5 Ways to Customize Your Teacher Professional Development This Summer
Teachers need personal professional development. In today’s episode, we’re sharing five real-world examples of teachers who used their summer to improve their classroom and earn professional development credit. From combatting student anxiety, helping special needs students, rewriting a physics curriculum, building student relationships, and reducing stress school-wide -- these teachers use their learning to improve real-world problems.
5 Examples of Positive, Personal PD for Powerful Teacher Learning - Transcript
Vicki: Today we're doing a special episode with Krysia Lazarewicz from Advancement Courses. Now, those of you who have been listening to my podcast for a while, you know, what I think about Advancement Courses, and they have so many incredible offerings, but today we want to talk about five examples of transformative PD.
You know, in the summertime, sometimes we teachers have a difficult time figuring out, okay, what am I going to learn, and sometimes the stuff we learn, we feel like, is not relevant to what we're doing in the classroom. So, Krysia, you have some examples for us of relevant, impactful, learning. What's your first one?
PD Example #1: Combatting Student Anxiety with a Class in Mindfulness
Krysia: Sure, so our first one actually has to do with something that many of our educators are identifying as a big problem, which is student anxiety, and it may not be surprising to any of you, but our students are dealing with so many challenges these days: from safety drills, to weather drills, bomb threats, active shooter lockdowns, things that students don't always know how to process, and so we have a lot of educators who come to us saying: 'What can I do to make this better?'
So, this particular story is about a 2nd-grade teacher, who decided that she was going to turn her summer PD into a productive use of time in her classroom and teach herself and her students to use specific mindfulness techniques that could then her students actually turn that anxiety into productive moments of resilience.
Staying Present: Mindfulness for Better Teaching and Learning (3 Grad Credits)
Use the code COOLCAT to get a 20% discount.
So, to do this, she created her own five-minute activity that refocuses students. So, thinking about:
- How do they reset their bodies?
- How do they focus on mindfulness rather than fear?
- How do they think about different ways that they can bring attention to what's happening internally, rather than focus on the fear and anxiety that happens outside?
The other really cool thing that she did, is she brought parents into this. So, she welcomed parents into the classrooms to help students learn some of these new techniques, to bring some of those ideas home.
She presented at Parents' Nights, she presented to other teachers in her building, to then, help spread some of these skills to other students, and what she found was that through doing this, her students were actually better able to manage those drills, but they were also better equipped to make it through other stressful factors like testing week, or in-class assessments, or many of the other social conflicts that we know kids experience on a day-to-day basis. So, this is a great story because it showed how one teacher can really turn some of these disruptive classroom moments into events for learning.
Vicki: So, if teachers are struggling with, you know, helping kids calm or the stress, then mindfulness may be a great option?
Vicki: Okay, so you've given us one example of transformative PD: helping our kids with anxiety and us with anxiety by mindfulness. What's another example?
PD Example #2: A PD Care Team for Special Needs Students
Krysia: So, another example that really happens when our educators start coming together and collaborating around professional development that they can then bring together the community. This story is about what happens when a community of educators come together to help solve a particular issue that a particular grade level may experience.
Use the code COOLCAT to get a 20% discount.
So, for this one, we had a group of educators who had a classroom of high-needs students, and what they did is they came together in what they called a Care Team to then develop specific plans for each student as they developed through that particular grade.
What's so inspiring about this approach is that we actually had a cohort of educators rallying around the specific need that their group of students had. In this cohort, what they did was they focused on developing a strategy to bring all the relevant people into a community around each student. So, they included the principal, the counselor, the occupvational therapist, classroom teachers, parents, special education liaisons: all the different roles that they could bring to help create this formulaic plan, and what came as a result of this particular cohort of teachers taking ownership is that they created a school-wide approach to helping those special students across multiple different contexts within the building.
So, again, they practiced relaxation techniques, they changed the daily schedule that they had at the school for their students, they also came up with new ways that they could manage transitions, help students learn to expect change, and help them think of different ways that they could chunk information to better see progress that those students were making, rather than letting those students just see the work left to complete.
Vicki: Cool, so this was part of a professional development they did?
Krysia: It sure was, and they came together over the summer to do that.
Vicki: Well, that's great. Okay, what's our third?
