Walking that Professional Learning Line

We finally are feeling the pains of the awaited teacher shortage. With people leaving the profession in droves for a variety of reasons, we now see a huge push for professional learning in order to take the new teachers, the pre-service teachers, the emergency cert teachers, and those who need to know more about current teaching practices and tools to a sustainable level of knowledge in order to run their learning spaces. That’s one tall order.

The trend I see is similar to when the use of digital resources became almost mandated in daily instructional practice. We went through training after training on how to use the resources, but workshops where we are actually shown how to use the resources with students in classes was few and far between to really begin with. The same trend really holds true still for district or school mandated professional learning. It’s a one size fits all situation where teachers who may never even use the models that are presented are forced to sit though “just in case” they were to ever come across it during the school day. We’ve heard the jokes about how our time is wasted sitting in these day long workshops, but it’s really not funny. So there in lies a question, how can we create customized, engaging, and worthwhile professional learning opportunities for all, that relevant for everyone in the room?

Learning is customized, learning is relevant, learning is experiential. We don’t teach every student in the class the same way, why is that expected of a teacher during a PD Day? Having someone come in for an hour to talk about a product that everyone is going to use might be a great way to start the day, but then you break it off into their respective groups to dive into more of what they need.

So what are some things to keep in mind as you develop some professional learning opportunities?

  1. Customize it, if you have to do a mass workshop with a lot of different audience members, send out a survey or poll beforehand to gauge what they are looking for so you can try to reach everyone.
  2. Leave time to explore, far too often I see a workshop turn into a lecture and I sit there at the end with a little bit of drool hanging from my mouth because I started spacing out halfway through the entire thing. Not because I wanted to, but because I have the attention span of a toddler and if I can’t get hands on with it and try it for myself I’m probably going to stop paying attention. Set time aside to allow teachers to purposefully play with each other and find how it all operates.
  3. Don’t be afraid to do this in chunks. A straight 6 hour workshop we all know is know going to be helpful in any way. The presenters probably hate it as much as the teachers. Just don’t do it. Plan something for a couple of hours, then maybe give them time to debrief or move on to another topic. If you want, have presenters do a couple hour workshop on one day, then come back another time to follow up and answer questions.
  4. Let the teachers lead. Have a good old fashion day of learning where the teachers in your schools actually share what they do and their best practices. The ones who sometimes know the most, are right underneath your nose. Don’t leave them out, teachers in your school learning from other teachers in your school has potential for a powerful core memory.
  5. Have patience, not everyone learns the same way or at the same speed. Sometimes you are going to need to circle back for others to make sure everyone grasps the materials.

What kinds of PD days have you had recently? The good and the bad?

Legos on the Brain

Legos, we all know them, we all love them. To be honest, I still play with them even in my 30s. There is no better mindfulness activity for me then sitting on the couch on a Sunday morning building random things with Legos. I have built many a spaceship, musical instrument, and moving masterpiece with a morning cup of coffee by my side. There are thousands of possibilities with Legos which makes them a great creative tool, especially for education.

Through creative building with Legos students,

  • Work on creative thinking processes.
  • Build fine motor skills.
  • Work on critical thinking processes.
  • Build problem solving mindsets that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
  • Are introduced to STEAM skills and thought processes.
Photo by Polesie Toys on Pexels.com

Legos are such an easy toy to come by and are found in thousands of houses across the country which makes them a great resource to use for learning that can cross between the classroom and home. Some activities that could be useful and crossover from classroom to home are,

  • Provide parameters with a purpose. Maybe you need them to build something that holds at least 5 pounds or something that is over 3 feet. Let them figure out how to build it. This activity works on problem solving as well as unlocking their creative process.
  • Let them design. I had this activity that I loved to do with my students. I’d pour out the full recycling bin and say “I need you to design me a___” and let them get creative.
  • Give them a problem to solve and let students work through it. It might be building something to protect or creating a contraption to get an object from one part of the room to another. It might take several tries but that is what problem solving is all about trial and error. Give them space to figure it out and encourage to get back up again if they fail.

What are some ways that you encourage problem solving and critical thinking skills with your students?

Sing some songs

A great way to bring some different cultures into the class is to substitute  a few songs you normally would sing with your students with a few different childrens songs from other countries. Or translate a song you already sing to a different language as something special for the kids (http://babelfish.yahoo.com/  has a wonderful translator). This way your students get a taste of a different language without changing a lot of their set daily schedule.

http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=eh  Is a great site to get started on finding some new songs!

Don’t be a chicken..DANCE

Think you have no time to learn a new dance? Do you have the time but just are too afraid to teach your students for fear of doing it wrong? Well fear no more. JUST MAKE IT UP!

Of course there are many traditional dances out there that require many ornate and exact steps but you do not have to teach a traditional dance to your students. Pick a song according to the culture you are teaching and create the movements yourself. I love to just make up movements myself because I can cater the difficulty of the dance to each class!  I do stay within the style of dance though, Celtic jigs and step are very hard and fast movements, African dance varies from song to song with either slow and connected movement or faster and very grounded. Latin dance is very simple and grounded as well, or you could go as far as Asian with very connected and meaningful story-like motions.  What ever you chose, feel free to just experiment and have fun with it. No one is going to correct you in a classroom (unless you of course have an expert there).

Dance gets students up and moving, which many of them do need during the school day! The more they move around, the more into the lesson they are!

How to start a lesson plan on World Music

First- Pick a culture! It’s the easiest way to start, when you know what culture  you want to teach then narrow it down. If you are doing a unit plan then choose more than one area of the culture but if it is just one lesson, narrow it down to say a game, song, and maybe a rhythm for the students to play on instruments and sing a song with.

Second- Plan your lesson accordingly, start off with what you need to do first (useful if you are preparing for a general music concert or need to do announcements) and then move on to the fun stuff. Try to do some sort of movement activity first just to get them up and moving around. This helps a lot with their attention when you have to sit them back down and continue your lesson.

Third- Make sure that when you are planning your lesson that you know the history and general background of the activity you are teaching them. Especially if it is a song or dance because the students ARE GOING TO ASK. Even if you have to make up a few facts about it, as long as they get the general truth they are good to go.

Fourth- You can take everyday activities you have used in your classroom before and relate it to world music, you do not have to reinvent the wheel when you are planning a lesson on something new!

Fifth- Be interested in what you are teaching, this interest can come as you research. Also, HAVE FUN. The students are more interested if you are excited about the subject.