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Posts Tagged ‘Professional Development’

 

Yuyuan Garden, "The Garden of Contentment" - Shanghai, 2009

In the middle of the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s largest cities is the Yuyuan Garden.  Here you can find a fairly quiet bench to sit and contemplate, while taking in the garden and watching the koi glide through the water.  When you are ready, you can go back out into the metropolis and continue on your way.  I feel like I’m at that point right now.  I am in the middle of ever-busy Shanghai again, only this time it’s the life of a teacher and a new parent.  Writing about my progress is a chance for me to sit on that bench again, take stock, and make my way back out into the city.

Using this photo is also my way of celebrating the acceptance of my elective world history course proposals for next year.  I am very excited that I will get to teach two of my favorite classes again: Asian Studies and African Studies.  I already have enough student interest to have at least one section of each class.  Being an educator is that much better when you get to share what you are passionate about with your students.

I have been making steady progress on some of my revamped goals for the 3rd Quarter.

Assessment – I will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn.

Progress: I feel I had some good improvement in this area.  I used the unit outline created by U.S. History PLC team for our Civil Rights Unit.  I felt that it not only helped to inform students, but helped to keep me focused and on track with my lessons.  It was also helpful to have the test written before planning the activities of the unit.  I enjoyed using the outline so much that I used the same format to create a unit outline for my Vietnam unit.  I will use this outline the same way we used the Civil Rights outline to write the assessment for Vietnam.  Going through this process has helped me to fine tune what I want students to learn and it has helped me to have a better focus.

Revamp: I will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn. I will be keeping this goal as is and focus on making it a habit in my planning process.  I hope to create unit outlines for each of my remaining areas of study in U.S. History.  I will give those outlines to students at the outset of a new unit and refer to them frequently in my planning and with students in my teaching.  In the future, these could be a good basis for creating my historical content standards in my move towards more Standards Based Grading practices.

Feedback – I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback.

Progress: Who would have thought that changing one word in your vocabulary and thought process could be so challenging?  Going from the concept of grading to feedback seems like it should be easy, but it hasn’t been.  I’ve come to realize how entrenched the concept of grading really is for me.  However, I have begun to focus more on formative assessment and reminding myself that feedback doesn’t have to mean a letter grade.  As for the timely aspect of things, I still need lots of work here.  The times I had set aside to grade didn’t really work out as I had hoped.  The baby had her own schedule in mind and it was different than the one I had so neatly planned out!  Ha!  I did use our grading program, Infinite Campus, more this semester.

Revamp: I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. I am going to continue to work on shifting my mindset from grading to feedback.  To help with this and to get at the more timely aspect of this goal, I am working on incorporating more formative assessment opportunities into my lessons.  Both my students and I need to have a better grasp of what they are learning and what needs to be retaught.  I will be going through my resources and working with an Instructional Facilitator to incorporate this more regularly into the teaching and learning that happens in my classroom.

Parental Communication – I will communicate more regularly with parents by calling all of my World History parents at least once this quarter.

Progress: I didn’t get to everyone.  My plan was to call about 2 parents each day after school.  Someone pointed out to me the idea that the urgent (what someone needs right now) can often take away from the important (what I value and am striving to achieve).  After school became more of a time to complete the urgent things, rather than the important things.  This meant that fewer calls were made than I would have liked.

Revamp:   I will communicate more regularly with parents by calling or communicating by email with a minimum of 20% this quarter.  I know I need to remain specific with this goal.  I decided to move from focusing on just one class to an overall number.  I also decided to include email because some parents prefer this type of communication and I have had some good conversations this way.

Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, feedback, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards.

Progress: While there is always room for improvement, I do feel like I am starting to find a rhythm with how I’m using my time.  The use of the class calendar in FirstClass to post make-up work has saved me a lot of time.  I need to be better about making sure students know how to use it well, since the user interface isn’t the most intuitive.  There were also a few times I didn’t get things put in right away, but I am working on making this a consistent habit (urgent vs. important).  My time with Instructional Facilitators has been helpful and I feel I am good at telling them exactly what I’m looking for.

