Placing Teacher PD in the Hands of Students

The importance of providing professional development for teachers that is varied in format and differentiated in nature cannot be understated. At DFHS, we are continually thinking outside of the box with regard to professional development in an effort to keep things fresh, keep learning relevant, and to build community within our school. This mindset has prompted us to get involved with a variety of formats and approaches to professional development, including EdCamps, menu-based workshops, subject specific training via departments, interdisciplinary planning, and of course outside training through the IBO and other professional organizations.

As an IB World School, we emphasize the importance of having students take ownership of their learning while developing the necessary 21st century skills to succeed at any task beyond the walls of our school. This message is implicit in our district vision of developing “independent thinkers that are prepared to change the world” and it is a mindset that we as a faculty have with regard to our own professional learning. Most recently, we pushed the professional development envelope a bit further by going directly to our students. Specifically, we asked a group of students from our Legislative Branch (student government) to design three professional development workshops for teachers in the area of educational technology based on the needs of students. The students identified the topics, planned the sessions, and then led the respective workshops. In doing so, the teachers became students and our students became teachers.

Prior to the workshops, I led the faculty in a mid-year reflection that focused on how our students, faculty, administration, and school community have embodied the vision and mission of our district during the first semester. It’s always good practice to “check-in” with teachers in this way and I typically do so at the opening, midpoint, and end of each school year. It allows the teachers to see how all of the smaller parts within the school contribute to the whole while helping to keep everyone working toward a common purpose and unified goal. At the conclusion of this meeting, I set the context for the upcoming student-led professional development workshops by connecting what our students (and teachers) would be doing to our district vision and mission. I also pointed  out that every teacher sitting in the room had at some point touched the lives of the students who would be presenting. These are all of our students, and our teachers have armed them with the necessary skills to make a true difference in their local community. This was an opportunity for our students to put those skills to use in a real world context that could make a difference for all students in our school.

The workshops that our students designed focused on areas such as Google Classroom, social media, educational gaming tools, iMovies, website design, and more! The sessions ran for 45-minutes and each teacher attended two. The feedback that I received has been overwhelmingly positive. Here’s some examples:

  • “I thought the PD was fantastic. It was great to hear about what they enjoy and how we could make class more interesting. Plus, they were VERY knowledgeable about the topics they presented!” (@AdamoBiology)
  • “The students were very honest with what they enjoyed and what other teachers have done to make learning more engaging for all students.” (@k_galante)
  • “The students were incredibly poised and prepared. It was clear that this was important to them. I was impressed with their critical thinking skills–even when presented with problems or issues they hadn’t considered. I would welcome more discussion and joint problem solving with this (or any) group of students.” (@MsSarahStern)
  • “The workshop on Google Classroom was very eye opening for us. More often than not, we tend to follow our own routines without being so mindful of how other teachers use technology. As useful as Google Classroom is, I did not realize how much confusion it caused our students. It was also great to get a student perspective on how to use it more effectively.” (Mr. Math)
  • “The students were spirited, well prepared and overwhelmingly engaging. I am excited to implement the ‘live’ option on Quizlet and I will use Kahoot to review vocabulary and literary terms. I also plan to play around with Canva and Weebly for presenting information to my students.” (@CastellanoD1)
  • “I actually wanted to find a new way to incorporate infographics in class and the first group introduced us to Canva, which I look forward to using. I was impressed that both groups I attended knew not just to deliver information but to give teachers the opportunity to play around with the technology. It was a positive experience and I was proud of our kids.” (@Ms_Confalone)
  • “The website building and iMovie session was great. All the guys were very knowledgeable and did a great job within the limited time they had. I have already put the learning into use at dfbasketball@weebly.com. (@ScottPatrillo)
  • “The students were prepared, creative, knowledgeable, risk-takers! It was an excellent opportunity to hear their perspectives on the dynamics of the classroom, and to offer some interesting alternatives to our methodology. Go students!” (@MicheleIrvine1)
  • “Research has shown that students perform better with teachers who gain a deeper understanding of how students learn best. It was also so empowering for these students to ‘show off’ their skills and bring knowledge of what they know to their own teachers.” (Ms. Social Worker)
  • “I thought the student-led PD workshops were great. It was beneficial to hear the students’ perspectives on how things work and what to use in the classroom. I am even going to use some of the new sites with my students on our next project.” (@HealthyWing)

Seeing our students in action and our teachers so enthusiastically supporting them was perhaps as good of a moment that I have had as a principal. Our teachers are open-minded risk-takers who demonstrate the very qualities from the IB Learner Profile that we work to instill in all of our students. This was a true community building opportunity for us as a school and it stressed the importance and belief that we can all learn from one another. This gets to the very heart of what it means to be an IB World School, and it is the driving force behind our mission to instill a passion in our students to think globally about issues so that we can lead change and make a positive difference locally.

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