Ahh, in service. Whether it is at the beginning of the school year, end of the school year, or smack dab in the middle of the school year…it seems like there is never a good time for school-wide in service.
Part of the problem I had with in service as a teacher is that it never seemed “worth my time” to sit and listen to someone from district administration talk, go through powerpoint slides, and share out the new initiative our state was planning on doing to ramp up student achievement.
On the flip side, my cynicism usually melted away (almost immediately) when another teacher was presenting, sharing, or leading us during an in service time. In fact, when I look back at my most valuable learning experiences as a teacher, they are almost always with colleagues and other teachers, instead of with an administrator or consultant or presenter.
Flash forward a couple years and now I’m in an administrative role, planning in services and realizing just how hard it is to plan an in service that is meaningful, relevant, and worthwhile to our teachers’ time. Yet, every time I’ve had teachers lead an in service or professional development session at my district, it seems to have a positive impact on everyone.
Teachers learn best from other teachers. This is not to say teacher don’t learn a lot in a variety of other settings and situations, but from everything I’ve seen and experienced, it makes a lot of sense to have teachers leading professional development and training whenever possible.
That’s one of the reasons we are running the Teachers Leading Teachers Conference. There are no consultants or administrators presenting at the TLT Conference, just teachers sharing what has worked in their classrooms and schools. It’s the first online conference of it’s kind and I can’t wait to see what our teacher presenters share in 20+ sessions this July.
In talking with a colleague and good friend of mine about the TLT Conference we were brainstorming reasons why teachers learn best from each other. And here’s what we came up with:
1. The Shared Hope
Anthony Gabriele and I taught HS English together for five years in the same school. Our conversations centered around the challenges our students faced, and the amazing work many of our students would do after being challenged and pushed (maybe a little more than they had wanted to be). In the midst of all the negativity that can float around a school sometimes, it was often these conversations with colleagues that raised me up and brought me back to the real reason we teach.
2. The Shared Struggle
I remember during one of our “Best Practices” in services where teachers could facilitate and choose which sessions they wanted to attend, I was speaking about the 20% time project in my class. As I spoke about the lack of intrinsic motivation of my class, so many teachers resonated with this issue. Although my solution of giving 20% class time to work on a passion project seemed a bit radical, we all had the same shared struggle. It’s hard to motivate students who aren’t necessarily motivated by anything school can offer them (grades, rewards, etc). This understanding brings teachers together and makes learning with each other meaningful and relevant.
3. A Deep Level of Respect
When colleagues at my current school district were sharing what they do with technology in their classrooms, there was a deep level of respect in the room. The presenters weren’t an outsider (or district admin) sharing what “could” or “should” work in the classroom. They were teachers explaining how they did this work with the same students and same restrictions that each and every teacher who was sitting in that session faces day in an day out. The level of respect for each other as colleagues in that room made the session impactful in ways that another presenter could never have managed.
4. Communal Experience and Language
The first session I ever lead as a teacher during a district in service was (funny enough) on creating podcasts with your students. I was a second year teacher, and a bit nervous to share this project and information with all of these teachers I looked up to in our school. But the session went so well because I could talk the same language and reference communal experiences that would happen to all of us. For example, I shared how one student truly read the book and knew the information, but froze up in front of the class. The podcast allowed all students to refine their message and have the class learn from them regardless of their public speaking issues. Every teacher in that room had dealt with a similar situation, and our communal understanding made it easy to engage in deep learning that would matter in a classroom.
5. It’s Fun to Learn With and From Colleagues
Steve Mogg is one of the best teachers I know. We coached and taught together for seven years. He’s also hilarious. So when Steve ran a session on Twitter for teachers in our district, people signed up expecting to have a good time. And they did. But they also learned a lot along the way. Sometimes we take “professional development” too seriously and forget that learning can and should be fun, especially when it is with our colleagues. Teacher led PD is one of the best ways to uplift a staff, and give them an awesome learning experience at the same time.
So why do you think teachers learn best from other teachers? Leave your thoughts in the comments! I also hope you check out the Teachers Leading Teachers Conference before the Early Bird Pricing special goes away on June 17th! Enter the code “AJ” to get another 10% off the price for the entire conference!