Inside-Out PD, AVID, and the world of the International Baccalaureate will be working closely together this year at Windsor Mill Middle School. On the heels of being named both an AVID school and an IB School for Global Communications, WMMS is setting the foundation for a year of focused learning. Inside-Out PD, the WMMS PD framework, is a streamlined and purposeful school-based professional development model that holds teacher learning at its core. It is designed to simplify the ‘asks’ of teachers and to ensure that the learning provided applies directly to teachers’ practices and classrooms. The Inquiry Teams (PLCs) reflect the initiatives of the district and school and the goals of teachers and can be tiered to reflect the variety of needs of teacher interest and experience. This year, WMMS has three Inquiry Teams: Responsive Instruction, AVID, and Project-Based Learning, a teaching and learning practice central to IB. The STAT teacher meets with the FITz—the Facilitators of the Inquiry Teams--to train them in facilitating their teams. The Inquiry Teams meet monthly for PD responsive to their purpose and to engage in a coaching practice centered on the artifacts teachers bring based on the previous month’s learning. Sharon Walder, Facilitator of the Project-Based Learning Inquiry Team said of the Windsor Mill PD model, “Inside-Out PD has benefitted me because I have the opportunity to work on new ideas and try new things which ultimately has made a positive difference in the classroom. I have also had opportunities to work collaboratively with other staff members.”
Inquiry-Team Facilitator, Joseph Bensley, and STAT Teacher, Niamh McQuillan model the coaching process for other team facilitators.
Inquiry-Team Facilitators (left to right) Adam Berkowitz, Sharon Walder, Krystal Hockenbrock, and Joseph Bensley engage in the coaching process to prepare for an Inquiry-Team meeting.
Twitter chats have become my new favorite choice PD for my staff. I will admit, I was a little taken back by the chaos that can sometimes come with Twitter and its posts. However, being someone that tweets on a daily basis about my school’s journey, I felt it was the natural next step. I started by hosting a mock Twitter chat during a Tech Tip Tuesday. I encouraged teachers who already had Twitter accounts to attend and see what all the buzz was about. Teachers were engaged, motivated, and ready to give it a go! We selected a hashtag - #cletschat and voted on what our first topic would be – Formative Assessments. The evening had come for our first Twitter Chat and I was a nervous wreck. I decided to go to the gym to ease my nerves and participate while I was on the exercise bike. There was the awkward virtual silence of me waiting for my teachers to join. Within 5 minutes into the chat, I had 4 teachers join! I couldn’t wait to get the conversation started. The chat was so engaging that I ended up being on the exercise bike for a while hour! I was so engulfed into everything my teachers were talking about. Various grade levels were sharing ideas, pictures/photos were being shared, and plans were being made. This increased our in school communication in a way I had never imagined! Since our first one in March of 2016, we have Twitter chats at least once a month. Take a look at the first Twitter chat by clicking HERE.
For 2017, I was looking to add some spice to our Twitter chats. Enter the teachers of Mays Chapel. Katie Cox, STAT teacher of Mays Chapel Elementary, and I planned a combined Lighthouse school Twitter chat that would focus on New Year’s resolutions for teachers. We gathered at one of the planning sessions during our S.T.A.T. conference to curate the questions and potential answers for ourselves. We set a date and started advertising this PD opportunity to our staff immediately. Katie and I were both pleased with how well this Twitter chat turned out. With using the hashtag #bcpslhchat, teachers from both schools chimed in on answering questions and responding to each other. Ideas were shared, bonds were formed, and resolutions were made! The beauty of a Twitter chat is that you can multitask while participating. Teachers can decide when to chat and when to take a step back! The possibilities and topics are endless with Twitter chats. I can’t wait to see the journey that #cletschat takes us on!