PD Example #3 - Rewriting a Physics Curriculum and Building a PLN
Krysia: So, we know that educators are very collaborative, but sometimes, teaching can be very isolating. So, this particular story comes from an educator, a high school physics teacher.
This teacher took two courses each worth three grad credits:
- Next Generation Science Standards: A New Framework for Authentic Instruction
- Integrating Engineering Design With Middle And High School Science Instruction
Use the code COOLCAT to get a 20% discount.
She moved from a school building, where she was one of many teachers, to where she was the only one. She was given a curriculum to teach that required lecture and required worksheets. It wasn't what she wanted for her classroom. So, she decided that she was going to come and take a few courses so that she could connect directly with other educators across the nation to think about how she wanted to improve and rewrite that curriculum.
What I found really inspiring about this is that through taking some of these content-specific courses, she actually connected into a network of educators all across the country; they came together, they rewrote an entire curriculum, they shared resources, and through the use of this PLC, she was actually able to come up with a new curriculum over the summer, which she then was excited and inspired to use.
One of the greatest compliments I think we can get is when educators come back year after year to continue to hone and refine what they worked on, and so now we have seen her take courses three summers in a row as she continues to grow and develop the curriculum through the help of that network she created.
Vicki: Wow, that's awesome. Okay, what's our fourth?
PD Example #4: Building Connections with Students
Krysia: So the fourth one is: sometimes, we find that there's just that one student, and I think we all know that one student who we just can't quite seem to reach, and that's actually a motivation for a lot of educators to pick a course.
There's a student. They want a strategy that can help them with that student. Well, this particular educator decided that this year, she wasn't going to have that one student, and so she set about building a proactive plan that she could use to make it much more likely that she would have a connection with each one of her kids.
To do this, she created a series of activities at the beginning of the year with the sole purpose of making her students feel known, and what she found was that by doing this, she was able to connect with them very quickly, she was able to connect meaningfully with their parents.
She then wrote these informational pieces on cards that she kept throughout the rest of the year, and what she said is that as she found she was running into trouble connecting with those kids, she pulled out the cards, she talked with the student, and said 'Look, these are the things that we said we had in common, these are the things that you said are important to you, let's talk about one of them.'
So, by doing that, she was able to then find a way to at least open a conversation with that student. She then was also able to go to other teachers of that child and have a conversation much more specific about what she could do to find an 'in,' and she actually learned that by condensing with those other teachers in that way, the other educators were likely to help her connect with that student.
So, it opened up the door to have those courageous conversations with other teachers who may be able to help in cases when you're struggling with an individual student yourself.
Vicki: Well, you have to relate before you educate.
Krysia: Absolutely, it's important.
Vicki: Okay, so you've talked about taking care of students and improving the curriculum and helping kids be mindful. How about teachers taking care of themselves?
PD Example #5: Self Care and Reducing Stress At a School
Krysia: Which is one of the most important parts of teaching! So, social, emotional learning is gaining momentum for our students, but sometimes we forget that it applies just as much to ourselves, and so in this particular story, one of our students came to us because she actually said that she was 'a negative influence on our students as they endure a physically and mentally worn out teacher trying his or her best to present a substantive lesson,' and that's a direct quote.
So, what she did, is she went through and said 'Well, how am I feeling stress,' and she created a stress journal; she noted and described what those situations were, and what she found is that those stressful situations were things that resonated with other educators in her building.
She worked with her principal to have all educators create that stress journal and they found that they actually had control to change many of those pieces that were causing that stress; things like: their meeting schedule, their PD structure, policies around structures for attendance. So, what came out of this was an actual awareness that they could influence change in their building to reduce the overall stress and increase the amount of time educators spent helping students.
Vicki: Wow, I love that idea of a stress journal. I think that could be very, very helpful for everyone. So, educators, as you plan your summer, remember to select PD opportunities that are actually going to improve your classroom. We need to have professional development, so let's make it meaningful and relevant and purposeful. Thanks, Krysia!
Krysia: Thank you!
Krysia Lzarewicz - Bio as Submitted
As General Manager of Advancement Courses, Krysia Lazarewicz partners with universities and enables them to deliver practical and relevant graduate-level professional development for K-12 educators. Prior to her current role, Krysia taught middle school math and science, as well as worked in content development for Pearson before moving to Learning House, a Wiley brand, where she supported higher education faculty in developing and delivering high-quality online programs.