Professional Development and Support

Teaching content through real world learning is new territory for many teachers.

There are a lot of components that teachers often haven't experienced as students or learned about in conventional teacher training programs: structuring learning around real tasks for real purposes, actively working to connect with students, keeping students engaged, and leveraging wireless laptops and other technology to support and extend their students’ education. All this while ensuring that students learn standards-based content through this non-traditional approach!

How do we insure that teachers become increasingly adept at implementing the program?

Professional development is a critical component of any school’s success, but moving teachers in the direction of real world learning is a big effort. We know that developing a new conventional program is somewhat prescribed, since it is well-established territory. The major difference between professional development for a conventional school program versus for schools like those described here is that a conventional school can provide teachers with technical training – simply sharing information and resources.

But breaking conventions, developing a school program designed to apply and contextualize learning while creating an engaging and meaningful learning environment, is more complex. A school with an innovative program must focus its professional development on helping teachers navigate a paradigm shift as they move from conventional practice to more innovative methods. This work requires more than informational workshops.

Teachers need good models, both the kind they can observe (videos or classroom observations), and the kind they can try out (model units/lessons). They need coaching and support. They need access to the right resources. And they need strong leadership that clearly expects this work and backs it up with how they supervise and evaluate teachers.

Teaching staff at Citadel Group schools receive extensive professional development, training and support in the real world learning approach, providing them with new opportunities and refining their skills at reaching all students. Although the planning of initial projects and activities will be provided to teachers, a substantial portion of the training and support will focus on insuring that they can plan and develop the curriculum, taking advantage of their own expertise, the interests and abilities of their students, and the unique opportunities provided within the local community.

New workshops and institutes will be developed and offered based on the expressed needs of teachers at the school. Given the inevitable turnover among teachers, the opportunity to constantly improve and refine practice and the requirement to check and refine progress, staff development should not be a narrowly defined activity.

Several strategies are proving effective:

Summer Institutes

Each summer, we have conducted a professional development institute to enhance, improve, and refine instructional content and methodology. Summer Institutes provide the opportunity to introduce teachers to any new tools or resources being introduced to the educational program, as well as new strategies critical to the phased implementation of the program. These summer workshops were preceded by a week long orientation course offered to new teachers, focusing on the school mission, and culture – with primary attention to the real world, project-based curriculum and its content and methods.

Common Planning Time Inservices

Common planning time is a priority requirement of the overall professional development plan. Common planning time will be built into the daily schedule to allow teachers to plan upcoming unit activities, discuss student needs, and to collaboratively analyze and interpret assessment data about their students. Teachers can learn and coach each other in new content, instructional strategies and applications. They learn and share design and technical knowledge in creating real world project/problem-based learning opportunities for students. The common planning time permits educators to meet resource people and visit sites that could become project/problem-based learning resources. It enables teachers and other school-based staff to become professional learners in their own community.

Pedagogical Coaching

Pedagogical coaches and professional developers will work with staff on their successful implementation of Add Water and Stir Units. Reflective strategies, just-in-time training interventions, and modeling by coaches and consultants will support teachers’ work. Teachers will also be taught how to access online data resources and how to use data from various sources (including assessment/analysis of students artifacts and evidence) to drive instruction. Further, pedagogical coaches and professional developers will work with teachers to ensure that they understand effective project design, connecting the projects to the community and the students’ lives and ensuring that the work is infused with standards-based curriculum. As teachers become more experienced, ongoing professional development will shift from training around new curriculum to ongoing assessment, self-assessment, and data-driven analysis so that the instructional team can adjust methods and tools in an interactive, systemic manner.

Add Water & Stir Real World Units

“Add-Water-and-Stir” Real World Units model for teachers what learning standards-based content through real world learning can look like. The units are designed so that some content detail will need to be contributed by the teaching team that is ultimately in classroom contact with the students. The units clearly outline the decisions and actions teachers need to undertake during their common planning time to achieve the outcomes above. Teaching teams, pedagogical coaches, and school leadership will all play a roll in modeling, establishing preliminary contacts, reflecting on progress, and establishing strategies for improvement. These units provide an opportunity for teachers to learn to contextualize the unit to the community served by the school, customizing the curriculum to the abilities, interests, and experiences of a particular group of students, finding and developing collaborations with businesses, organizations, and institutions of higher education to make the units more real.

Teachers will then develop their own project-based or problem-based real world learning units. This is vital if projects are to be responsive to the needs of students, teachers, and the community, and to the ever-changing world of business, industry, and higher education. Teachers will work closely with students, parents, and community members to create the real and ever-evolving curriculum of the school. Project-based and problem-based units, rich in content from the District curriculum documents, will be strongly linked to the community and lives of the students.

Supervision for Success

In addition to looking at student data, skill attainment will be assessed and monitored through a series of informal visitations by administrators, cadre members, and instructional coaches, using instructional rubrics and teacher surveys as guideposts. As teachers become increasingly proficient, The Citadel Group will provide master-level experts to offer insights into what does and does not work so that a) practice can be constantly improved, and b) teachers can be engaged in a self-motivating, continual improvement process.

Developing Teacher Leaders

For the most accomplished of the teachers, we provide curriculum development, speaking, training, and demonstration opportunities through which these teachers can help other teachers. Not unlike the real world project-based/problem-based focus on demonstrating competence, these opportunities will give successful teachers the ability to be recognized as the professionals they are. These opportunities may be within the District, through neighboring districts, or through national conferences or other avenues.

The Schools We Need Project

Because some students need more than direct instruction.

The Schools We Need Project is a joint project of the Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning at the University of Maine at Farmington