The Five Conditions that Support Great Teaching are the foundation for our work at Impact Florida. Realizing the dramatic changes that have occurred since the closing of schools in March 2020, we decided to take a deeper look into Professional Learning, one of the five conditions. As part of a Virtual Listening Tour conducted by the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning, we heard from teachers, parents, students, administrators and superintendents, and what they shared was inspiring! In the face of COVID challenges, innovation has occurred in classrooms and schools across Florida. The video in this post, Reinventing Professional Learning, highlights some of those changes.
We also invited Justin Faulkner, the principal at Orange Park Junior High School, Clay County School District, to share how his staff has adapted to professional learning in the age of COVID.
Shifting from Professional Development to Professional Learning
By Justin Faulkner
The teaching and learning of our students and teachers didn’t stop when the doors to our schools closed on March 13, 2020. If anything, the need for professional learning accelerated out of necessity. As a school and district, we quickly pivoted, mostly focusing on scaling technological adaptation for our teachers and helping families learn how to use new platforms, including Google Meet, Google Classroom, and PearDeck. I think it’s fair to say that we managed to do the best we could in the attempt to minimize learning loss as much as possible.
While our teachers were logging countless hours of professional learning, the focus was not initially on their teaching skills, but being able to use new technology platforms to provide a space for learning to continue. This was essential to keep our classes going but did not fill the need for teacher collaboration and reflection. Acknowledging that there was a significant learning loss in the Spring, professional learning was more important than ever as we worked to grow student learning and adult learning. And we knew, given the circumstances, that traditional in-person professional learning delivery wasn’t going to work.
Teachers and leaders in Clay County schools began to use virtual meeting platforms to connect with colleagues to share best practices. On-demand professional learning became instantly popular with the creation of digital notebooks and the Technology Backpack Library where teachers could find specific topics they needed to meet this new instructional shift. Much of this collaboration, both in individual classrooms and across the district has happened organically. Our Language Arts team has collaborated with each other in ways that hadn’t existed before during their Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings. The team collectively made the decision to abandon their individual teacher lens and shift their focus to embrace communal growth. Teachers began to use language that encompassed all students, instead of only those in their classrooms. There was a shared investment in every student. Problems of practice were examined with student data serving as the fulcrum of the work and department-wide shared responsibility for every student. While conversations are still typically led by the department chair, the shared focus around the table is palpable, all so that every student makes learning gains.
Teacher-leader Robert Granese reflects, “This process has completely changed the way in which we teach students. We are learning that we are responsible to teach in new ways that we haven’t experienced before and we don’t want to do it alone! By working together to raise the bar for all students, we have more ownership, both individually and collectively.”
As teachers are faced with unprecedented challenges, vulnerability isn’t quite as uncomfortable as we’re all encountering these challenges together. - Principal @mr_faulkner, Orange Park Junior High School Click To Tweet
As teachers are faced with unprecedented challenges, vulnerability isn’t quite as uncomfortable as we’re all encountering these challenges together. My teachers have realized that our underserved communities were hit harder and the best way to address significant setbacks in student learning is by working together. While not wanting to lose sight of our instructional vision, teachers have strategically set team goals, examined data, diagnosed gaps, and generated steps to move forward to proactively meet students where they are and give them every chance to be successful.
Just as they always have, teachers are rising to the challenge and are working tirelessly to raise the bar for students. We have come to better understand professional development as professional learning in that we’re all forced and encouraged to learn this new way of educating students.
Justin Faulkner is the principal at Orange Park Junior High School in Clay County and previously taught English Language Arts. Justin works tirelessly to support his teaching staff in developing instructional methods that will best serve their students.