I attended the NEKLS 2012 School Librarians' Workshop on Wednesday because Kristin Fontichiaro, professor of library studies at the University of Michigan, was the keynote speaker. She publishes regularly on School Library Monthly, so I knew that whatever she had to say would be thought provoking. (Her slides can give you a bit of a feel for the breadth and depth of what she said if you are interested.)
Close to fifty school librarians attended this workshop and Kristin tried to make us think about the impact of what we do on our schools. If I analyze the tasks I do and discover that they take time and effort but have little impact on student learning, then I need to rethink what I am doing. "Sculpt your program. Whittle away that which is not impactful."
One of the most efficient ways to influence the learning climate in our schools is through meaningful professional development. Now, I have just begun to get really serious about professional development in the last year or two, so I know from experience that this is no bed of roses. Teachers LOVE to complain about professional development. In fact, I hear three complaints the most: 1. We need more professional development. 2. We need better professional development. 3. We have to suffer through too much professional development. Sometimes, I hear all three comments from the same person, though usually not on the same day. Much too frequently, teachers behave in exactly the same ways their most annoying students do, and it didn't take long before I decided that teaching teachers was no different in any significant way from teaching adolescents. Embrace that idea, and you will be happier, but do not give up, because librarians influencing and conducting professional development is a great idea worth pursuing.
1. As much as we like to hammer our principals, they are more overworked than anybody in the school, and they are running interference for you with disgruntled parents and students constantly. They are more than happy to have some help with professional development. Don't be shy about volunteering and then running with it. Communicate but try to avoid being too needy. If you do a halfway decent job, they will be the last to complain.
2. You are the glue that ties technology to curriculum to teachers. You can be, anyway. If you are involved with the technology and curriculum committees that make the biggest impact in your district, you will know what the strategic plan is and what the high priority goals and objectives are. Conducting the right professional development can help you build good relationships with your technology and curriculum leaders. Working with these people is considerably more effective than demanding things from them.
3. If you have a Building Leadership Team (BLT), be on it. This team is the glue that connects curriculum to teachers to administration to counseling to sped. The more people involved with professional development, the more meaningful it will be. If your teachers are just like your students in a pd setting, and they ARE, then you need to give thought to how you can engage them in their own learning. One of the best ways to do that is to involve them in professional development planning, delivery, and evaluation. The BLT is a built in structure that can help you do just that. One example of this is what happened in our school this spring. We have an unusual number of high needs students entering high school this fall. Our spring professional development was pretty much planned. We were going to report on MTSS reading and math scores, begin a segment on The Motivation Breakthrough by James Lavoie, study four Teach Like a Champion instructional techniques, and spend the afternoon exploring Google Apps. About a week and a half before the pd time, one of the sped teachers emailed everybody with some tips about working with autistic students, so the BLT replaced the motivation piece of our pd with a presentation by our school psychologist and counselor about working effectively with autistic students. The counselor and the psychologist were thrilled to be involved, the teachers had a chance to prepare for some of the students they would have in the fall, and our pd became responsive to specific need as well as engaging and relevant.
Kristin mentioned two specific ways to develop solid professional development: concierge pd and exploratorium. Concierge pd is one-on-one consultation that works just as a hotel concierge does. The teacher works with you to achieve her classroom goals. You take the pressure off by helping her gather resources, discussing ideas for effective instruction and crafting solid content based on standards with meaningful student outcomes. Most of the time, my teachers don't really want me to teach, but sometimes I do teach lessons if they need me to. In my experience, concierge pd is often serendipitous and your stronger, more confident teachers are the most likely to take advantage of it. Exploratorium has its roots in inquiry based science instruction as near as I can tell. It involves teachers setting their own goals within the framework of district goals and objectives and then having the time to explore. For example, teachers are all over the map with their technology expertise. A one-size-fits-all approach to technology instruction is woefully inadequate, yet teachers really need the time to explore the tech that would be most useful for them on a daily basis. Exploratorium is most effective when teachers report what they have learned at the end of the pd time. It is often impractical to ask for a finished product since they usually don't have time in one session to finish anything. Teachers must also have the freedom to honestly report on what did not work or on what was not effective for them.
Due to the emphasis on school improvement, most districts are devoting more time to professional development than ever. As a librarian, you can build influence, impact instruction in your school, strengthen relationships, and learn more than you ever thought you could by your involvement in professional development. (Martha House)