Tic-Tac-Toe Your Way to Teacher Choice: A New Model for PD

Professional Development

Tic-Tac-Toe Your Way to Teacher Choice: A New Model for PD

By Debra Campbell and Michael McDonough     May 30, 2017

Tic-Tac-Toe Your Way to Teacher Choice: A New Model for PD

This article is part of the guide: What Personalized Learning Looks Like Across the Country: The 2017 Fifty States Project.

“If we want to see teachers embrace student choice,” educator and author John Spencer explains, “we need to let teachers make decisions about their own learning.”

This is something we at Bellaire High School discovered ourselves last spring, when our leadership team committed to a series of instructional walks throughout our campus. The plan was to visit classrooms, observe, and collect data around the trends we saw.

As we reviewed and debriefed our observations, we discovered we had work to do when it came to personalizing learning for students--and that meant starting with how teachers learned. We knew we had to shift our focus from providing one-size-fits-all PD to something much more personal. After all, we couldn’t expect teachers to know how to personalize learning for their students when they hadn’t had learning personalized for them. To take that one step further, we had to help our teachers become learners again.

So we took action: moving forward with a little thoughtful planning, teacher-centered PD, and a Tic-Tac-Toe board of choices.

Mapping out the big picture

In the past, we’ve had two consecutive weeks of PD in August, often of the traditional variety: sitting in the cafeteria/auditorium/multi-purpose room, like yet another meeting.

We have a strong understanding of our faculty and staff and knew we wanted to try something different. Simultaneously, we wanted to create a setting whereby teachers re-engaged as learners while also feeling respected as professionals. So we identified elements we believed are important to shifting and personalizing the experience we offered. Here’s what we decided.

As a learner, each teacher:

  • Needs to drive his or her own learning,
  • Connect the learning with their interests and passions,
  • Seek to acquire skills, the appropriate technology and resources to support their own learning,
  • And monitor and reflect on their learning and assess themselves.

We also wanted to model choice, creativity and exploration--the same things we wanted to give our students. Keeping this criteria in mind, we crafted a model of PD similar to a conference.

This Tic-Tac-Toe board allows for teacher learning and autonomy

During the first of our two weeks of PD, we included all the usual stuff: a welcome back presentation, time for PLCs, collaborative planning time. This year, however, in addition to these “old favorites,” we also gave teachers a learning menu in the form of a Tic-Tac-Toe board, with nine new experiences to choose from.

Here’s a brief description of some of the more unique options:

  • Chit Chats: 25-30 minute gatherings around a published topic. Six of these Chit Chats were scheduled over the two weeks. With Chit Chats, there is no formal presentation, and each person attends only if they choose.
  • Make & Take: Sessions focused on a single strategy, skill, or tool. These 45 minute sessions provide a forum for teachers to learn something specific that can immediately be incorporated into a specific lesson (or simply into the classroom). We offered ten of these sessions during the two weeks of PD.
  • Learning Lunch: A teacher-led meal, accompanied by a larger question. Both Wednesdays of our PD weeks included this session, with an understanding that everyone brings their own food and thoughts as we sit in a giant circle. Each session opens with a reminder of the general question, and an affirmation that participation is voluntary. It’s not uncommon for us administrators to stay silent the whole time as the teachers drive the discussion, and thus their learning.

The common threads among each of these events is that they’re elective learning opportunities. An agenda and topics for the week was distributed to all teachers. If someone wants to learn about the topic--whether by actively participating or merely lurking--then they can.

Most importantly, most of the sessions aren’t formally led by anyone from our leadership team. The sessions allow for teachers to lead, share their expertise, ask questions and guide their own learning.

This is the key in our minds: providing the setting for teachers to experience choice and then make a decision. Teachers are professionals and we want our faculty to feel that overtly.

A large part of our learning during this adventure came from our investigation of digital tools. We asked teachers to join our faculty/staff Remind group and we used electronic communication to remind them of upcoming learning sessions that would be available. We used Google docs to change and adjust our agenda in real-time rather than keeping it static. We offered options for educators to participate outside of the Tic-Tac-Toe choices, including joining our 11 day-Twitter Challenge, where we offered an asynchronous course teachers could enroll in to learn about becoming a connected educator.

Finally, we insisted upon remaining aspirational. As our professional development came to a close in August, we had teachers complete a survey evaluating their learning experience. The data we collected was used to drive the learning sessions that we made available to teachers throughout the school year. And lastly, Teachers were challenged to share their personal learning throughout the year by contributing to a collaborative campus wide slide deck, The Learn Project.

Looking back at our journey this year, we have gained clarity around the idea that our efforts lay in two areas, choice in how teachers learn and defining instructional practices that develop 21st century skills that drive our teachers learning. First, that teachers find great value in being given choice when it comes to their professional development. This endeavor toward self-directed learning requires a teacher to take on responsibility as they continue to improve their craft. In the end, teachers identify the steps, resources and experiences that are best for them, and the resulting experience that students have at school will change. Committing to both personalize and model learning is what will transform the student experience in classrooms across campus. That was our learning this year.

Michael McDonough (@m_squaredBHS) has just completed his 5th year as the Principal of Bellaire High School within the Houston ISD. Debbie Campbell (@debralcamp) is beginning her fifth year serving as the director of communications and instructional technology at Bellaire High School.

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