Revamp: I will be tweaking the way I use the class calendar to try and make it easier for students to use.  I will continue to work on carving out time to provide detailed feedback and to use our Instructional Facilitators as a resource.

Overall – I feel that I am finally “getting my groove back” in the classroom.  I have begun to feel more comfortable, which helps me to better adapt to my students’ needs.  I am starting to pull the small things back into my teaching that I found effective in the past and I find my students are finally getting comfortable with my teaching style.  They have had a lot of inconsistency this past year with three different teachers and three sets of expectations.  And the biggest change for me is that I’ve started to enjoy teaching again.  I was very stressed (and sleep deprived!) the first few months, but things are becoming more consistent.  Having a job you love makes things so much easier.

My "Favorite Student" & Gratuitous Baby Picture: From bouncing to sleeping in 4.1 seconds!

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  What are your goals?

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Photo by kris krug (kk+ on Flickr).

In my first quarter back in the classroom after two years in another job and after just having my daughter, I felt like this kid kept smacking puck away from the net. (Or may the dearth of hockey in Wyoming is really getting to this Midwestern girl. Ha!)

But I did make some progress on the goals I set.  I have decided to keep the same four goals for the rest of the year, but I have tweaked them a little.  Here is the lowdown:

Assessment – I will be work to develop more effective assessments.

Progress: I did not make as much headway here as I had hoped.  I ended up revamping some of my old tests in the interest of saving time and my sanity after many sleep deprived nights.  In order to improve, I made a plan and began working with one of our Instructional Facilitators to do some backwards design and dig into creating a more effective assessment for my Medieval Era unit.  Then we created PLC teams a little over a week ago, and some common assessments were written by the teams for both my U.S. and World classes.  I was on the U.S. PLC and not really involved in the Medival Era test created for World History. While the World PLC wrote a good test, I was a little bummed I didn’t go through the whole process myself.  However, I don’t feel that my previous work on that unit was for nothing.  I was more interested in the process of writing the test and thinking more about #sbar than the test itself.  And I feel that I was able to do that at least a little.  This last quarter I was able to better define for myself exactly what I want my students to get out of that unit and my Cold War unit in U.S. History.  In both classes I feel that I did well on purpose of this goal, which was to work towards better defining for students what I want them to learn.

RevampI will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn. Since my department is stepping up the PLC work and tackling common unit assessments, I am tweaking this goal to focus on one of the reasons why I created my original assessment goal.  This will also allow me to continue to work towards Standards Based Grading as I continue to define for my students exactly what I want them to be learning.  I will work on providing students study guides outlining the learning expectations at the beginning of each unit (in the past, I’ve provided these guides shortly before the test).  I will then refer to them throughout the unit in an attempt to make more solid connections for students.  I will also explore other ways to clearly define learning outcomes for students.  Any suggestions or information on how you approach this would be appreciated.

Feedback – I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback.

Progress: I feel that when I gave feedback, I was more informative and specific.  However, I do not feel that I was very timely.  My largest obstacles to overcome in order to meet this goal are efficiency and time.  One type of feedback that I felt was helpful this past quarter was the use of individual grade conferences with my World History students.  I had some good conversations and learned some helpful things from my students.  I would like to continue to experiment with this idea.

RevampI will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. I have decided to keep this goal pretty much in tact, but I will focus more on the timely aspect of things.  I am setting up regular times in my schedule to give feedback and I plan to do so more often.  I have found that if I specifically schedule this, it’s more likely to get done.  I have also decided to try to shift my mindset from that of “grading” to that of “feedback.” When I think of “grading” I think of a task to be done, like filling out needed paperwork for the office.  When I think of “feedback” I actually think of teaching and learning.  I also have a more positive attitude and willingness (even excitement) to get things done.  I will also be trying to give better feedback through our online grading system, Infinite Campus.  With no training on the gradebook portion of the program and no manual (I’ve asked), it’s been a bit challenging for me to use the system.  However, many students, parents, administrators and tutors depend on this form of feedback, so I need to better utilize this tool.

Parental Communication – I will communicate more regularly with parents.

Progress: While I had some good conversations, parent communication pretty much only happened when it needed to.

