I can’t count the number of times I have heard this phrase since leaving the classroom, “Oh, I am so sorry you have to work all summer.”
My response is always the same. “No, don’t be. I love summer work.” It is in the quiet of my office, when the students and teachers are gone, that I grow and, most importantly, it’s when I can think about how I can better foster growth in those around me in the coming school year.
In my role, I am responsible for all the professional learning on our campus. Summer is when I have the time and space to reflect on the past year, to analyze teacher feedback, and to critically think about how I can improve professional learning in the coming year. It’s the best time of the year for me!
Summer is also the time when I have the freedom to provide more choice. All year long I struggle to do what I know is best in professional learning given the structures and systems in place at my school. The challenge of allowing for teacher choice, providing job-embedded professional development, and individualizing learning for the faculty while negotiating schedules and school calendars and teacher workload is omnipresent. In the summer, teachers can choose when and how they participate in professional development, and I can create learning opportunities for them that are fun, laid-back, and informal.
Here is just a short list of what I am doing this summer to grow and foster growth with the goal of empowering others to lead and learn better than they thought possible.
I am not sure where I heard about International #PatioPD day, July 11. But, as soon as I read about it, I knew it was something we needed to do here at my school. Here’s the thing, we don’t have enough time to just chat about our practice, to learn from one another, and discuss issues that are important to our classrooms and school. On July 11 we will meet on one of our porticos, share some cupcakes and cookies (because food always helps feed a conversation), and connect with our colleagues. I will bring a few topics to guide the conversation if needed, but my hope is that our time that day will enhance our community of learners and create the conditions for teachers to share expertise and celebrate each other’s work. Our collective knowledge and experiences make us better educators and better people.
School Twitter Chats
This summer I am moderating three school Twitter chats using our school’s hashtag. Originally I thought of it as a way to encourage connections beyond our campus. I saw it as a way to get the faculty on Twitter while informally offering professional learning. But, after our first Twitter chat, I realized these chats will be far more about staying connected as a team over the summer and keeping us engaged. A few of us simultaneously realized how much we missed one another and the fulfillment we get from partnering with each other throughout the school year. All those informal interactions in the hallways and the lunchtime conversations about students and lessons feed our educator souls.
Our first Twitter chat was amazing and light-hearted. There were plenty of jokes and memes thrown around. But, more importantly, we tackled a big topic, student agency, and grew as a team. It also allowed follow-up on professional learning related to our BYOD initiative.
I am a big believer in organic, collaborative, teacher-led professional learning. At my school, we call it planting seeds, growing leaders. It’s the idea that through small interactions, work in small groups, gentle nudges, and pushes, we can grow those around us, students and teachers. We have monthly professional development before school. For me, those sessions are all about exposure and introducing new ideas and strategies, planting seeds. The cultivation happens in small groups and one-on-one interactions when we are sitting around a table building a unit of study or sharing ideas for getting student feedback. During the school year time for those interactions is costly. It means giving up class time with substitutes or working before or after school. In the summer we are doing a mixture of scheduled and unscheduled drop-in sessions to work on curriculum or planning. I have been surprised at the number of people popping into my office or scheduling meetings. Sometimes it’s a quick question about an assessment and other times its two hours reviewing curriculum. It speaks to the dedication of our faculty.
This is probably one of the most important aspects of my summer work, and it relates to my growth especially. A few years ago a colleague told me he didn’t want to be the author of confusion. He wanted to be the author of clarity. Making sure we build clarity around vision in the broader context of a school or district, and in the smaller learning communities within, is so important. If we aren’t clear on where we want our school, our students, and our faculty to go, we run the risk of becoming disjointed, having our message muddled, and proceeding on uncertain or bumpy paths.
The image that keeps coming to mind for me is from Gremlins. Every time we obscure our vision, every time we don’t keep it as our guiding light, it’s like throwing water on Gremlins. In the end, there are consequences, offshoots of that confusion, little Gremlin visions that hold and impact our growth and our school culture. They are not as cute and cuddly as our original Gremlin, our original vision.
This summer I am working to build clarity around the vision for professional learning at my school, what it is and isn’t. I am thinking about what I can do to limit confusion and author clarity. Does the vision for professional learning at my school benefit all, students, teachers, and parents? How often am I keeping the key points of that vision as my guiding light while planning? How can I tweak and refine the strategies I use to engage and empower teachers while staying true to our vision of professional development? How can I build a shared understanding of professional development? How does our professional learning contribute to the school’s mission and vision? These are all big questions I am pondering while I research professional learning models, scour blogs and articles for ideas, and ask questions of my professional learning network in order to refine and plan for the coming school year. This is my summer professional development, finding paths of promise, following them, and growing as a resource for my colleagues.
I started out this summer professional development planning with two important questions: How can I encourage and initiate grassroots change through teacher leadership and how can I enhance professional learning and expand professional growth opportunities for the educators I work with this summer? It is my hope that our summer growth as professionals will leave us inspired and ready to ignite great teaching and learning in the coming school year.
Jill Cross is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Museum Studies graduate program. She is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader, a 2017 ASCD Influence Leader, and a Colonial Williamsburg Master Teacher. Currently, she is the Dean of Curriculum and Instruction at TMI Episcopal in San Antonio, Texas. Connect with Jill on Twitter @JCrossEdu