Having substantially completed AISB’s technology strategic plan to move to a BYOD model in the secondary, buy tablets for the elementary and upgrade the infrastructure to support the devices, my focus in semester 2 is to create a sustainable professional development model for our faculty of 20 teachers.
In the fall I ran across Korea International School’s Fishbowl Model and decided to adopt it for use at AISB. In a nutshell, the Fishbowl PD model encompasses:
Relevant topics: data is gathered from participants to understand why they attend and how they use what they’ve learned
Useful topics: presented on things that teachers ask for as well as things they may not have ever heard of
Voluntary and consistent sessions: attendance isn’t mandatory, and sessions are offered at several times (always on a regular schedule) throughout the week during the school day so that teachers can attend in their free periods
Marketing: so that teachers know what, when, and where PD happens
Evolution: the PD team uses evidence to reflect and improve on trainings
At AISB we’ve tried to adopt the structure as best we can, given that we don’t have any staff devoted full-time to teacher development (I teach over a 40% load in addition to being responsible for all IT; my assistant runs some sessions but has similarly diverse responsibilities). We run six 40-minute sessions on two different topics throughout the week, structured so that two sessions are accessible to elementary classroom teachers, two are available to specialists, and two are available to secondary teachers. In such a small faculty we don’t expect more than one or two teachers to show up, so we’ve been happy that two or three (10-15% of the faculty) typically attend each of our sessions. After 4-5 weeks we plan to send out our first feedback survey to see if we can tweak the format or schedule.
We generated a Harvard notes-style outline for each session, but the session itself is mostly a hands-on demo. We then post a summary to our school’s Teaching and Learning Blog since we don’t expect full retention from a 40-minute session. The goal is to give teachers enough experience to want to innovate in their classrooms. You can’t force teachers to innovate, but you can give them the tools and support framework to make them comfortable to do so.
My partner and I attended two NWEA MAP Foundation workshops over the weekend. This was our first year at a MAP partner school, and at the beginning the amount of data seemed overwhelming. Two testing seasons later we felt we had a better handle on it and were ready to learn more, which is why we jumped at the opportunity to attend the session – especially since the registration costs were covered by the State Department. We joined about twenty other teachers from Niamey, Freetown, Monrovia, and Abuja at the International Community School of Abidjan where presenter Terri Howard led us through the Stepping Stones to Using Data and Climbing the Data Ladder.
Here were our takeaways:
How do you know when to differentiate? Double-digit figures in your class’ standard deviation (in the Teacher by RIT report) means you should differentiate your class. The Class by RIT report also gives useful data, especially when you click on the subject row headings (i.e. Math) to show the goal strands within, where students will be grouped according to RIT band. Aim for 2-4 groupings.
Is the test a reflection of where they are? Standard Error (also in the Teacher by RIT) report indicates the reliability of your test; a 3 is normal and the lower, the better. If you have students scoring 4.8 or above you should strongly consider retesting, as this indicates they did things like quickly guessing through their questions.
How do you get students on board? In addition to the usual goal-setting, schedule student-led conferences after the testing season (this can coincide with your normal parent-teacher conferences) where students can explain their results. This motivates them to try their best – no one likes to explain showing less-than-expected or negative growth. Having a visual reminder, such as a sticky note with their target score, also helps keep them focused according to NWEA researchers.
How do you get parents on board? Education is the key here. Hold a parent workshop – at AISB we plan to do one just prior to the start of the testing season – where you explain RIT, growth, and especially DesCartes. Emphasizing DesCartes and avoiding discussion of percentiles helps keep parents focused on how MAP tests measure what students are ready to learn, not mastery. Use sample data at this session, as using their kids’ real data will distract them from learning about how to interpret the results.
How do you distribute results to teachers? You can tweak your CRF to create non-existent classes, like one for all ESL students across grades, or one for all HS students, or one combining two small grade levels to see what they’d look like as a combined class (a common situation in small West African schools). In the Spring, you might give access to one grade’s data to their teachers for the following school year so that those teachers can begin to differentiate from the very start. Finally, you can submit Data Repair Requests with updated CRFs if you want to fix anything after the testing season.
On an unrelated note, regional trainings like this are always nice because they bring together a group of schools in a similar situation, and this is especially true in West Africa. The Ed Tech community always talks about creating a global personal learning network (PLN), but it was only by going to a face-to-face training that I could meet other educators who knew what it was like to teach in a school without internet, or one that had been shut down because of a coup, or one that had graduating classes of just half a dozen teachers. People outside of the region just don’t have the experience in the unique set of challenges we work with every day. And I’d argue that face-to-face conversation has a depth and flow that electronic communication misses. One superintendent has decided to eschew email completely:
A dilemma of being an international school teacher is that when you return to your home country in the summer you’re more often than not homeless and relegated to crashing on couches or begging rooms from family. And you’ve got to meet the obligation of seeing family and friends, even when that takes you across the continent in the few short weeks you have.
This year I spent a week in Belgium visiting a friend and enjoying Kasteel, Delirium Tremens, Leffe, and Hoegaarden before heading off to DC for the week-long JOSTI conference, a series of technology-oriented seminars sponsored by the State Department for international school teachers. Like other conferences I’d been to, this one had a mix of valuable and forgettable sessions. Some were useful hands-on demonstrations of a teaching practice like the flipped classroom, while others were merely presentations of lists of apps, tools, and websites that we might find useful in the classroom. I found that the most useful sessions had four components:
A summary of relevant standards, philosophies, and other pedagogical considerations as background.
A demonstration of the tool or activity
Hands-on activities where teachers relate the presented information to their own classrooms
A summary of best practices related to the tool or activity
It’s hard to fit all that into 90 minutes, but the conference did an excellent job of giving teachers time to process and network, and this is where the real value of the conference was. From the pre-conference happy hour to a baseball game to exploration of DC landmarks, the JOSTI organizers made sure not only that we had fun but that we had plenty of time to compare notes and make connections while doing it. The State Dept also selects a very diverse group of educators, both foreign- and local-hire from every geography from Caracas to Curacao, Bamako to Hyderabad, Kuala Lumpur to Manila. Considering that it’s room, board and tuition paid, I think tech-oriented educators should really consider it, especially those at schools far from big regional tech conferences.
The rest of the summer was spent shuttling between WA, BC, ON, and NY visiting family. We learned that BC wineries make some delicious Gewurtztraminers, Rieslings, and Madeiras among the stunning hills overlooking the Okanagan Lake; that Mt. Rainier boasts the highest snowfall in the continental US; and that France requires you to clear your pet through customs when making any connection through Paris. This created quite a snarl in our travel plans since we learned of the requirement too late to secure the requisite paperwork to clear EU customs, so instead of flying my girlfriend and dog through Paris via JFK as planned, we were rebooking her flight a day before her scheduled departure. In the end I ended up driving her 10 hours to DC to pick up an Ethiopian flight to Bamako via Addis Abbaba, and then driving another five to New York to catch my flight from JFK. We met safe and sound in Bamako, glad to have the world’s worst itinerary behind us.