Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Recent Professional Development Day with Administrators...

Captive audience, no?
Two weeks ago, a snowstorm (albeit slight in Colorado terms) co-mingled with a planned day of professional development, so I ended up working with a group of school administrators in Missouri.  I was planning to work with a wonderful group of elementary teachers who are working to blend thinking strategy instruction into the work they are doing with writers in writer's workshop.  Instead, the principal called me while I was on my way to the airport explaining that school had been canceled in the district in which I was scheduled to work.  So, he asked, "Would you mind working with a group of about 20 elementary administrators instead?  We have to come to school and would love the opportunity."  Without hesitating, I immediately agreed.  
     We forget that administrators need wise professional development just as much as we do.  I thought about the plans I had already organized for teachers.  Some aspects of the day would work.  I knew I would invite them to take part in a reader's workshop (I worked on inferring with a meaty piece of text).  I knew I would have them them take a blank model of the workshop structure and identify three things, "What would children be doing?  What would teachers be doing?  What would I (as administrator) be doing?" during crafting, composing, and reflecting.  So, I did a bit more planning on the plane and when I landed and got to my hotel, I immediately "tweeted," emailed, and called some of my colleagues for suggestions. 
     Karen Szymusiak (OH) tweeted a great suggestion, "Talk to them about the hallmarks of good reading and writing workshop.  What do you look for in an effective literacy-based classroom."  
     Franki Sibberson (OH) and Carol Wilcox (CO) both suggested I use conferring as a basis for discussion, "How can principals utilize the same theories of a good reading conference when talking about instruction?"   
     Donalyn Miller (TX) replied, "Administrators must understand what best practices look like in order to help us."   
     Lori Conrad (CO) suggested asking, "What does a reader look like at ______ (insert name) elementary?" 
     Using their suggestions as guiding questions, I framed my day.  Then I had a long telephone conversation with Dana Berg (WY) about the ways her former principal, Christine Frude (our friend who is now retired, splitting time between WY and FL), provided and encouraged opportunities for ongoing, systemic, and thoughtful professional growth (I've worked with their school for six years).  
     Ahh... when collective minds come together!  The result... together, adminstrators and I spend the morning talking about reader's workshop... focusing on specific rituals and routines, strategy instruction, and some of the nitty-gritty aspects of reader's workshop.
     We ended our day using, in part, a document my colleague Missy Matthews (CO) and I had created entitled, "What do I expect from someone facilitating a group of learners in my classroom?"  To it, I added the results of my conversations with friends and colleagues.  Here is the result:

Pondering:  How can my administrator best support literacy work?
During classroom visits:
  • name the things I may not have noticed I did – name the brilliance
  • ask questions that will encourage my best thinking
  • talk with me before and after formal visits… debrief and plan… know my classroom and who I am as a teacher
  • focus the prebrief and debrief on specific areas of instruction... ask me about the “data” I hope to glean from our visits
  • provide feedback – 'here's another brilliant thing I noticed that you did'
  • together decide on a focus -- one or two 'look fors'
  • be prepared, on time and friendly
  • let me in on the purpose of the visit
  • write my students and me a note after the visit
  • bring calmness, humor and sincerity to the visit
  • understand the workshop model and where we are on the gradual release of responsibility model
  • notice underlying rituals and routines, and bring them to the forefront of the discussion
  • help me name specific observations – beyond “I liked how…” or “Johnny seemed to be…”
  • understand thinking strategy instruction

In terms of Professional Development:
  • understand how children think and learn
  • provide opportunities and time to talk with other colleagues
  • provide resources – books, fund workshops, etc. 
  • focus the prebrief and debrief on specific areas of instruction
  • be creative in scheduling large blocks of time for literacy
  • be an active participant in the learning process
  • differentiate – look for ways to meet specific needs
  • eliminate “yes, buts” – encourage collegiality
  • communicate
  • take it slowly – know that growing takes time
  • model the role of a learner – look for growth opportunities
  • step out of administrator role into role of a learner
  • build systems for continued growth
  • focus energy on the “naysayers”
  • act as a political “filter”
  • be present – not just “nice” – understand instruction
  • participate in study groups – provide resources and time
Not the actual....
.... administrators!
     Our day turned into a productive day of learning, a day of great conversation, and a day of professional development that can't help but impact the work principals do with their staffs.  In fact, several of the participants took their learning and used it with their staffs that same week.  They appreciated the time to talk, to ask questions, and to learn alongside their peers.  And, who could ask for anything more?  A perfect snowy day! 


  1. It sounds like your change in plans went well. Thanks for the thinking you provided as a classroom teacher, thoughtful and reflective.

  2. As one of those administrators in question - that day was wonderful. Loved the insight you and other experts shared. Lori used your "brillance" as part of her day with us today. The work continues - I have changed the way I think about observations and conferring with teachers. THANK YOU AGAIN!!!
    Equally love the pics above:))

    Jodi Mallette

  3. Thanks for sharing this post. Love the way the day evolved through collaboration. Sometimes I just have to hold on as my head twirls and swirls with the way we can collaborate in an instant with people across the globe. Thanks for sharing the evolution of your day.