#TLConf2015: Empowering Teachers to Build a Positive, Innovative School Culture

This past weekend, I was in Washington, DC for the annual Teaching & Learning Conference hosted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. I have been a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) since 2009, and I love being surrounded by hundreds of other NBCTs (we only have 275 here in NJ). Throughout the conference, I tweeted like a crazy person (although I’m pretty sure I came in at a lowly 500 tweets, approximately half of what I tweeted last year).

I’m not sure I’ll be able to blog enough to do this conference justice. I loved the plenary sessions but didn’t take copious notes (other than a bajillion tweets), and I have a feeling I’ll run out of blogging steam before I write those up. The good news is that videos of the plenary will be posted in the next week or so, so you’ll get to see them if you so desire (I highly recommend the rabble rouser one, followed closely by the one with Randi Weingarten and Linda Darling-Hammond).

Anyway, this post contains my notes from a session entitled Empowering Teachers to Build a Positive, Innovative School Culture, led by Angela Watson. I tried to do a bunch of leadership sessions this year, considering the next step in my professional life will be one toward a leadership position. I love learning about school culture, especially how to create one. I feel that one of my strengths as a teacher (correct me if I’m wrong, students) is creating a learning environment that establishes high expectations but in a laid back way. I want my students to feel safe to take risks in my classroom, and when I am an educational leader, I will want to establish the same feeling of safety for my colleagues. So this session seemed right for me!

What follows are my notes, pretty much as written. Forgive the fact that there will be a lot of shorthand and lists, rather than coherent paragraphs. If I worry too much about the writing, I’ll never end up making this post, and I want to curate a record for myself. The original intent was to live blog the sessions, but we didn’t have wifi, so I just took notes in the notes app and am copying them here.

Without further ado, here you go!

Ideas to remember!

  • Use student work to guide discussion (in PLC format).
  • Group grading can be an awesome way to get teachers speaking the same language, clarifying expectations, and understanding standards.
  • Leaders need to affirm teachers so they know what they are doing well. Too often teachers only hear from higher-ups if they are doing something wrong. Find a way to praise teachers and give positive reinforcement for the awesome things teachers do. One easy way to do this is the sticky note thing; write a quick note on a post-it and leave it in the teacher’s mailbox. Little things go a long way!

Emphasize culture of sharing

  • If teachers are uncomfortable sharing about themselves, focus the discussion on the students. Give teachers a place to share about the great things the kids are doing in the classroom.
  • Give more outlets to share teacher (and student) success. Find a way (blog, twitter, emails, shoutouts at meetings, etc.) to share the amazing things teachers do in the classroom every day.
  • Idea: Principal (or other leader) can send a weekly Friday email request for kudos. Compile the responses and share them with staff on Monday. It can become something that everyone looks forward to each week. I definitely want to try this!
  • Have teachers take turns presenting at meetings each month. Maybe ask a grade level or group of subject area teachers to share one awesome lesson (like best practice sharing we have done at Biotech).
  • Idea: Compliment and a Coke: each week someone gets a shoutout and Coke; something small and inexpensive but goes a long way!
  • Use business partners to get gift card donations; give gift cards to teachers on a regular basis (nominated by students and teachers)

Some tips:

  • Don’t make teachers sit through irrelevant professional development just to be “fair.” Not every teacher needs to sit through the same PD!
  • Choice. Always give choice. Even if it’s just a matter of offering multiple times, dates, or delivery formats, human beings value choice. (I try to follow this same rule in my classroom! I do my best to never force one particular thing upon students without at least some bit of choice. It’s basic psychology; we never want to do what we’re required to do.)

Obstacles to meaningful PD:

  • Lack of choice (top-down mandates about what teachers should learn)
    • I’m sure anyone reading this has sat through worthless PD, amirite?
  • Time. Always time. It’s so important to carve time into the schedule to allow for meaningful, job-embedded professional development.
  • Provide ways for teachers to connect with inspiring educators online (hello, Twitter!). Often innovative and passionate teachers feel isolated. When it feels like you are in an environment of negativity, you can go elsewhere. I love my job, and my colleagues are amazing, but there are only 26 of them. Twitter has been my saving grace in connecting me with teachers literally around the planet.
  • Help/encourage teachers to find online resources that work for them. Don’t push them to use social media that they aren’t comfortable with. If they’re on FB, don’t force Twitter until they’re ready.

Instagram hashtags

  • #teachersfollowteachers
  • #teachersofinstagram
  • #teachershelpingteachers
  • #teacherspayteachers

Twitter chats
Look up @cybraryman‘s Gdoc of all the chats. This calendar is a great way to get started if you’re thinking about encouraging your teachers to get involved in twitter chats. They might be overwhelming at first; remember to encourage newbies to take their time lurking and learning before they try to jump in!

Angela reminded us that Pinterest is professional development!! She has a wealth of resources on her Pinterest boards, which you can find here. And since we’re on the subject, you can find mine here. 🙂 Yes, I know I need to re-organize. Get in line, Pinterest. Get in line.

Blog posts
Angela suggested starting with edutopia if you aren’t sure where to begin. There are lots of practical tips for the classroom. And hey, how about that? I have some posts up there if you’re interested!

Other random advice about building culture

  • Model vulnerability, reward risk-taking, and embrace the possibility of failure
  • Give implicit and explicit permission for teachers to take a risk and consider what worked and what didn’t (this is also great advice to teachers and their students!)
  • Start every staff meeting with reflections about what hasn’t been going well. This will encourage the idea that not everything will always be perfect, and that’s just fine.

A great quote that stuck with me

  • “Success is going to take a while, and there’s no race to innovate.”

Thanks, Angela, for a great session! I can’t wait to be in a leadership role where I can implement the strategies you taught us today!

3 thoughts on “#TLConf2015: Empowering Teachers to Build a Positive, Innovative School Culture

  1. Pingback: NJ NBCTs at Teaching and Learning! | New Jersey National Board Certified Teacher Network

  2. Pingback: Teaching and Learning Conference (EDAD 692 Week 8) | Global Educational Leadership Internship

  3. Pingback: Teaching and Learning Conference (week 8) | Global Educational Leadership Internship

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