Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Professional Development in Literacy

I just got my February issue of The Reading Teacher. Yes, it is February 14th which means it's running a tad late. There was an article, though, that is pertinent to what is going on in my life at the moment. The title is "Accountability by design in literacy professional development," and it is written by Kathryn Kinnucan-Welsch, Catherine A. Rosemary, and Patricia R. Grogan.

It is pertinent to me at the moment because I'm in the midst of planning the February 20th professional development day for the 90+ second grade teachers in our school system. I NEVER imagined that planning such a day would involve so much! I feel guilty about the times I've been overly critical of other professional development experiences. In the future, I know I will be a little more understanding about what goes into such a day. I always expect high quality, but I won't be quite so picky about minor things.

There are four of us on the committee, and I believe we have a productive and helpful day planned. We've got a great motivational speaker for the first 15 minutes, and we have three break-out sessions. Each session has four or five different classes from which participants may choose. We've got local stores, restaurants and book representatives to donate items for door prizes, and the PTO is providing refreshments. Most importantly, I think (hope, pray!) the classes will be really good. The classes are planned to meet the needs that the teachers themselves expressed.

Now that I've read this article in The Reading Teacher, I have a guideline against which to gauge our plans. The article lists six principles of high-quality professional development. The first three principles are the ones that most relate to a specific professional development opportunity. So let's see how we're doing.

(1) The content must align with what students need to know and be able to do, often as articulated by content standards and district course of study. Whew! We got that one covered! That's where we started with our initial ideas. Our wonderful Tennessee "Blue Book" of standards.

(2) Professional Development involves active learning for teachers. Again, we've got that covered, but no thanks to me. My "old school" patterns are hard to let go, although I DO constantly work at it. I was gearing up for a "sit and get" day when my co-presenter (at the three classes we're leading) suggested getting the teachers actively involved instead. MUCH better idea, and I think it will be much more helpful for the teachers. Since children's literature is a passion of mine, I volunteered to lead classes on using children's literature to teach reading and writing skills and strategies. That class will be held during all three sessions since so many teachers signed up for it. The other classes will also involve the teachers in active learning.

(3) Professional development is embedded in the context of work in schools and classrooms. Again, we hit the nail on the head. There are two second grade teachers on our committee, and we initially came up with a long list of ideas, sent that list to all the second grade teachers in the county to find the topics they most wanted help with, and then we worked with those topics in coming up with our sessions. We also have built in time during the day for teachers to talk with teachers from other schools and with their own school team to plan how to utilize what they've learned in their own classrooms. Teachers leading teachers.

It makes me a little scared, though. It sounds almost TOO good. You know what I mean? No matter how well we think we've covered every need, there are bound to be things that come up that no one on the planning committee anticipated. That's where that great life skill of flexibility comes in. We'll just have to do our best in planning, hope for the best, and then handle whatever happens.

Each teacher will have to fill out an evaluation form at the end of the day. Knowing how I've filled out those forms in the past makes me very wary to think of what I might read in them Monday evening.

Reading Today Daily had further information on professional development, and Mei at Mei Flower tells about a professional development day that I hope we don't match.

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