RevampI will communicate more regularly with parents by calling all of my World History parents at least once this quarter.  I realized that I need to be more specific with this goal.  There are so many things I want to improve, but I know I need to break it up into specific parts in order to be more successful.

Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, grading, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards.

Progress: I made a lot of headway with this goal.  I have been using every second of my available planning time and lunch.  My after school time could be more efficient, but I’m finding that my energy is so spent by that point that I’m not as efficient with my time.

RevampI will become more efficient with my planning time, feedback, and other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards. Mostly, I need to find a rhythm with how I use the time that I have.  One of the areas I will be focusing on is make-up work.  I have a new system I plan on implementing this semester in which students use their FirstClass accounts to access make-up work on their own.  I am hoping 10 minutes a day updating this will save much more time in the long run.  As mentioned earlier, I am building regular times into my schedule to provide students with feedback.  I am also scheduling regular times with our Instructional Facilitators to work on unit planning.  I am hoping that this will help me to stay on track and ahead of the game, as well as produce better quality lessons.

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  What are your goals for the semester?

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Creative Commons photo by Andrew Becraft (Dunechaser on Flickr)

Today I had the chance to read Jamie’s goals for the year over at Dontworryteach.  This was a good reminder for me, as I feel it is important to state your goals.  This will be an interesting year for me with a lot of change and adjustment.  Not only will I be going back to the classroom after two years as an instructional facilitator, I will have a new daughter (any day now!).  Stating my goals now before the chaos hits will hopefully help me to stay focused and roll with the punches a bit better.  Feel free to check up on me and ask me about my progress.

I tend to develop my goals on a quarter by quarter basis.  Since I will not be in my classroom the first quarter of this year, here are my goals for the first semester.

  • AssessmentI will be work to develop more effective assessments. This involves not only the method of assessment, but what I am assessing.  This is part of my quest to move in the direction of Standards Based Grading.  By focusing on improving assessments, I will also be working on better defining for my students exactly what it is I want them to be learning.
  • FeedbackI will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. This can involve spoken or written comments and discussion.  I will go beyond “Good job!” and other vagaries to tell students exactly what is or is not working well.  This also ties in with Standards Based Grading as well as with my goal on improving assessments.  After all, what’s the point of a good assessment if the student doesn’t understand the results?
  • Parental CommunicationI will communicate more regularly with parents. My plan at the moment involves more frequent phone calls and email contacts for a variety of purposes and a blog site (which I realize parents may or may not utilize).  I want to be sure parents feel welcome in my classroom and comfortable communicating with me.  They are the experts on their children and an excellent resource.
  • Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, grading, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards. With so much changing in my life right now, I want to make sure I am doing a good job of balancing school and home life.  This will possibly be my most difficult challenge.

Have you tackled any of these things before?  What was your experience like?  I would appreciate any advice, resources or insights.  What are your goals?  I encourage you to post them here or elsewhere.

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving…”

-Goethe

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The Maze

cc licensed flickr photo by Dark Sevier: http://flickr.com/photos/sevier/68914862/

I recently had the opportunity to attend a week long Quantum Learning training.  At the training we did a team building exercise know simply as “The Maze.”  While you can read more about one version of this exercise here, I will try to give you a short synopsis.  This exercise prompted a great deal of thought by everyone present at the training.

The Maze is a grid on which a team must discover the correct path from one end to the other.  Until the correct route is discovered, only one person may be in the Maze at a time.  If they step on an incorrect square while trying to discover the path, they get “beep” from the Maze Master (who has a sheet with the correct path).  They must then retrace their steps exactly to exit the Maze.  Team members can get penalties for touching the Maze out of turn, touching people in the Maze, using props, speaking and a few other things.  They cannot ask the Maze Master any questions and the Maze Master may only give feedback in the form of a “beep” (when team members step on the wrong square) and a “buzz” when the team invokes a penalty.  We had three teams attempting the Maze at once, the first one to finish wins (though all teams needed to finish the Maze).  It took us around 45 minutes to complete the exercise.

