I am now entering my 4th year teaching at a large charter school. The school is a distance ed, online curriculum based education model with a hybrid component(which involves one-on-one mentoring). I will talk more about that later on. Tonight I need to rant about staff development.
Staff development in traditional schools is a joke to almost everyone Ive ever talked to. In my school it’s not, not normally. Our school prides themselves on shared decision making between administration and teachers. Normally teachers have a say over the type of staff development we do. For example, when we were really frustrated with a speaker who came to our school 3 times in a year to help us work together better, even though their weren’t many problems with that, we voiced our complaints and she was taken off the schedule for the next year. Our admin team, Principal and AP, are very cognizant of not wasting the staff’s time, I love that about my school. What made me bring up this topic is what happened today.
1. We start school next Monday. Our school is incorporating an entirely new Learning Management System, which is software that integrates all of the teachers curriculum and courses onto one platform for the students to use. Its brand new to us, we have had 1 full day to work on it since we came back to school this Monday and most of us aren’t ready to start teaching kids in this new system.
2. Our school is radically shifting its focus this year. First of all, I love radical, and I love change so I’m all for everything that is happening in our school right now. We are shifting our focus to helping At-risk students become successful learners. Prior to this, most teachers, myself included, gave up fairly easily on students who didn’t show much motivation and effort to complete their course work. Maybe giving up is the wrong phrase, but we didn’t persistently accost them, we didn’t persistently motivate them, we basically said “this student isn’t right for this learning model.” This year we are changing that, at least I know I am, and admin is pushing the rest of the staff to do the same. “Every student can learn in an online environment” is a belief that has overcome me after watching most of my kids fail the last 3 years. That’s quite a turnaround. So, I have a high at-risk population with a high dropout and failure rate, how do I get that to turn around. It starts with me, but I need some tools. Our entire staff needs some tools, so today we spent an entire day of our coveted pre-student time to get staff training in working with At-risk students.
3. We start school in 2 days, kids will be in our classes in 2 days, and we have an entire new platform to learn in order to present students with the material for their best possible education. We also need to get some tools for mentoring students because that will be the key to getting these kids to do their work. If we build relationships with more students, more of them will do their work, and more of them will take and pass the HS proficiencies and our school will live to breathe another year. We are on probation through NCLB right now, really bad probation. We had a guest speaker come in today to give us strategies on how to build those relationships with AT-RISK students, to give us tools to help them, to keep them in school, to get them to pass their classes, to get them to learn something. At least that is how the guest speaker was billed, that’s the only reason she would of been brought in to take a full day of our very important first week time, because we really need to learn how to work with these kids.
Conclusion: What did we get? We got a lady who came in and spoke for 6 hours. She did not once mention the words: online, distance education, or At-risk (or any of the alternative terms that mean the same thing). She didn’t even recognize the uniqueness of our charter. Her presentation did not apply to our service delivery model. She gave strategies for working in a traditional classroom that maybe applies to 1/4 of the teachers in our k-12 program. It didn’t apply to the HS, yet the HS faces the biggest risk of closing down next year. She spoke on fundamental first year teacher ed stuff like Gardner. What did we get? another day of lost opportunity to make our classes better for our kids. Not only that, a little bit of hope is gone. I really wanted some staff development that would help me to become better at my job, especially in communicating with our student population. Motivating our student population. So the key question is, if we are a charter school and can do pretty much what we want when it comes to staff development shouldn’t we be avoiding the types of development that cause the staff to say, this is a joke? I was pretty mad when the day started and one of the older teachers said to me “you got to know how to play the game,” aren’t we in this to change the game?