Monday, April 7, 2014

Want Great PD? Enter Another Teacher's Classroom!

I am in the thick of yearbook preparation, and to ensure that this publication  is an accurate reflection of what this school year has been like from a variety of perspectives, I've been visiting classrooms for short consultations with teachers and students. I have been constantly amazed with the creative ideas for pages that the students develop. Every time I warn myself that they might be too young to contribute significantly, the students blow me away with their clever ideas. Take a look at this planning sheet from a Grade 2 class.

When I entered another classroom today, I was blown away, but this time for some additional reasons. I spoke to the teacher after school to obtain permission to mention her by name, and she granted it.

I hope this photo, taken during Ball Hockey, also gets permission!

Kerri Commisso says she has a great class, but let me testify that what I witnessed had little to do with the luck of certain names on a class list and more to do with how she has laid the foundation for her students to be respectful, collaborative and curious. I began my little spiel to the group of Grade 2-3 students by explaining that we would be selling a school yearbook and the purpose of our short chat was to plan what important events or class traditions we wanted to include on the class page. Mrs. Commisso mentioned that one of the old school yearbooks is a popular item for silent reading time in her class. Several of the students gave reasons why they enjoyed reading the old yearbook when a new girl declared that she didn't understand what a yearbook actually was. I admired what Mrs. Commisso did next. Rather than jump in with a definition, as I might have done, she surveyed the class for their ideas and documented the girl's clarification question as well as the responses from her peers on the interactive whiteboard. Kerri gave control of the flow of answers to the girl with the original uncertainty about yearbooks, reminding her that she could continue to accept explanations from her classmates until she had a grasp of the idea. After a couple of answers, she indicated that she understood, and we now had an authentic definition of a yearbook to which others could refer.

The students were full of fantastic ideas for content and, once again, Kerri arranged the class so that they themselves monitored the pace of the class contributions. She reviewed the rules of brainstorming and reminded the students that, after providing an idea, they were to select another student so he or she could add a new suggestion. I wondered how this method would work differently from a community circle (where everyone would speak in a particular order based on their location in the circle), and the students self-regulated well, not merely choosing their friends but scanning the circle for raised hands and for individuals who had not yet had a turn to talk.

Soon it became time to decide on a theme for their page. The ideas were exciting and innovative. I was a little disappointed to see a certain idea begin to emerge as a front-runner because I didn't consider it to be reflective of the class as a whole and was more indicative of the personal interests of just a few vocal students. If our purpose was to allow the students to democratically decide on their yearbook page design, how could we in good conscience thwart what was appearing to be an option that was gaining a lot of supporters? I didn't need to worry, because Kerri had a fantastic way of dealing with the situation. After reminding the class about selecting inclusive topics that could work with our content brainstormed earlier, she asked a poignant question: would anyone be disturbed, upset or bothered if a particular theme was used to represent their class in the yearbook? She mentally tallied results, taking particular note of the students who claimed to be upset by every single topic except their favourite one. By surveying the group for dislikes, she was able to whittle the selection down to three choices that were satisfactory to everyone. Individually, the students took a private vote and a final decision was made.

The wonderful thing about this experience was that Kerri was not just a master maestro conducting her orchestra solo; she included me in the symphony. I didn't just watch her class in action; I contributed to the discussion.

In our school board, we have "Exploration Classrooms", where educators can visit other teachers and see them working with students. We shouldn't forget that we've got wonderful educators that can teach us a lot right in our very own buildings. Some of them may not even realize what an exemplary job they are doing. (I think Kerri was a bit surprised when I asked her if I could write about her today.) If you want great professional development (for little to no cost), then just enter another teacher's classroom.

1 comment:

  1. this is such a powerful piece. What a great opportunity, and if you don't mind, I'm going to "borrow" your idea of asking for class input, and pitch it to our yearbook producer. It's such a neat idea, and such an opportunity for the book to feel student-driven. Hmmm - older small boy is on committee at his school, too - we may start a revolution here. :)

    I'm so impressed with the way you described the "symphony" that included you. Thanks so much for sharing this - we need to do this much more, and let more of those "surprised" voices/talents be heard. The only real way to open the doors is to ask if we can come in.