Monday, April 8, 2013

Autonomy Breeds Change


A year and a half ago I decided to implement a job-embedded growth model at the suggestion of some of my teacher leaders.  They desperately sought time during the school day to engage in professional growth opportunities, learn how to integrate Web 2.0 tools, and develop their own Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s).  After some thinking and looking at various options inherent in the current schedule, I decided to cut all non-instructional duties in half to create a Professional Growth Period (PGP).  The inspiration for this idea came from Google’s 80/20 Innovation Model where engineers are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally.  Duties that we cut are now assumed by me and my administrative team.


Image credit: http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2010/02/thompson-autonomy-for-change.html

The PGP was launched in September 2011.   It virtually gave every New Milford High School teacher two to three, forty eight minute periods a week, depending on the semester, to engage in growth opportunities of personal interest.  The only catch was that each staff member had to create and present a learning portfolio at his/ her end of year evaluation conference.   This learning portfolio clearly articulated how they integrated what was learned during this time into professional practice.  They also had to keep a log detailing what was done during each PGP day throughout the year.

A great deal was learned after I reflected on year one of the PGP.  For starters, I read Drive by Daniel Pink this past summer and made a few slight changes.  In order to give each staff member a greater level of autonomy, I removed all top-down mandates such as keeping a log and watching a certain number of PD 360 videos.  This year teachers had true freedom to learn anything and follow their passions as long as the time was spent to improve NMHS’s bottom line – student learning and achievement.  Sample PGP activities include the following:

  • becoming a connected educator by developing and engaging in a Personal Learning Network (PLN)
  • researching best practices
  • developing innovative learning activities
  • creating interdisciplinary lessons
  • engaging in face-to-face professional development
  • learning to use new technologies
  • collaborating on projects with colleagues. 

I also used last year as an opportunity to work with my teachers and better articulate how to compile their learning portfolios. Last week I began conducting end of year evaluation conferences with my teachers.  I was extremely eager to see their respective learning portfolios and discover what they had been working on over the course of the year.  Let me tell you this, I was not disappointed.  As each staff member presented their learning portfolio they all shared how appreciative they were to have this time.  Below is a sample from some of the portfolios:

  • Math teacher Kanchan Chellani has been using her PGP time to create engaging learning activities with Adobe Captivate to flip her classroom.  She has also created her own website filled with resources for students.
  • English teachers Jessica Groff and Nanna Westbook used their PGP time to collaborate.  Throughout the year they met to develop extensive binders to compile resources related to text complexity as outlined by the Common Core Standards.  Jessica also used the time to develop the school’s digital newspaper, The Lance, from scratch.
  • Math teacher Jeff Fiscina learned how to create engaging learning activities using Educreations. He also developed his own blog and started a Twitter account for his classes.
  • English Teacher Sue Michels read numerous books, such as Drive by Daniel Pink and Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormeli.  She also re-wrote the entire Honors English 11 curriculum.
  • History teacher Joe Manzo learned how to use iMovie and created a project on the Vietnam War to engage his students in some of the essential concepts.  He is now working on developing a student project where they will use iMovie to create artifacts of learning related to historical concepts later this year.
  • History teacher Rebecca Millan started her own blog and is now having her students blog as well in Sociology.
  • Math teacher April Millian has been exploring the flipped instructional approach and has begun to implement it on a routine basis with the use of Edmodo.
  • English Teacher Jerry Engstrom created several unit plans aligned to the common core and read How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher.  Jerry provided examples of how he has integrated specific concepts and insights learned from each book. He has begun to research how to implement student portfolios using Evernote for next year.

Similar to FedEx days discussed by Dan Pink in Drive, my teachers have been given the opportunity to follow their passions, unleash their creativity, and deliver a learning portfolio that illustrates professional growth to enhance teaching and learning.  Based on the conversations I had with teachers after they presented their learning portfolios, they are already beginning to talk about innovative ideas to pursue next year.  I am excited to see what some of my other teachers have been working on in the coming weeks and am proud that time during the school day is being used productively. 

28 comments:

  1. Eric,

    Thanks for sharing the work of your staff...it is refreshing to see an admin give the reigns of learning to the teachers. It is empowering and I hope your teachers appreciate it and that is not the norm. :) We want our students to create portfolios of work and yet we don't often let teachers or admins. Keep it up!

    Josh

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  2. Thanks Josh! The feedback from my teachers has been very encouraging thus far. We hope to build upon this momentum next year.

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  3. Love it! Sharing this now with all my grad school friends (future principals) as well as my science department. "Creating" time is a strategy we just discussed in our Data-Based Decision Making class and this is the best example I've seen so far. Thank you!

    Adam

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  4. This is amazing stuff! Kudos to you for doing this, and Kudos to your staff for implementing this effectively! We are always trying to balance the issue of time and accountability, and this appears to be a great step in that direction.

