The secret to amazing Professional Development: The 3 P’s

When people ask me for the secret to great professional development, I share our 3 Ps.

Funnily enough, we discovered these 3 P’s by accident. In the summer of 2011, thanks to a Next Generation Learning Challenge Grant, we brought 20 teachers from around the country together to work on the first batch of LearnZillion lessons.  For two days we sat in a cramped room with math books, computers, and treats, working on lessons. At the end of the two days, several of the teachers said that it had been “the best professional development” of their career.

A year later it happened again.  This time we brought 123 teachers to Atlanta and called the event TeachFest.  On the second night, after a full day of working on lessons, we gave everyone an option.  They could go out on the town, watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on a large screen, or continue working on lessons in the basement.  At 11pm, half the teachers were still working in the basement.  Again, the feedback at the end of the event was, “this was the best professional development.”

It was a revelation that our content creation process was, in fact, the key to incredible professional growth, satisfaction and impact.  And when we analyzed why that was, it boiled down to 3 Ps: product, process, and people.

1. Product

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The experience is focused on developing a final producta lesson.  The product is practical, meaningful, and challenging to create.  The teachers know they are going to use the lessons, and that other teachers and students are going to use them too.

Lesson on a computer

Most professional development focuses on professional development.  We have come to believe that professional development is most powerful when focused on creating something useful; professional development is the by-product of creating a product.

2.  Process

Focusing on a final product isn’t enough.  Teachers have to be set up for success.  There needs to be a roadmap that provides them with the guidance and resources they need to accomplish the goal – from initial research, to outlines, to drafting.  At TeachFest, we didn’t say, here’s a block of time to plan, go for it.  We thought through every step of the process and asked ourselves, “what does the teacher need to be successful now.  What about now?  What about now?”  And then we equipped them with those things.

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Here, for example, is an overview of our TeachFest roadmap:

LearnZillion Process

LearnZillion lesson creation process

3.  People

The final P stands for people.  The 20 teachers at that initial convening helped each other out.  

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When one of them had a question about their lesson, they would talk it through with a colleague or a coach.  They had opportunities to get feedback and then make revisions to their work based on that feedback.  This happened in person and then continued on-line over the summer as teachers worked on their lessons.  As a result, most of the experience looked like this…

Teacher Collaboration

Dream Team teachers collaborating at TeachFest

…as opposed to looking like an expert standing in front of a large group of people.

Put them together and what have you got…

McDonald’s talks about its “secret sauce.”  When it comes to professional development we believe the sauce shouldn’t be secret.  Just remember the 3 Ps.  Put them together and you create amazing lessons, build the capacity of teachers, and have a lot of fun.

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Dream Team 2013 group shot

National LearnZillion 2013 Dream Team

4 Tips for Aligning Your ELA Lessons to the Common Core

Four impressive 2013 Dream Team teachers and coaches shared their best tips for updating ELA curriculum to fit the Common Core in a recent webinar. The result?  This handy guide for aligning your ELA lessons to the new standards.

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Idea 1. Leverage Text-Dependent Questions

Use text-dependent questions to chunk a text into more manageable pieces. Build a series of text-dependent questions to scaffold over the course of the text, allowing struggling readers to focus on just one section of the text in the beginning and work their way up toward a more holistic view. Rather than prepare many texts for different level readers, use text dependent questions to make one grade-level, model text approachable for all students.

How this helps: Deepen student exploration of text, relieve anxiety around reading, and increase classroom preparation efficiency by leveraging scaffolded text dependent questions.

Idea 2. Show the purpose behind a strategy

Actually show kids the purpose behind the strategies that you teach. Model how a strategy can be applied when approaching questions similar in nature. Watch a LearnZillion writing or close reading lesson to see how the teacher has divided the skill up into manageable steps.

How this helps: Thinking aloud and drawing connections encourages kids to own their strategies.

Idea 3. When evaluating resources, look for authentic and worthwhile texts and topics 

Select worthwhile texts that will help contribute to students’ college and career readiness. Create text sets around a common theme or topic, integrating fiction and non-fiction. This provides your students with opportunities to make connections across texts. Reading standard 7 also calls for students to interact with and evaluate different mediums (e.g. illustrations, video, and multimedia), so look for anchor and ancillary resources that together can create a cohesive set.

How this helps: Spend class time on worthwhile resources and materials that students can really “sink their teeth into.”

Idea 4. Collaborate across subject areas

Make interdisciplinary connections. The writing and reading expectations and language should be consistent for students whether they are in science, history, social studies, or English 1. Work with your colleagues to hold students responsible for applying the same lines of questioning and deep thinking whenever they’re interacting with text.  The reinforcement of close-reading and literacy standards across the curriculum provides continuity for students and an opportunity for teachers to come together and evaluate students’ strengths and areas for growth.

How this helps: Coordinating with colleagues in other disciplines establishes continuity of reading and writing expectations.

For more on aligning your ELA lessons to the Common Core check out some of our other posts on crafting text-dependent questions and tips for close reading.

If you have additional strategies you find helpful, please let us know by posting a comment below.