On a path to effective teacher professional development: a school-wide unconference
On April 4, 2016, McLean School teachers, administrators, and staff participated in cross-divisional conversations on topics chosen by the community. Rather than having teachers sit through presentations and trainings during the scheduled professional development day, McLean School held a cross-divisional unconference to facilitate conversations and collegiality. With the end of the academic year right around the corner, April is a busy time for teachers. Following adult learning theory, we wanted learning on this professional development day to be relevant and urgent to our faculty and staff. The unconference framework was used to allow community members to propose topics and choose which sessions to attend during the day.
Unlike many other unconference-style events which are multi-institutional serving a specific subject or discipline, this event was attended by teachers, administrators, and staff of McLean School. Topics were solicited for a week prior to the unconference, divisional teacher representatives rallied understanding and interest in the event, and 120 topics suggested by the community were organized into 24 sessions. What followed was a dynamic day of conversations and newly formed partnerships. Teachers from different divisions, despite teaching in the same building for years, who have never met to share and collaborate forged connections. Few weeks after this unconference, we still see the influences of these new connections and are excited about the organic collaborations that are happening. Administrators are also looking for ways to encourage these conversations and to help cohorts align their efforts with institutional priorities.
The unconference is just one way McLean School is developing professional development programs that are community-centered and informed by best-practices and adult learning theory.
The cost and efficacy of teacher professional development (or professional learning) have been researched by a number of organizations. Although most of the better research evaluated large, district-wide programs, there are things small independent schools can learn from this work as well. The following is a short list of resources on the topics of teacher training.
Web page on LearningForward.com on the “Status of Professional Learning” with reports from a multi-phase study by the Learning Forward and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. “Building a Learning Community,” linked above, is part of this study.