I attended and presented at the Westminster Teaching Symposium yesterday (10/21) and have a few thoughts and observations that I would like to share that may inspire others to action. First off, a great big shout out to Tim Quinn and his colleagues at Westminster School who put together a wonderful day of presentations under the title “The Many Ways of Assessing Student Learning.” The symposium was billed as a chance for teachers to learn from other teachers and did not include a keynote speaker or “hired gun” from outside; a wise choice in my humble opinion. Over the years, the best professional development seminars/workshops/conferences that I have attended were all teacher focused and teacher led.
I presented on the use of student response systems (“clickers”) as a formative assessment tool and attended two additional sessions during the day. Jeff Schwartz led a session on the challenges of assessing the new media that we are asking students to produce such as videos and blogs, and John Corrigan (@JohnRCorrigan) presented on the Harkness Discussion and its role in student assessment. The engaging and thoughtful discussions that took place in all three sessions was both encouraging and not at all surprising. Good teachers are always looking for new ideas and are never quite satisfied with the way they are currently doing things. Here is where the challenge comes in.
Quality professional development is critical to a teacher’s ongoing growth; and if asked, most teachers, especially veteran teachers, are yearning for more opportunities than our school’s typically provide. Clearly, Westminster gets it and has established the Westminster Teaching Initiative in response to its faculty’s desire for more professional development. “The Westminster Teaching Initiative was formed in 2010 in order enhance teaching and learning at Westminster School by encouraging collaboration and dialog among faculty members and departments about curriculum and pedagogy.” I am fortunate enough to work at Loomis Chaffee where we have established the Kravis Center for Excellence in Teaching, an on campus resource for faculty professional development. Both of our school’s have realized the value and importance of professional development as an on-going and constant need for our faculties. What was surprising to me was the number of colleagues from other schools who did not have a similar entity at their schools. I had several people come up to me and ask if they could visit my school and see what we were doing in our Center with respect to on-going teacher training and professional development. I was reminded of an article written by Alexis Wiggins about her experiences in several different independent schools and how disappointed she was in the lack of collaboration she found in one of them.
I would encourage all teachers who are yearning for more quality professional development to step up and become leaders in their schools. Attending conferences and workshops is good, but is really only the first step. If you do not have an on-campus vehicle for on-going professional development like those at Westminster or Loomis Chaffee, start your own PLN (personal learning network) of committed colleagues who agree to meet regularly and discuss the craft and challenges of teaching. If this seems too daunting, sign up for Twitter and join the conversations that are occurring each and every day between educators around the country and globe about education. I was surprised when I asked how many people were on Twitter at the symposium and only a few hands went up. If you are unsure how to get started with Twitter, check out this link for a nice overview from a fellow educator. I can be found on Twitter at @smacclintic.
Professional development is not an option. Teaching can be a very isolating profession unless we seek out and create opportunities to share ideas and help one another to improve. I welcome your comments and look forward to sharing with you again soon!