This was one of those experiences where the frustration was palpable in the room.  This was not an easy task.  My role in the exercise was that of a Maze Master.  My job was to be completely deadpan the entire time, only speaking to give “beeps” and “buzzes” (with a short description of the buzz offense).  The presenter told us before we began that that Maze Masters had the hardest job.  I would have to agree with her that it was fairly difficult.  I had all the answers, but I had to sit and allow the team members to make mistake after mistake after mistake with virtually no reaction from myself.  The team was clearly frustrated at points in the exercise and often their anger pointed towards me.  After all, I was the one who kept telling them they were wrong and they had to restart their path.  They had questions that I desperately wanted to answer.  However, I was not allowed to say anything other than the scripted beeps and buzzes.  The basic idea is that the team represents the students in a class while the Maze Master is a representation of the teacher.

I learned a lot from the Maze, I know I will be thinking about it for some time.  Here are three of the lessons that I have been thinking about the most since completing the exercise.

 

Failure


 

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately but this activity put those thoughts into overdrive.  As the Maze Master I had to sit and watch as team members made lots of mistakes.  It was especially tough when they repeated some of the same mistakes.  As teachers, how willing are we to allow our students to make mistakes in order to succeed?

I have always tried to be supportive of my students when they make mistakes, helping them to learn where to go next.  But I realized that I might not be so good at knowingly watching them “step into the wrong square.”  There is a difference between problem solving when things don’t go right and purposely allowing students to make the wrong choices.  It is hard to stand and watch them make mistakes and not stop them before it happens.  We naturally want to keep them safe and save them the pain.  However, as my friend Katy put it, “true learning doesn’t come without frustration.” So now instead of just telling my students it’s ok to make mistakes because that’s how we learn, I need to be better at allowing those mistakes to be made.  I have a lot of processing to do on this issue.

 

Focus


As the Maze Master I had a lot of things that needed my attention.  In addition to making sure people were on the correct square, I had to pay attention to make sure everyone was standing in the right place, that they didn’t touch the people in the Maze or the Maze itself, that they weren’t talking, that they retraced their steps correctly when they got a beep, that everyone was taking their correct turn, etc.  It wasn’t easy to keep track of it all.

My take away on this aspect of the challenge was reinforcement that as teachers we can’t effectively focus on everything all the time.  We can give much better feedback when we focus on one or two things at a time instead of trying to do it all.  We should also allow our students a specified focus.  The best example I’ve seen with this involves writing.  When teaching writing skills, it is hard for us and the students when we tell them everything has to be perfect.  It is ok to focus on and grade just mechanics or just organization on a particular assignment.  It is not to say that we throw away all the other good things about writing, but that we intensely focus on those elements in order to help our students improve.

 

Course Correction


Course Correction

cc licensed flickr photo by alicepopkorn: http://flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/2736173495/

 

During the exercise, I made a mistake as the Maze Master.  I buzzed the group when I shouldn’t have and things got confused.  The group tried to ask questions and the facilitator came to remind me that I couldn’t deviate from the script.  I couldn’t tell them I made a mistake and fix it.  I had to keep buzzing them for being in the wrong place.  I panicked a bit because I knew they were frustrated and I wanted to fix my mistake.

What I wish I would have done is said “pause” (which we were allowed to do) so I could take the time to look at the Maze, figure out what had just happened and then respond appropriately.  While I do make a conscious effort to analyze my mistakes as a teacher, I would like to be better at it.  I would like to be able to say “pause,” evaluate the situation, and then respond appropriately.  Some of the best reflective conversations I’ve had about my teaching have been with my students.  I would like to “pause” with them more often to evaluate and decide if there is a better path for us to follow.

While there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from the Maze exercise, these are the three that have been on my mind the most.  I have particularly been thinking a great deal about failure in terms of how we assess and assign grades.  I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these issues.

