Professional Development Guided by Teachers for Teachers
By Dan Helenius, College Ready Framework Implementation Coordinator at Green Dot Public Schools
In the early days of Green Dot Public Schools, there was no set curriculum for teachers and there was only one teacher per subject per school site, which led to feeling like we were teaching on our own private islands. Enter All Green Dot Days.
All Green Dot Days are student-free days devoted to professional development and provided throughout the school year. Teachers gather by subject-alike groups to collaborate, learn and plan. These days are created for teachers and are facilitated by teachers from across the organization.
Bridging the islands
At the first All Green Dot Day in 2005, there were only two subjects covered: Math and English. Perhaps a more appropriate name for the day would have been “Math and English Green Dot Day” or “Some Green Dot Day”. I was given a large binder with an overwhelming amount of strategies, which I wasn’t sure how to use, but I also left with something I could use immediately: the emails of all the other 9th grade English teachers in Green Dot. This was so valuable because I was designing my own 9th grade ELA curriculum at a school with only one grade level. I had no other ELA teachers to collaborate with, nor did I have anyone to borrow resources from. After this first day, I actually had colleagues at other schools with whom I could exchange ideas and plan lessons! I was finally off my private island.
Over the past 11 years, All Green Dot Days have evolved dramatically, reflecting the needs of our educators. In the past, All Green Dot Days were used to look at our data from the most recent benchmark assessment, analyze our students’ performance and determine a plan for re-teaching. Then, when the College Ready Teaching Framework was implemented, the days shifted to focus on learning more about specific high-leverage indicators: questioning, academic discourse, group structures.
Another shift came with the implementation of Common Core State Standards. The days changed to help teachers better understand the shifts in Literacy and math. The most recent change grew out of Green Dot’s guiding principles of Professional Development: Continuity, Teacher Voice and Relevance. While All Green Dot Days look different than when they first started, they have always been built on the values of collaboration, development, building organizational culture, and responsiveness based on teachers’ needs.
Opportunities from evolution
In addition to providing professional development for teachers, All Green Dot Days provide leadership development to our 26 Professional Development Leaders (PDLs). Each leader receives training on facilitating professional development and uses data from throughout the year to develop their sessions and their practice as leaders. Such training helped Ánimo Watts Assistant Principal Esther Hamm develop her own leadership.
“I’d often had the opportunity to lead professional development at my own school, but learning how to facilitate learning for over a hundred teachers was an entirely new experience,” she recalls. “The work we did as PDLs was certainly challenging, but I learned a lot in the process, and received support to take on the task. I’d often collaborated with leaders on my own campus, but our PDL meetings afforded me the opportunity to collaborate with teacher leaders, Curriculum Specialists, Curriculum Directors, and the Teacher Effectiveness team to develop these sessions.”
At All Green Dot Days, the PDLs lead subject-alike groups varying in size from 12-85. One positive, unintended result of this program is that many PDLs have gone on to hold additional leadership positions at their school site and in the organization. “Being a PDL helped prepare me to be an administrator, thanks to the opportunity to intentionally focus on my craft as an instructional leader,” Hamm says.
Ánimo Watts Assistant Principal John Kwon says that leading sessions at All Green Dot Days helped him to listen to his colleagues better.
“Being charged with leading professional development and guiding teachers through an incredibly personal and sensitive process of learning is a tremendous task in itself, but in order to be successful, I really had to pause and consciously think about it from all angles,” he says.
“What different needs can realistically be met; what issues are teachers coming into PD with that need to be addressed or gently put aside; what questions can and cannot be answered; how can the space be used so everyone is making meaning and simultaneously giving/taking to improve the learning experience, how can I make it fun?”
As it always has, All Green Dot Day will continue to evolve to best meet the needs of teachers. Next year, we will feature “Collaboration and Planning” time. This relatively unstructured time allows teachers the chance to collaborate with colleagues, process their learning and apply new skills they learned from earlier in the day. Time is a precious commodity in our work, and we want to make sure we strike a balance between new learning and time to plan for implementation of this learning.
The most exciting thing about All Green Dot Day is that is never static. We don’t do things just because “that’s the way it’s always been done before”. We are a learning and evolving organization and we believe that our professional development should reflect that.