Teachers Learning in Teams

School years have a wonderful rhythm to them. The longer I have worked in schools, the more I have fallen into the emotions and moods associated with different seasons and nuances to the academic calendar. For me, few things beat the first day all of the teachers come back for the opening faculty meeting. There is so much enthusiasm in the room, so much anticipation of what lies ahead, so much hope for the opportunities of the coming year. it epitomizes the promise that is education and, for many of us, an optimism that anchors our work in schools. I still get a thrill when we all gather with that jittery energy ready to get started.

This opening enthusiasm is contrasted sharply with the last exhausted time we are all together in our closing meetings as the year ends. The window between spring break and graduation is always a mixture of a sprint and a marathon, as teachers and students work hard to wrap up a million loose ends, and everyone becomes increasingly focused on the break that lies on the other side of graduation. As our pace in schools has quickened and more to-do items pile up on everyone’s plates, the spring feels like we are running on fumes, hoping to make it to the end without some professional catastrophe.

So how do we get from the fumes of June to the rejuvenation of late August? How can our summer months best replenish our teaching spirit?

At most schools, summer has become another “semester” for teachers. While there are no formal schedules to keep, there are few teachers who don’t put in some time working on a syllabus, attending a conference, or prepping for the following year in some way. How should this time best be used?

When I chat with teachers in late August, those who come back with the greatest focus, energy, and motivation are those who pushed into a new professional area through a conference, workshop, or other engaging program. That is not surprising. Summer offers us the critical ingredient we miss all year- time.

What I have also discovered, however, is that the teachers who do these programs with a colleague reap significantly higher benefits from the experience. Team based professional development in the summer is one of the most effective growth tools out there.

it seems intuitive that collaborative professional development works, but we tend to want to spread our dollars out as schools. It sometimes feels like a ‘divide and conquer’ approach to exploring all that there is to learn out there as teachers. Sending teachers in strategic teams is well worth the dollars and effort, however. The power of almost any professional development program is in the way the teacher processes and applies what they have learned. While some teachers may be great at introspection and self-reflection, most teachers learn through sharing and processing with colleagues who know their key reference points, obstacles, and opportunities. 

Recently, I sent a team of 3 teachers to a week-long workshop. They returned on a Friday. They were so driven and excited by what they gained that they met the following Monday just to process and plan- this is in July. If any one of those teachers had gone alone to that workshop, that opportunity and energy would have been lost.

With collegiality in professional development comes encouragement, reinforcement, and reflection. As we seek ways to build strong learning communities, where teachers return from summer breaks energized and ready to dive into another school year, it is important to use the professional learning team as often as possible.

As we hit the midway point in our summer, I hope our teachers are all getting the rest and time with friends and family needed to rejuvenate. As we edge towards August, I will start my anticipation of that opening faculty meeting and the energy that signals the start of another great school year.


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