A Guest Blog Post by Kevin Harcourt, Professional Development Coordinator for Sahuarita Unified School District and 2007 Teacher of the Year Semifinalist
“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”
This famous quote by John Cotton Dana epitomizes the belief we have in Sahuarita about professional development. The goal of the Sahuarita Professional Learning Institute is to provide a framework for continual growth and renewal of our staff. We believe that excellence in teaching is a process requiring ongoing maintenance.
The engine, no matter how much horsepower it has, needs regular tune-ups.
It is also believed that when teachers make their own decisions through reflection and collaboration with colleagues and supervisors, they can make their professional learning most meaningful and effective. We have a catalog of approximately 30 unique K-12 in-services offered each year, ranging from elementary reading instruction to technology for student engagement to content-area curriculum collaboration.
This is not to say that all in-services are a teacher’s choice. We do schedule in-services to support district initiatives that require teachers’ participation. However, we believe in having at least a balance of mandated and optional growth opportunities.
At the end of the day, we invite our staff to be life-long professional learners.
How do we do that?
We started our professional learning program several years ago in Sahuarita by starting small. With a team of K-12 teachers from across our district, we implemented a New Teacher Induction (NTI) program that focused on foundational classroom management and basic instructional practices. One goal of this was to build an instructional culture where every teacher spoke the same “language.” Eventually, we offered refresher and advanced in-services for the veteran teachers that had not attended NTI so that they could be “in” on the same culture. Even our administrative leaders attend which is the second most key element that affects student achievement.
Additionally, we invite our staff to attend in-services that convene on our main campus and are taught mainly by our own staff. The convenience and familiarity of attending learning events at “home” instead of being sent out or away makes folks comfortable and keeping instruction in the hands of our own staff helps manage expectations. A key aspect of the convenience comes from the steadfast support we receive from our administrative leadership – all in-services occur on school days and the district budgets substitute teacher coverage for all teachers who attend.
In the end, we find that facilitating in-services through our in-house staff not only fosters the aforementioned comfort, but also accountability and practicality. When teachers know their learning is from classroom practitioners, they’re more willing to try out their new strategies and practices in the classroom. They have more belief that it makes a difference in student learning. Having our own staff facilitate in-services also builds sustainability. Veteran teachers with recognized expertise and a role to share that tend to stick around in our district longer because they feel valued.
Finally, how do we invite lifelong learning? A key element of professional learning is ongoing support.
We initially supported new teachers with meetings after school – a type of professional learning community. In these meetings, additional trouble-shooting of classroom management issues or instructional practices were discussed. But after a few years of this, we switched to a more job-embedded support structure – instructional coaching. And even then we’ve learned that not every learning experience can or needs to be coached. Hence, targeted instructional coaching, or sometimes “one and done” works.
We continue to offer follow-up opportunities such professional learning communities (PLC’s) – both face-to-face and online, as well as instructional coaching. A twist we’re going to try next year for some of our in-services is to offer a menu of choices for teachers to choose as their follow-up to a learning experience.