As the focus this year includes infusing 21st century skills into teaching and learning, Pikesville Middle School teachers used collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and higher-order instructional feedback to work through a series of tasks in order to “break out” of a locked box during a faculty professional development. Table teams were presented with a number of items, some of which were red herrings or dead ends, which included a QR code, professional learning books and resources about 21st century skills, a flash drive that housed a numbered map of the school, and a black light. Among other tasks, teachers had to work together to fill in the blanks about effective feedback and determine examples and non-examples of collaboration. Following the fun, teachers reflected on ways they effectively used 21st century skills and how they can implement these skills in their classroom, and then they posted their responses on a Padlet. One teacher offered the following insight: “This learning experience was a great way for teachers to revisit what it takes to work effectively in a group. In order to be successful we had to speak and listen effectively, delegate responsibilities, and keep time in mind. We also had to be mindful of others’ needs. These are the skills we have to teach our students.”
The activity and tasks were borrowed and modified from a Breakout Edu session run by the Office of Digital Learning for STAT teachers in September. Much appreciation goes to the outstanding training that STAT teachers are receiving this year!
The other day I had an idea on how teachers new to the notion could easily implement small group instruction. It was pretty basic, but it needed to be so that any teacher at any comfort level could approach the strategy. This week I’ll be working with an English teacher to implement it and if it goes well, she and I will roll it out to the rest of the staff. I’m excited. Being able to make teachers stronger is one of the reasons I got into education. It is the reason I applied for the STAT position. It is the reason I support the S.T.A.T. Initiative.
The day we came back from spring break a camera crew showed up at our building and we were named a “Lighthouse” school. As a former English teacher, I gotta say—I LOVE that metaphor. I love the notion of us learning how to do something, or how not to do something, and then helping others from the vantage point of experience. It’s a task that I think we are suited for.
Over the past three years I’ve given whole group, small group and one on one professional development to the staff at Owings Mills. The results are exactly what you think they might be. Some have taken to the notion of responsive teaching, some have struggled with the idea and some have dismissed it as the next buzzword. We fall across a continuum of current practice, all with the potential to grow and better serve students. For that, I am also excited.
As the status quo shifts, as we learn exactly what these Digital Natives know and don’t know, as we challenge our own notions of good teaching-- we get stronger. We stand now in the moment right after the before picture but a long way from the after shot. Over the next year you will get to see the process of our change. You will hear from teachers, administrators, parents and, of course, students. Pay attention to our successes and learn from our struggles. Your before picture was just taken too.
The Mid-Atlantic Conference on Professional Learning visited Windsor Mill Middle School to study the day-to-day workings of a Lighthouse School immersed in the one-to one digital conversion. Over 50 participants from Florida to Vermont arrived early in the morning to benefit from the hard-won wisdom of the BCPS offices involved in the transformation in learning. A highlight of the day was the Learning Walks when visitors observed the use of formative assessments, targeted small-group instruction, customized and personalized learning, and student collaboration in the classroom. Teachers and students alike were delighted to hear the feedback that reflected a common theme: “Love the hands-on inquiry and level of student engagement” wrote one visiting teacher, “and a culture that promotes deep thinking.”
During the darkest months of winter, Windsor Mill Middle School’s Lighthouse Room lived up to its name as a beacon for learning. In February, teachers gathered with the offices of Curriculum and Instruction and Digital Learning to delve deeply into the art and science of designing powerful instruction that infused the purposeful use of technology. S.T.A.T Resource Teacher, Sandra Schmidt coordinated the two-day in-house professional development, bringing in content-area and technology experts to plan lessons with teachers from 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.
Social Studies Department Chair, Richard Kline, said it was “beneficial to have the opportunity to work with both our content area experts and the Office of Digital Learning.” And indeed, the collaborations proved successful. Teams created lessons that melded Newton’s Laws of Motion and Pirate Ships; asked how Civil War technology changed the course of the war; and examined the connection between India’s Independence movement and self-actualization.
After leaving each classroom, STAT teachers excitedly discuss how each activity promotes cognitive engagement, encourages the exploration of content, and allows for student choice. It is encouraging to see in how many forms learning occur: books, paper and pencil activities, BCPS lesson tiles, manipulatives, digital resources, questioning, discussion and direct instruction. Sometimes the entire class learns together, then breaks into small groups. Other times, students choose to work independently or with a partner. No matter the format, the teacher is integral in scaffolding the learning plan for children so they may access and meet the lesson’s rigorous learning targets.