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  5. As I finish my teaching practicum to become a special education teacher, I am encouraged that there are principles out there that value the professional growth of the teachers enough to allow them that precious resource- time - needed to accomplish it. I also appreciate that you trust your staff to follow their personal interests and use the time wisely.

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  6. Good move! Over the years I watched the pendulum swing from implicit trust of teachers and their professional judgement to micro-management of teachers and a basic mistrust. Teachers are professionals and I applaud you for having confidence in your staff.
    Brett

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  7. Awesome stuff! I'd absolutely love to see examples of what your science teachers did.

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  8. Great stuff. Genius hour for educators! Don't know what genius hour is? Check out www.geniushour.com

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  9. That is fantastic Eric - great to see what teachers were able to spend time on - teachers appreciate the autonomy - could you please let me know how you were able to give them the time you described - some examples?
    Thank you

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  10. Giving them the time was relatively simple. Our school runs on a traditional 8 period day. Each period is 48 minutes in length. All staff teach 5 classes and have a prep, lunch, and non-instructional duty (cafeteria, hall, in-school suspension, etc.). We cut all teacher duties in half giving them 2-3 PGP periods a week (depending on the semester) as described above. We (admin) have now picked up the slack in terms of covering the duties. Hope this helps.

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  11. Eric,
    I'm SO glad you tried this this year. I'm sure the teachers feel fortunate as well! It makes me wonder... What if WE had the same deal?? Ahhhh... I love to dream! I will, however, be doing my part to keep this movement going by passing this on to my administration. I believe we could do so much for the students if this time was built in... Thank you for posting and for such a comprehensive explanation!

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  12. I want to work for you so bad... Thanks for being an inspiration for a small-school science teacher all the way on the other side of the country. I'll be sharing this post with my administration. You've articulate my thoughts way better than I could have.

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  13. I like your model of leadership. I am working on my Master's to become an instructional leader and I have been following this blog since I began. It has given me a ton of great ideas for when I become an administrator one day!

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  14. thank you Eric, for sharing your insights and how you have turned an idea into reality. As an aspring school leader, I appreciate you demonstrating trust & respect in your relationships with your staff, and empower them to 'teach/learn' on their own terms. Our challenge now, in my province anyway, is to negotiate those logistics (set by the ministry, board, and federation) to allow these job-embedded time slots for teacher-regulated PDs. A good challenge to have, though~
    Cheers!

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  15. If there is anything I can do to help Ming let me know.

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  16. Awesome as usual, Eric! Any chance there's a blog or piece from one of your teacher's perspectives about the process? Not necessarily their deliverables, but their reflection about being a part of this initiative?

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  17. I don't at this point, but would be more than happy to get you in touch with one of my teachers via email so you could get their perspective.

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    1. No need yet... I'll keep an eye on your posts and may hit you up again down the road if/when I need more "supporting info." Thanks and keep up the awesome work!

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  18. This sounds great! Any chance of taking it further and implementing a program that increases autonomy for students?

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  19. Thanks for the post and for how you value the professional integrity of your teachers. I found myself dreaming up what I would study, given the time. Thanks for posting what your teachers did-- I am following up on some of the books I didn't know.

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  20. This is brilliant. I am going to share this with my district leaders as we look at ways to improve our secondary (middle and high school) programs. Thank you for sharing!

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  21. Interested in the 'duties' your administrative team cut, and if these are sustainable in the long term? Are you finding the need to put them back on the teachers to maintain a coherent classroom environment?

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  22. Definitely sustainable and we will not go back. We reduced duties and now have less people doing them (i.e. lunch duty). Have eliminated some hall duties completely as our culture now does not require it.

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  23. This is an incredible idea! I love the PGP to allow teachers to look into their own interest that relate to your mission. I hear teachers saying all the time "I've always wanted to... but I never have the time" or "I'd really love to... if I had more time". Since you no longer require them to turn in a log from each PGP, how do you make sure each PGP is spent doing what they should and not grading, planning, etc.? Do you just use their end of year portfolios to gauge how meaningful their time was from the whole year? I love this idea... thanks for sharing!

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  24. Besides making it clear that those things can't be done during PGP time we trust our teachers to use the allotted time to follow their learning passions. The year end portfolios are a great barometer of how the time was spent.

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    1. Eric,
      I like the fact that "trust" has been assumed. As mentioned in your comments below, some will not quite make it for so reason or another and they will require additional support and it sounds like you now have many mentors & examples available to provide this.

      Do you have opportunities during PD days throughout the year for teachers to share with each other (in small groups) where they are at? Having a different perspective on something helps us reflect and be inspired by what other are doing or have done.

      Thanks once again for your thoughts.

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  25. Thank you for the great ideas. It sounds like many teachers embraced their collaborative time and used it wisely. Did you get any negative feedback from teachers? If so, what was your response? Thanks.

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  26. Thomas - Not necessarily negative feedback, but a lack of focus. Most teachers greatly appreciate the time and the results as well as their work speaks for itself. Others have yet to seize the opportunity that they asked for. My response was to align this with our new evaluation tool (McREL).

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