Growth-Minded PD: Giving It Back to the Elephants

Last year our campus had a few strikeouts on professional development, so our principal decided that the day following winter break would be given back to the teachers. 

That's when I took the opportunity to call on a few ideas from our staff book studies to nudge our campus PD in a different direction. Let's say that I gave them the day in a different way. 

Angry Elephants

By mid year, our campus was fatigued by change – a new grading system and waves of initiatives that seemed like old ideas in new packaging. We didn't need anything else that would compromise the relationship between the elephant and the rider, as Chip and Dan Heath would put it.

The elephant and the rider, according to the Heath brothers (Switch ... 2010), is an analogy that illustrates the relationship between our ability to plan and how we feel about things. It's the elephant that becomes engaged and produces results, but it's the rider that gives direction to the elephant, especially when it comes to goals and intended outcomes. 

The Academic Leadership Team wanted me to present Google Classroom. I agreed but had a different presentation format in mind – somewhere between edcamp and department meetings.

What we needed was for the rider to let the elephant do the job that it knows how to do. With an attainable goal, the elephant had plenty of room for growth. (Yes, like growth mindset.)

Here's what we did.

Finding the Bright Spots

I found the teachers who were using Google Classroom and chose one session facilitator for each department. The goal of the session was to have a conversation that encouraged teachers to share about how they communicate, not just about how they use Google Classroom.

Some may think that the face-to-face conversations I used to select the facilitators were no big deal, but visiting with teachers was the only way to build support for a teacher-led PD session. It also gave me the opportunity to coach out the different things they might share with their departments.

When it came time to start the session, I explained that we didn't need another edtech tool to learn or feel as if we're forced to use. I made it clear that the goals were simple: (1) Awareness and (2) Access. 

We wanted teachers to be aware of Google Classroom and confirm that they can access it. Those were the minimum requirements. The simplicity and freedom let the elephants roam without being told things they probably already knew or could figure out on their own. 

What happened next was what I had hoped.

Tell me. Show me. Let me.

The conversations that some departments had about what you can do with Google Classroom went on for months. I had teachers – who often never wanted to hear about edtech – share their stories and ask questions about how I use it.

The success wasn't that teachers were using Google Classroom. It was the collaboration that came out of the belief that if we let teachers do it, they will. Not everyone took away a tangible lesson from the PD, but more positive conversations about teaching and learning came out of it than the sessions in October and August.

These kinds of teacher-centered opportunities are what lead to lasting change versus the fleeting red carpet programs that promise the moon yet leave teachers and children behind.

Schools are a Fixed Mindset

Have you ever thought about the fixed nature of a traditional lesson plan? What about a written speech? The best teachers use questions and assessment to guide instruction, just as the best speakers use their ability to to flow with a series of topics or questions as they engage the room. 

The question we need to ask is whether our schools are responding appropriately to the professional needs of our teachers. Are we asking them about what they need? Do we know who the bright spots are? Are we putting the bright spots in a position to make schools a growth mindset institution? 

It will take elephants with growth mindset riders to distinguish between the meaningful changes and the sea of inevitable initiatives that will never help educate our youth. 

This will only happen when admin play the role of facilitator and the fixed approaches to leading teachers are replaced with plans developed, evaluated, and reformulated by the teachers implementing them.