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Partnerships That Produce Change and Growth: How One School is Empowering Their Staff to Evolve Their 1-to-1 Pedagogy While Implementing Effective Instructional Practices.
Author: Karen Ward, AALF Coaching | February 11th, 2014

As an AALF support staff we recognize the vital nature of our partnerships with school and district educators. We are honored to be working with individuals who are making a difference everyday in the lives of their students. We know that these educators take their work seriously…as do we! I would like to provide a glimpse at one model of such a partnership.

At the beginning of this school year in North America I sat in an audience of more than fifty secondary school teachers (grades/year 9-12) and listened to the principal talk about the previous years student achievement and school accomplishments. I recognized the expressions on the faces of most staff members…over my 28 years of educator experience I have attended many of these types of meetings. The staff could have been broken into the following groups: the 'I've heard this type of presentation before, and I'm here in body, but not necessarily in mind' attendees, the 'I have heard this type of information before, but I'm willing to listen again' staff, and the 'I'm anxious to hear what you have to say and what this means for us' participants. About five minutes into his presentation the principal stopped talking mid-sentence, walked to the back of the room, and turned to face his staff. There was a bit of a stunned reaction as he stood silently waiting for everyone to take in this change. When he had the attention of all, he shared four statements:

1. Why not here, why not us?

2. "Our vision is that each of our students will participate eagerly in extremely effective 21st century learning environments that consider the unique qualities and needs of each student and that, in part, those unique needs will be addressed through the tools they use to learn anytime and anywhere;"

3. "We will all be participating in professional development, collaboration and instructional coaching throughout this year that, like our students, will consider the unique needs of each person; the individual who is helping us with this support is our AALF coach;" and lastly,

4. "We must change in order for all of this to happen and that includes me and my practices as well. We talk about individualized support for our students; this year my goal is to provide you with the same type of individualized professional learning opportunity that we are providing for our students. I know this will make a huge difference for all of us."

By the time he concluded, he certainly had the attention of everyone present!

For the previous three months, the principal and I had been meeting regularly to create a plan that would address the 1-to-1 needs of his staff. The plan is based on student learning and achievement goals, the type of instruction needed to both meet and exceed these goals, and the type of professional support all staff members would require to make the needed changes. While I don't think this type of work is revolutionary (it's what effective and insightful leaders do or should do), the type of support that would be provided was quite unique for this school - actually, my experience has taught me that it is quite unique for most schools. The details and activities included in the professional growth plan are based on the AALF Professional Development, Coaching and Consulting Model that brings a focused alignment between the school district/site 1-to-1 vision and goals with the pedagogy and practices we at AALF have learned must be in place. The model is based on some simple principles that, when added together, address the complex nature of instruction. The principles are:

1. No random acts of professional development, coaching, or consulting. Although we as AALF staff certainly can provide isolated or focused professional development, coaching, or consulting, we know that this work will be more effective if we can align our support to the district or school 1-to-1 vision and goals. This is where we start our partnership work.

2. The dynamics of group learning are crucial to success and so collaboration and the collective development of pedagogy, instructional wisdom, and effective practices are "front and center."

3. Individualized support is a must. To accomplish this we provide instructional coaching with an individual or small group of educators who have like needs (or we train district/school coaches to provide instructional coaching). Instructional coaching aligns goals and previous professional development sessions to the classroom through very specific tasks (for example, unit or lesson planning, team teaching, student task data collection and analysis, or modeling a lesson or student engagement task).

4. Ownership of learning is vitally important because it empowers educators to continue developing their pedagogy while also producing sustainable classroom practices as well as resources or tools they develop and that they share with the staff as a whole. To accomplish this teachers participate in an action research model through professional learning communities made up of individuals with like needs, who (1) choose a 1-to-1 focus directly related to student engagement and learning, (2) design or develop an essential question/s they want to address and research, (3) create a plan and timeline for their research, (4) implement the plan, (5) create an artifact that represents the outcomes of their research work and that they will implement in their classrooms, and (6) capture this work so they can share with other staff members. While this could seem to be a complicated process, we have found that it is not and that teachers both like and appreciate the opportunity to "own" their learning because it has direct application to the work in their classrooms.

So, what does this look today at the school introduced above? If you were to visit you would find an effective professional development and instructional coaching plan with a timeline included, a common focus on the school's 1-to-1 learning vision and goals, teachers working in several PLC groups (one based on their content or subject and the other based on their teacher action research work which tends to be cross-curricular collaborative research), individualized instructional coaching support being provided for either a teacher or research PLC group, and teacher requests for specific support based on their years of 1-to-1 experience being honored. You would find the ongoing development of both pedagogical knowledge as well as effective instructional practices. You would also find a campus-wide professional learning energy that, in the past, was found only in isolated pockets of teachers.

One teacher recently summed up her beliefs about our partnership work by sharing, "This has been the the best professional learning year I have ever experienced." From my perspective, I couldn't agree more.

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