6. Creating interdisciplinary structures and opportunities—projects, schedules, team teaching…
  7. Mapping curriculum across grades and disciplines (use of Ontario Ministry curriculum documents)
  8. Using learning protocols to engage all learners and use time effectively

Comment from Hamilton participant: “This is a topic that we need more time on.”

Session 3: Beautiful Workgallery of beautiful work
Discussion Questions:

  • Have you tried a project based learning approach in your classroom? (Have you attended the Academy?)
  • Has this dimension been a focus for you and/or your school? Have you hosted a celebration of learning?
  • Which core practices are intriguing or important to you personally?

Core Practices:

  1. Linking beautiful work to engagement in mastery of knowledge and skills and supportive character development
  2. Planning meaningful projects—“real work that meets a real need for a real audience”
  3. Examining models and exemplars to understand what quality can look like in a given project
  4. Co-designing with students success criteria in rubrics or checklists to name the aspects of quality and to support multiple levels of assessment
  5. Using critique sessions with students and experts to create growth through revision and multiple drafts of work (assessment for and as learning)
  6. Planning for sharing the work with an audience who can benefit from seeing or receiving the work
  7. Incorporating community organizations and experts who understand the project and the aspects of quality
  8. Celebrating both success and failure through checking in with students often throughout the project

Comment from participant: “I love the whole school doing project based learning at the same time. By doing that, the teachers within a school can support each other in their work.”

Session 4: Space for the Holy Spirit
Discussion Questions:

  • How have you been moved by the Spirit’s presence in your students and your school?
  • How has the Spirit moved learning in your school beyond what you imagined in surprising ways?
  • What stories have encouraged you that you can you share with your colleagues to encourage them?

Comments from Hamilton participant:“An interesting end where we could share moments that we felt God’s presence in our classroom. A great time to share unique stories.”

Edifide and the OACS are excited to move into the next four days in April. We can’t wait to hear more about how the Spirit is leading you and your school in its support of your students. We’re also collaborating to provide dynamic summer professional learning opportunities such Responsive Classroom (which embodies our “culture/character” dimension as some of us observed at Genesee Community Charter School), the Ontario Christian Teacher Academy in August, and more to come. And we don’t need to wait until the professional learning days to discuss learning! Don’t hesitate to connect with me about what is happening in your school that you’d like to share.