Each classroom learning space tells a unique story of the learning the students are engaged in. The space is purposefully designed to encourage access to instructional materials and allow personalized learning for all students. In numerous classrooms, visitors would hear, “Find a place to work that is best for you,” or see students rise from their seats without prompting to retrieve materials to augment their learning experience. Teacher and student-created word walls and anchor charts that reflect the current unit of study, pepper the walls and provide a resource that students can always turn to to clarify and build upon their understanding on enduring concepts. Displayed student work resonates of authentic and relevant topics with a choice of products that allows for creative expression. Innovative stations and furniture arrangements encourage collaboration and comfort. Students sit on pillows at low tables, stretch out on colorful rugs, and research on their devices in cozy bean bag chairs.
All of the STAT teacher visitors busily snap photos, ask questions, and take copious notes to capture the environment that is clearly a student learning space rather that a teaching space.
STAT teachers on the learning walks are inspired by the transformation of space, but truly motivated by the apparent shift in student thinking. The learner-centered environments create self-directed learners that routinely use collaboration and communication to facilitate their learning. One enthusiastic group of STAT teachers coin these students as “collaboratively independent.” Students habitually choose activities that best meet their needs, but do not hesitate to help their fellow classmates. They even earnestly call over visitors to explain what they are learning and why. Youngsters are thinking critically and analyzing deeply. Rigor is not lost with the high level of engagement occurring in these purposeful instructional settings.
Submitted by Christine Roberts - S.T.A.T. Teacher, Dumbarton Middle &
Maggie Toolin - S.T.A.T. Teacher, Perry Hall High
The Lighthouse schools have opened their doors and the STAT teachers couldn't be more excited to conduct collaborative learning walks! STAT teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools are making the rounds to experience firsthand the innovations that define these schools so they can begin to imagine the pedagogical and digital transformation in their own schools.
When entering a classroom, it is often tough to spot the teacher! Teachers are redefining traditional roles and adopting a "teacher as facilitator" approach. By acting as a facilitator, educators are found at kidney bean shaped tables reinforcing core content with a small group of students or even sitting on a rug among their students as one pupil presents to their peers, while other small groups of students explore content using manipulatives or digital tools. It is evident that this type of teaching takes a deep commitment to advanced planning and collaboration with colleagues. In teams, educators craft meaningful lessons that encourage students to explore and construct their own knowledge through a variety of purposeful learning experiences that vary in structure and product. What does not vary is the learning outcomes and high expectations for all children.
Throughout a lesson, students are grouped in a myriad of ways rooted in formative assessment data and learning preferences. This approach allows for flexible grouping where students are not confined to one grouping structure, but instead shift seamlessly between constantly evolving combinations of students to ensure personalized instruction. Between activities, one teacher quickly accesses BCPS One to review her students’ level of mastery on a particular assignment from the lesson tiles feature and adjusts her groups as necessary for the subsequent activity. Every student is deliberately placed based on their personal learning needs within seconds!
As the learning walks wrapped up and the STAT teachers reconvene to debrief and discuss the experience with the Lighthouse school leadership, one take-away was evident: The school environment and culture is purposefully cultivated and does not happen overnight. Leadership touts the importance of ongoing job-embedded professional learning opportunities coupled with an open doors, open minds attitude. When teachers are asked how they do it, they eagerly emphasized the value of procedures, routines, high expectations and a growth mindset.
Phones packed with pictures, pages of notes and ideas, and huge grins, STAT teachers leave the Lighthouse schools with a sense of urgency to spread the word in their home schools and continue their work in the transformation teaching and learning.
Submitted by Yvonne Barhight
Principal, Hawthorne Elementary
Going into this journey, I had preconceived ideas about which teachers would thrive with the addition of technology and additional professional development and which ones would struggle. As I reflect on the change in teacher practice after only five months of the implementation of STAT, I am pleasantly surprised by the results.