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CC Licensed Flickr photo by this lyre lark

CC Licensed Flickr photo by this lyre lark

For the past few years, I’ve been using a Moleskine notebook to keep track of notes in meetings and professional development presentations.  I find having less paper to shuffle around and keeping everything in one place works very well for me.  As an Instructional Facilitator, I have been making a conscious effort to study the presentations of others so I may improve my own skills.  Being an IF (and a new district employee) has also given me the opportunity to see many presenters in action.  For about a year and a half, I’ve been putting presentation suggestions in the back few pages of my notebook.  Some of my colleagues have noticed this, and offered their own suggestions to be written down in the book.  What you see here is the compilation of professional development presentation suggestions from 2008-2009.  My colleagues and I have also worked to include these ideas in the presentations that we give.  These suggestions will be a series of posts on topics such as preparation, materials (handouts, food, tech, music, etc.), use of time, presentation slides, and others.  I will be using the tag “Presentation Tips.”

Handouts: Professional development can involve a lot of paper.  These are some of the ideas we suggest to help streamline the process and to be sure your handouts are user friendly.

  • Do you have a handout you want people to grab as they walk in? Put them somewhere obvious and in plain site.
  • You can use handouts to indicate where you would like your audience to sit.  Place handouts or goodies in only the front rows, group areas, or other places where you would like people to situate themselves.
  • Have an agenda and try to honor it. Make it available to everyone through a handout, email, etc.  It is also a good idea to have this posted somewhere in the room.
  • Make copies on different colors of paper for easy reference. (Please refer to the blue copy, green packet, etc.)
  • Include easy to find page numbers on multi-page handouts.  Even if these are hand written on the originals and then copied, they make packets much more user friendly.
  • Handouts printed in color ink can grab the attention of your audience and show them you cared enough to make that extra effort.
  • Avoid PowerPoint format handouts. Rather, give people information that can be used and/or referenced in your presentation. Good slides are “little statements that would be a waste of paper.”Jane Kise
  • Be sure that everything on your handouts can be easily read. I see people run into the “legibility” issue most often with data (charts, graphs, etc.)

Looking to go Paperless? If your audience has access to computers during the presentation, consider the following options:

  • Hand out a collection of related resources on CDs, DVDs, or flash drives.  This method allows you to easily provide additional resources and can help you differentiate for your audience.  Be sure that your materials are both Windows and Mac friendly.
  • Upload handouts to GoogleDocs or similar web applications where your audience can easily access them.  If you choose this route, but sure your audience is comfortable using the web application you have chosen.
  • Include a reference list of web resources using a social bookmarking site such as Diigo or Delicious.  This can be especially helpful if you or your audience will be using various websites during your presentation.  You can also use this method to provide additional resources or websites/research cited in the presentation.  This Diigo resource list is an example from one of my tech classes.
  • Comic Life and similar graphic design programs make easy to follow how-to guides for technology presentations.  See an example here.

If you have comments or questions on any of the tips provided or if you would like to add your own tips, please feel free to comment.  Thank you!

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“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast with change.” -Peter F. Drucker

I have often been asked in the last few months about my job and what exactly I do now that I’m not in the classroom.  I still consider myself new at coaching, thus I’m continually learning every day.   However, I’ve decided to write my own description/interpretation of what it means to be an “Instructional Facilitator” or an “Instructional Coach.”

Educators have been searching for alternatives to the “traditional” method of professional development (what some call “Sit and Git”),  and the concept of the Instructional Coach/Facilitator (IF) was developed as a result.  In a nutshell, IFs are on-site, embedded professional developers who work one-on-one with teachers to enhance classroom instruction (Kansas Coaching Project).  Some IFs are assigned to specific content or grade levels.  In my building, we do not have specific assignments and we work in any and all content areas.  In some places, teachers are required to work with their IFs.  However, no teacher in my building is required to work with us, although many do so voluntarily.  I am fortunate enough to work with a great team in my building (6 IFs in all) where we each bring our own unique skills and knowledge to the table, along with a willinness to learn new things.

We assist our staff with a wide variety of topics, including (but not limited to):

  • Unit/Lesson planning
  • Technology integration
  • Assessment
  • Classroom management
  • Student engagement
  • Reading strategies
  • Writing instruction
  • Brain based teaching
  • Higher level thinking/questioning techniques
  • Researching & implementing new techniques
  • Data coaching
  • Specific content issues

These topics are really just the tip of the iceberg.  While we primarily collaborate with teachers one-on-one, we also coordinate and conduct professional development presentations and classes on topics of interest that fit the needs of our school.  You can see my “About Me” to see what I’ve been working on.  Just remember that I am part of a team of 6 and we each have presented on various topics over the course of the year.  We try very hard to make our classes/presentations interactive.  We design each one to model best teaching practices.  The majority of these opportunities are voluntary for teachers and occur during planning periods or after school.

