We have all found ourselves sitting in a big room for teachers convention wondering why. I hate that feeling, I actually feel guilty for it. There are people who spent a lot of time pulling together a conference in hopes it would be useful. The problem is that it's impossible to be all things for all people. But is there another way?Could this be done for your next teachers convention?
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On November 4, 2014, something pretty amazing happened in the Lexington, Massachusetts schools. What could have been any other professional development day on any given day in our district or any other school district turned out to be something extraordinary for educators across our school system.
Having educators and teachers provide professional learning opportunities for colleagues has a myriad of benefits. First and most important, it develops leadership within staff and builds on their own expertise in an area or subject. Secondly, it sends a message that staff are valued for what they know and lastly, you would never get the range and amount of topics you could get from staff for basically FREE.
Up to that point in November, several schools in the district had held their own “un-conference” types of professional learning experiences, trying to find ways to engage staff in sharing their skills and expertise with one another. Lexington has developed a very strong professional development program for teachers over the past several years that has received national recognition. The desire for something that felt more “organic”, along with a handful of dedicated educators resulted in professional learning experiences that educators greatly benefited from.
Assistant Superintendent Carol Pilarski, and Leonard Swanton, K-12 Professional Development Coordinator of Special Projects, along with the district’s professional development committee, set out to change the way professional development had been taking place during day long professional learning experiences. A call was put out to staff members seeking their willingness to present and provide professional learning experiences for colleagues across the district. All staff, no matter their position, had the opportunity to volunteer as presenters. Central Office staff and the professional learning committee waited nervously, wondering if they would get enough interest across the district to support learning for 700 educators. What if enough presenters did not sign up?
Amazingly, prior to November 4th, 92 topics were presented to the professional learning committee that would result in 141 individual sessions led by 174 educators! Our district had far exceeded what it expected for proposals! Our professional development day was called “Lexington Learns Together”, and the district moved quickly to prepare for the day.
Staff members across the district had the opportunity to sign up electronically for the 75 minute long classes, some which had limits on how many people could be in attendance. Learning proposals outlined what staff members needed to bring with them for each class, and staff participated in classes that ranged from First Aid, to Garage Band to Twitter and beyond! Participants got to attend sessions as well as present in them.
The Lexington Learns Together event was held at the high school and learning sessions took place in rooms around the campus. Wi-fi was enabled for access to the event by our technology department and all staff got to have lunch provided by the district through our food service provider. Additionally, several staff members on Twitter quickly worked to come up with a hashtag that could be used to capture the day’s events (#lexingtonlearns).
The sessions I taught (Twitter) were well attended and a number of people have gone on to establish Twitter accounts and become “regulars” on the educational social media scene. Staff from my school reported to me on the day after the event that they felt it was some of the most meaningful and best professional learning they had participated in on a district professional learning day!
Shortly thereafter, Lexington Public Schools happened to be named as one of the top places to work by the Boston Globe. The Lexington Learns Together event is just one of the things that makes Lexington a great place to work. In all, the event showed the creativity, enthusiasm, and dedication to learning that staff have and their desire to bring that learning back to the classroom to improve the experience of their students. It also showed the commitment our professional learning committee and central office administrators have for providing meaningful experiences for staff and their commitment to leadership across all levels of the district. Another result of that day was that many building based principals went back to their schools and replicated this professional development event with their staff. For the upcoming school year, I am holding two of these events during the year for staff to showcase their expertise and share their learning with others.
As you can see, the idea of teacher delivered professional learning has far reaching, positive effects on schools unlike other forms of professional development. If you are interested in how our district coordinated this event for 700 staff, please feel free to contact me, Carol Pilarski (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Leonard Swanton (email@example.com) for more information. We’re always happy to share our work and promote learning for educators!