Professional Learning Across Distance
The abrupt shift to distance learning due to the spread of COVID-19 has forced all of us in the field of education to adapt our lives and work very quickly. Mills Teacher Scholars has partnered with our sites to rethink our priorities in this challenging time, and to consider how we can best meet the needs of teachers and students in these new circumstances. We have learned that attending to the social and emotional needs of all children and adults in our system – students, parents, teachers, and leaders – is more essential than ever before. In addition, we are finding that teachers are craving ways to come together virtually to share their problems of practice, to learn together, and gather new ideas for engaging all students in learning from home.
Educators are some of the most adaptable, creative people and in just two busy weeks of collaborating across the distance, our partner sites have set up virtual professional learning that is fitting for each of their unique contexts. West Contra Costa’s Secondary principals are connecting with one another in twice a month three-hour Zoom meetings, facilitated by Mills Teacher Scholars, and using this time to share challenges and resources for leading in this period of distance learning. Several of our district groups such as Oakland Unified’s SEL, Newcomer, and Expanded Learning are also choosing to hold virtual community of practice meetings for teachers to connect and learn together. Oakland’s Lincoln Teacher Scholars knew that the child and elder care demands of their teachers would make coming together at one time difficult, so they are choosing to provide videos and literature for teachers to learn from on their own time and then collectively respond on a shared Google Doc.
Here is a sample Zoom collaboration meeting agenda for anyone looking for guidance as you plan an upcoming meeting with your staff:
Opening Talk (1-5 min): Thank people for joining, acknowledge the challenges and uncertainties of this time, share the goals for this meeting (1-5 min)
Community Builder (4-8 min): Set up breakout rooms ahead of time and before sending people out, share the time frame and prompt. Sample prompts:
- What is keeping you grounded lately?
- A “rose and a thorn” (or a “high and a low” from your week)
- Something that made you laugh this week
- Something you learned this week
Return to the larger group for share outs (3-5 min)
Public Learner: Share a problem of practice (10 min)
- Have a teacher or leader prepared ahead of time to model public learning – sharing a dilemma that has arisen in their practice and if possible sharing student data related to the dilemma (data could be a photo or video of student work on a slide or given the current context, even a story of a virtual teaching moment)
- Pause for audience to write down questions and observations to share with the Public Learner
- Audience voices several of the questions surfaced
- Public Learner responds to the questions that feel most helpful in moving her thinking about the dilemma forward
Think Alone (8-12 minutes): All attendees have quiet time to write about a dilemma of practice. Guiding questions on a slide might include:
- What is a success you are celebrating in your class or in your teaching practice this week? What has led to that success?
- What is a dilemma you are grappling with in your teaching practice this week?
- Is there any student data (student work, scores, videos, or teaching observations) you can draw upon to help you better understand what is contributing to this dilemma?
- What do you want help thinking about today with your colleagues?
Think Together (30-45 minutes): Create triad breakout rooms and ask teachers to keep time so that each person gets ⅓ of the total time offered. Share the purpose of the small group time: to help the speaker to unpack their dilemma and come to understandings about the next steps that they will take to support student learning.
Return to larger group for share outs (3-5 min)
Closing (5 min): Thank the group for coming together to help each other deepen their distance learning practice. Offer a short closing prompt. Sample ideas:
- Write in marker on a piece of paper one word about how you are feeling now
- Popcorn out something you learned today
- Popcorn out something you are going to try tomorrow