The question most often asked in education is “where are we going?” It should be such a simple question – but the answer is actually very complex. One challenge is, when you try to do everything, you may end up doing nothing well. And then, when you select a few areas on which to focus, people may feel they are being excluded.
In West Vancouver, I have presented on four major areas of professional focus. While we will always have content, and need to be well-versed in changes and updates, we are focusing less on the “what” and more on the “how” and “why”. With that in mind, here are our four, big boxes for professional learning which the district guides and supports:
Strong assessment practices:
At its core, our work around assessment is similar to that in almost all jurisdictions — a focus on formative assessment. We are now in our fourth year of supporting teachers around Understanding by Design (UbD). I have described this as one of the least-sexy professional development activities we do. It is hard work, time-consuming and for those who commit to it, a fundamental change in practice. We are lucky to have our own UbD guru, Sue Elliot, to lead these sessions. Beyond UbD, our work in assessment is largely teacher and school-based. The Network of Performance Based Schools has been an encouragement for assessment projects, for many of our teachers — notably, a group of teachers from Rockridge Secondary, who have had their work highlighted around the province, and have also taken their presentation to China. Assessment is also the core of collaborative time at our schools, including some excellent work at West Vancouver Secondary. Of the four boxes, assessment is likely the one we have spent the most time in over the last three years.
If assessment is the box we have spent the most time in over the last three years, instructional expertise is the area where our time commitment has diminished. Particularly, when it comes to issues of classroom management, this is an area that can really help. As we have focussed on backward’s design (for very good reasons) for our lessons and units, we have placed a lesser emphasis on professional development around instruction. Throughout B.C. you can hear comments like, “We have already done Barrie Bennett.” We know there are some strategies which work better than others, and we need to come back to them. Robert Marzano has a great list (here) covering high-yield strategies.
Child development expertise:
This is an area of focus that likely would not have made the list only three or four years ago. With the implementation of Full Day Kindergarten and StrongStart Centres, there is a clear policy move in this area. There is also mounting research about the key role the early years play in setting up children for the rest of their life. We have become versed in the Early Development Instrument (EDI) and are working with our local preschools in new ways we would never have considered five years ago. This spring we will welcome Dr. Fraser Mustard to West Vancouver for a Community Forum focussed in this area.
21st century learning
I don’t love the title — it feels dated and cliché. From a district perspective, this is largely connected to digital literacy supporting teachers with the skills to have students create blogs, wikis, discussion boards and other spaces that promote skills like critical thinking, collaboration and creativity (see here for a full list of “the 8 Cs”).
This is not a surprising list. It is probably very similar in most progressive jurisdictions around the world. As we talk about it more, hopefully, it will help to create a framework for our work as professionals. I have written previously (here) about our wonderful model in West Vancouver, balancing the importance of individual, school and district professional learning.