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Defending Our Practices: When considering the significance of small things…there are not small things!
Author: Karen Ward, AALF | December 11th, 2013

As with any educator around the world, AALF coaches participate in reflective activities that help us answer the questions: Are our practices and efforts working? Are they producing outcomes that make a difference for teachers, administrators, and their students?

Recently, I was working with a principal who explained the vital nature of reflection on his campus. "I encouraged my staff to identify a phrase that would enable all of us to understand how important it is to KNOW that our practices are supporting student growth and to remember that our work as educators is really making a difference in lives. We went through several versions before we landed on the one that satisfied almost 100% of the staff (note: the setting is an elementary school with 746 students and 32 staff, including clerical, classroom aides, and custodial). The phrase is, Defend Your Practice. The intention behind this phrase is not argumentative and the motivation for next steps is not to put one another on the defensive, but simply to address the questions, How do I know my practices are working? Are my practices, and specifically this practice, supporting student academic growth and making a difference in this students life? We all agree that during our professional learning meetings (PLC's), when a teacher or team of teachers either shares student work or describes an instructional practice they are using, they must also support these with evidence of effectiveness when asked to Defend Your Practice. The staff have found that they are learning more, however, "not in 'big chunks at one time;" instead they see their professional knowledge increasing one conversation and one defending their practice experience at a time. Teachers and staff on this campus have found that even the 'smallest of actions' can produce great outcomes, that, When considering the significance of small things, there are no small things (Jan Thomas, the founder of the Jan Thomas Swim School in California).

While we at AALF do not have a slogan or phrase that prompts our reflective practices, we also regularly reflect on our coaching and professional development practices...are our professional development and coaching practices making a difference in teacher and/or administrator expertise and growth? Are we providing support that continues to build teacher 1-to-1 pedagogy? How do educators build their 1-to-1 pedagogical design expertise? Depending on the answer to these questions, what changes should we make?

During this calendar year, while we have worked to address these questions we have not only increased our own knowledge and understanding, we know that our efforts have resulted in our ability to answer the questions above and to confidentially defend our practices. This reflective work has also helped us redesign the structure of our online courses. In doing so, we have (1) used data in the form of feedback from schools and participants in our online courses, (2) consulted research findings that have focused on reporting how teachers within professional communities learn from external support providers as well as from one another, (3) consulted research findings from 1-to-1 schools, (3) collaborated regarding our findings in order to improve our professional development and coaching design, (4) visited 1-to-1 schools and completed discussions with focus groups at these schools, (5) redesigned the structure of our online courses, and (5) instituted a pilot course as a prototype. This has been exciting work - it is always satisfying and fun when we are learning and highly engaged! I provide the following as an example of this reflective work.

AALF Professional Development: A Unique Model with Powerful Outcomes

Our professional development and coaching model is based on our theory of action and focuses on the new pedagogy which includes learning how to learn.

If we provide a framework for educators that empowers them to learn about and build their 1-to-1 pedagogy while including the elements of inquiry, choice, collaboration, and creativity, then each teacher or educator will better understand his/her work and be able to increase his/her 1-to-1 pedagogical design expertise, and that all of this will provide students around the world with 21st century learning environments wherein they have the tools and opportunities to learn anytime and anywhere.

With this in mind, we have designed our upcoming online course to provide all participants with the opportunity to personalize their learning outcomes, participate in action research, build professional relationships with other attendees, and document their professional learning and growth. Along with attending the four sessions included in the course , participants also identify which of the two PLC's they will join; each PLC is topic specific and focuses on an aspect of the course. These PLC members work for 1-2 weeks to identify the essential question on which they will focus, design and implement a plan for how they will research and locate information and resources that will help them answer their question, create an artifact that represents their work, and share this with all course participants during the last session. While 1-2 weeks might seem like too short a time period for PLC members to complete this work, we have encouraged them to keep their question 'answerable' and their artifact applicable immediately in their work. Like the Jan Thomas quote above, these PLC members have found that there is significance in small things, like a one page artifact (physical document or online resource), and that while they value the resource, it is the focused course with its learning and collaboration experiences that make their participation the most noteworthy and profitable for each.

I have been asked, "What is the best way to include my teachers in an AALF course?" We offer multiple options, dependent upon a school or district professional learning plan: as individual teachers, as teams of teachers, as an ongoing element of a 1-to-1 professional learning plan (for example: as you begin to implement 1-to-1, or for teachers new to your already existing 1-to-1 campus). And while we can confidently state, "We know our professional development and coaching support increase administrator and teacher 1-to-1 pedagogical expertise and practices, and thus student 21st century learning opportunities," we also know that we will continue learning and growing so that we can provide the very best support possible!

You can find information on the AALF website for our upcoming online course. You can also schedule online courses specific to your school or district needs by contacting Karen Ward: kward@aalf.org or Susan Einhorn: seinhorn@aalf.org

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