Some people make the assumption that coaches are employed to “fix bad teachers.”  In my situation, this is very far from the truth.  We work with teachers of all levels, experience, and abilities.  Our mentality is that we are assisting our teachers as they progress from “Good to Great.”  I believe that it is very important that we are not teacher evaluators and we have a general policy of confidentiality.  We do not discuss with anyone, not even our administrators, what we are working on with specific teachers unless that teacher has given us permission to do so.  The artistic aspect of teaching can be a very personal endeavor, and this way teachers are more likely to invite us into the realm of their classroom.

Our district’s coaching model is based primarily on the work of Jim Knight, an educational researcher at the University of Kansas.  We have also been incorporating the work of others such as Joellen Killion and Jean A. G. Kise.

In this new position I have been learning a great deal about what it means to be an effective teacher.  Balancing the art and science of education can result in many different approaches, all of them with great possibility.  I would love to hear from others on how coaching is set up in your school or about helpful resources you are willing to share.  Please also feel free to ask questions about my team’s approach.  Thank you.

More Information on Instructional Coaching

Sooo…What is an Instructiona Coach?

Coaching Chronicles: What is an Instructional Coach?

Kansas Coaching Project

Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction

Differentiated Coaching

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Originally Posted January 6, 2009

Today I did my first staff development presentation to my whole faculty. I’m ok talking in front of people, and I can talk in front of teenagers all day long. But there is something a little unsettling about talking in front of your peers to “educate” them. My task was to roll out the district’s new essential curriculum. I think there is always a weird element to staff development when you’re doing something that is “required.” However, we were given permission to tweak what we were doing in our building to make it better fit our needs. I think that part was great.

I tried hard to make the presentation interactive, modeling the teaching strategies we want our faculty to be using, integrating brain based activities, movement, discussion, and multimedia. I’m not quite sure how I really did, since it is harder for me to gauge an adult audience than it is an adolescent one. We tried to design a format that wasn’t “sit & git,” where you’d rather chew your own arm off to escape rather than listen for another minute. We then had our teachers break out into different groups who rotated through three presentations on how their colleagues were integrating the strategies we are asking them to do. They were short, about 10 minutes each, and they were hearing from their peers. I think that piece can be very powerful. Some great questions were asked in the sessions I was able to see.

I always thought there was a lot that went into these days, but I think I took it for granted until today. There are all kinds of crazy little details that need to be taken care of in order for things to run smoothly. I’m tired and I’m excited to sleep tonight. I learned a lot today and I’m hoping things will improve the next time around for me.

Interestingly, one of the hardest things about presenting to your peers is that they are very similar to students. But because they are your peers, you have to handle your audience differently. We are just like our students in SO many ways. :)

So what makes for good professional development? Having been on a staff development committee for a few years and now being an instructional facilitator, I’ve had a chance to be in the seat and up on the stage. I’ve seen some VERY bad and VERY good presentations. I believe that it needs to be interactive. It is a rare person who has the charisma to truly hold a large audience’s attention for a long period of time. And just as you do in your classroom, you need to try to accommodate different learning styles. I believe that teachers need to get something they can “walk away with.” Something they can immediately start to use. You, as a presenter, need to value the time of your audience. Have a purpose for everything you do and be sure that it is relevant. And if you have any control over the format, you need to have more than just the traditional lecture hall style presentation.

I have a lot to say on the issue of staff development. One of the things I love the most about my new position as an Instructional Facilitator is that is it essentially “personalized professional development.” These big staff presentations are rare for me. I spend most of my time working with teachers one-on-one. I feel that this is a much more effective method and I am glad I have the opportunity to do it. I may write more in the future on this topic, but it’s time for me to veg out now!

Possible Questions for Comment:

  • What is the best/worst staff development you’ve seen and why?
  • What would your dream staff development look like?
  • What are some good staff development ideas you’d like to share for the greater good?


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