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The Power In Owning Your Professional Learning

June 10, 2015


How can you personalize your professional development to make it meaningful and actionable? TeachCycle is powerful because it supports teachers to own their professional development. Here’s one example of how some TeachCycle teachers personalized their professional development — with great results!

A TeachCycle meeting just started when a teacher wondered, “It’s the end of the school year and I’m beginning The Diary of Anne Frank.  This is a challenging text for my 7th grade students. How can I help them maintain their engagement and persevere with this text?”

The meeting was then abuzz. “Most of my students know very little about the Holocaust. How can I support them to build their background knowledge about an important and culturally sensitive topic?”, asked another teacher.

So… there were our teaching challenges: How to engage students with a complex text and how to support students to build background knowledge about a sensitive historical topic?

Once we uncovered the challenges that these teachers faced, the true power of owning their own professional development began. As a team, we brainstormed different ways to support students to build their background knowledge about this historical topic. One teacher said,  “I don’t want to create a powerpoint to teach students about the Holocaust. It would be too jarring to understand such sensitive information that way.”

I suggested to the teachers that problem-based learning could be a way to tackle this challenge. I showed them a video explanation of problem-based learning and the steps of the process written by two Master Teachers from the BetterLesson Master Teacher Project. The TeachCycle teachers loved the strategy and immediately started to think of implementation ideas, but there was some hesitation; “Could we incorporate the problem-based learning strategy into a unit that we have already developed?”

I assured them that there was no need to start from scratch– we could just add the problem-based learning strategy to their original task of writing diary entries from the perspective of different characters in the text.

The students would read the text and then, in order to prepare to write their diary entries, would ask questions about that character. For example, “Who was Albert Dussel in real life and why did Anne give him such an unflattering name in her diary?” Then, using teacher-guided internet research, the students would find the answers to their questions about the historical character. Students would use problem-based learning to come to the historical knowledge of the events of the Holocaust in a more personalized, less jarring, way.

Problem-based learning seemed to be a solution to the challenge of how to build background knowledge; but then, what about the first teacher’s challenge of student engagement in the text?

One teacher wondered, “Couldn’t the problem based learning approach be a way to measure engagement as well? Hopefully, students would be more engaged in the discovery process about the historical figures and perhaps it could increase their engagement in the text.”

So the same strategy could work for both teachers!

As our TeachCycle meeting wrapped up, I could tell that teachers felt much more equipped and excited to face both of their teaching challenges.

And at our next TeachCycle meeting, the teachers shared that they were thrilled with the results. One even commented, “This strategy showed more improvement in student engagement than any other writing or reading strategy we used this year.”

So, if you’re looking to work with a professional learning team to focus on real challenges in your very own classroom, give TeachCycle a try. BetterLesson launched TeachCycle to bring continuous improvement cycles to teams of teachers.  We, the TeachCycle coaches, are excited to engage in individualized, fast-paced professional development with you.

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