Mary Williams Elementary, Dumfries, Virginia
Teachers, just like students, become more engaged when they get to shape their own learning.
With that truth in mind, Lynmara Colon, principal of Mary Williams Elementary School in Virginia’s Prince William County Public Schools, revamped her PD program to allow teachers to direct their own development. She was inspired by the EdCamp model, where teachers select topics to study before the PD begins.
“We have different sessions running at the same time for teachers who are in different stages of their journey,” Colon says.
One PD topic currently popular with teachers is using Microsoft Classroom to work on assignments with students as the school strives to become as paperless as possible.Teachers also have been eager to work on classroom management tactics to strengthen relationships with their students and to communicate with parents more effectively.
Colon encourages her teachers to lead PD for their colleagues—this includes making videos and podcasts to share their expertise. Recently she visited a class where, she said, a teacher was making creative use of an online reading program.
“It was just magical,” Colon says. “Then I went to another classroom where the teacher was using the same software, and I’m thinking if she was able to see what that other teacher was doing, it would be amazing.”
To this end, Colon makes time for teachers to observe their colleagues.
This self-driven model drives enthusiasm as word spreads about how a certain PD session improved a teacher’s practice. This has made getting people to participate in PD easier. Colon makes sure she takes photos of the sessions, reports on PD in morning announcements and posts her teachers’ achievements on social media.
“People want to be part of the success,” Colon says. “The people who are coming to PD want to be there because good attracts good.”
The model also makes PD more inclusive and individualized. In the past, staff had to participate in sessions that didn’t necessarily apply to them, such as a PE teacher sitting through training in language arts or technology they’re never going to use. Also, she wants to make sure her educators—some of whom live more than an hour from school—find value in PD sessions that require them to come in early or stay late. Posting PD videos online allows teachers to participate form home.
“You don’t want to burn them out,” she says.
Colon believes the new PD strategy is one reason her school went from a School of Improvement in 2014 to a School of Excellence in 2016. That said, effective PD requires having a principal who is a role model. A key to Colon’s program is that she is willing to take risks in advancing her skills, she says. “We’re always asking kids to do that. I push myself because my classroom, which is the teachers, deserves it. I don’t require them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”
It also requires being a good listener. For example, her teachers recently told her she was sending them too many emails; reading them took up too much time. So she has decided to put more of the information into her regular Friday newsletter.
“I have to listen to my ‘class’ because we’re in this together,” she says. “I have to allow them to challenge my thinking.”