To be honest, the change in teachers has had serendipitous effects. I am surprised with the level of engagement by teachers specifically from some of the teachers that I least expected it. Many “developing” teachers have grabbed hold of the new learning, thrived, and become leaders. They have been energized and rejuvenated as result of the technology and professional development. Many of the once reluctant teachers are now willing to try new innovative practices and are meeting with success.
When planning for instruction, teachers are considering which of the best practices to employ in order to meet the standards. They are making decisions about instruction which may or may not include technology. They are thinking through- what’s the best way for students to learn this- tech is one of the options. Teachers are keeping the needs of the students at the center of their planning. Technology is providing them with resources that they have not had access to previously to meet the students’ needs.
One of our developing teachers, shared her insights regarding some of her students who are introverts. This young teacher has embraced technology in all content areas and is especially thrilled with its benefits in writing. She is amazed at how the use of the computer has given her “quiet students” a voice. Using the app Lego Storybuilder, students are able to tell their story and are encouraged and motivated to keep writing.
How has the STAT initiative changed teachers? Without question, it has helped them to revisit the why and how of instruction in light of the 21st century learners sitting in front of them. This journey has been transformational both for the teachers and the students. Powerful.
Submitted by Doug Elmendorf
Principal, Chase Elementary
This post originally appeared in EdTechReview
While we have known, for years, that the dreaded Monday afternoon faculty meeting is a less than ideal environment for heavy duty staff development, we have still pretended that this is the only time that we can get everyone together to enhance the professional capacity of our teachers . . . until now.
We decided to leverage the newness of our Lighthouse status to abolish the traditional faculty meeting – forever. Chase was selected to be a Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Lighthouse School, which means that during the 2014-2015 school-year it is one of the first schools in the system to receive individual digital learning devices for students; implement one-to-one personalized and blended learning; and create an innovative, comprehensive digital learning culture.
This year, we are also celebrating the 75th anniversary of our school. I can only assume that, in every one of those 75 years, traditional faculty meetings were held at least once per month. As much as I like traditions, this is one that, quite frankly, needs to take the same exit as the desks in rows phenomenon that has long plagued our classrooms. We talk about differentiating, personalizing and customizing instruction but then demand that teachers of all stripes meet at the same time for the exact same amount of time on the same exact Monday every month. Silly? Exactly.
At Chase, we use ½ day grade level planning sessions, a menu of before/after school PD sessions based on teacher identified needs, and instructional walkthroughs, among other differentiated environments, to deliver differentiated PD that takes teachers’ voices and choices into account. So, what about that one Monday per month?? We have filled the void with what we call the Digital Chasedown. Inspired by the ISTE Ignite sessions that have been popular at the annual conferences, the Digital Chasedown is a high impact, energetic session in which an individual has exactly 3 minutes to present a “cool tool” or best practice. The 3 minute time limit assures that only the most important information is shared and that many presenters can share during one session. Teachers can then follow-up with the presenters if they are interested in learning more about the ideas for their instructional programs.
So, on the day that I am writing this article, the following tools were presented in 21 minutes – plickers.com, wonderopolis.org, readingbear.org, animoto.com, musictheory.net, symbaloo.com, and nearpod.com. Of course, we played the “Feel-Good Classic Soul” Amazon.com Playlist in between each presentation (http://amzn.to/1uSQIGR) to keep the momentum going! Sure beats the “Feel Bad Classic Lull” we’ve had in the past!
While I enjoyed my nap times as a teacher in traditional faculty meetings, I am glad that on at least one Monday per month I am able to chase down the most exciting things happening in our school to help prepare our students for their lives in colleges and careers.
Submitted by Katie Schmidt
5th Grade Teacher, Rodgers Forge Elementary
Teachers at Rodgers Forge Elementary recently participated in their first round of “learning walks” throughout the school day. During the walk, teachers had a chance to visit classrooms in other grade levels throughout the building. They took notes on three focus areas:
Reflections from teachers, administrators, and students at the Lighthouse Schools.