Through my experiences as a teacher, I have found that we all learn so much when we are able to sit and have conversations with each other. Those conversations are so valuable that they are evidenced in classrooms throughout our schools, districts, states, and country. A conversation between or with teachers generates ideas, methods, activities that reappear in our own classrooms and others. From my personal experience, observation and training, I developed a professional development offering that I refer to as “home-grown” in my district. It was not a packaged program purchased by our district and it did not include any “experts” who are not actively teaching or had not taught in a classroom. This was an activity that was about teaching for teachers and designed by a teacher.
This series of articles will include how I completed the project, “the ins and the outs” and all the “in betweens” that I have experienced. The project is ongoing, and will continue into the next school year.
Part I: The Problem
As a veteran and active teacher, I have attended multiple professional development trainings, as do all teachers in the United States. Some of them were excellent, some were good, some were mediocre, and some were poor. I am sorry to say that the minority of trainings that I have attended were not excellent or good; conversely, the majority would be classified as mediocre or poor trainings. I have often pondered and questioned these activities, as I observed bored faces and inattentive staff members, with the thought lingering in my own mind: “We have a room full of experts, why can’t we use these people to deliver professional development?”
As recently as this past school year, I again attended a required professional development training which did not meet my needs as a veteran teacher. This particular activity was scheduled to take place on our planning periods. I found that in my school situation, multiple other colleagues felt the same way concerning this particular professional development as I did. As the union representative at our school, I was approached by several union members and non-members alike with their concerns on effective professional development and the use of our time. This particular activity was viewing a video on the methodology of co-teaching, specifically with a regular education teacher and a special education teacher. My colleagues and I had seen this same video for three years and were given the same handout for the third year. The old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” can be aptly used for this situation. As the union representative of our building, I advocated for our teachers.
I had previously decided that, (from the perspective of a burned out teacher), I was not going to volunteer for any extra duties, but was going to be the best union representative I could be this past year. Because of my personal decision, I advocated. How did I do that? Good question. I wrote a letter expressing our desire to learn and grow, but that perhaps the training did not meet our needs and use time efficiently; I also offered a solution. I met with the principal of our school, discussed the letter, and the letter’s contents along with my intentions of forwarding it to our superintendent. The principal did not object to my intentions to forward the letter to the superintendent, so I did. As a tenured teacher, this was still a “risky business,” but as a professional educator, I could not let this pass without an attempt to create a solution that would benefit the teachers and the students. Our superintendent met with me personally, and broached the subject of creating a professional development. I was given the opportunity to create a professional development activity to train, educate and encourage teachers to use effective co-teaching in their classrooms. Thus, as with any birth, the anxiety levels were high, the program was born, with the whole-hearted support of our superintendent.
At this juncture, I had gained the superintendent’s support and as a professional, I understood the necessity of developing a rationale for the project, identifying the problem and the determination of the process to solve the problem. The first step in beginning any project is the identification and clarification of the problem. Identifying the problem to be addressed was relatively simple, albeit multifaceted. One facet of the problem was that the teaching staff needed professional development that would meet their needs and encourage their growth. A secondary facet was the implementation of effective co-teaching methods; thirdly, how to facilitate the implementation of effective co-teaching that benefited teachers; fourthly, how will success of the plan be measured from the perspective of the teachers; and lastly, increasing the success of our students identified as special education. Once the problem was defined, the demand to write a rationale and review current literature became apparent, as a former university classmate of mine once said, “You can’t have a plan, without all pieces of the PIE (plan, implementation and evaluation).