This is the third article in our series about the school year calendar. On October 19th students will be home again for another day off. We asked Assistant Superintendent Mark Thiesen the question:
Why is October 19th a professional development day and what do teachers do on these days anyway?
Pembina Hills schools have several professional development (PD) days during the school year. During these days students stay home but schools remain open as school staff focus on professional development. Why do teachers need this time? This is a commonly asked question. The answers lie in the nature of teachers’ work and the research about the most effective way that teachers improve.
Teachers’ work has become very collaborative. Even though most teachers work on their own in classrooms with a set number of students, they also work with lead teachers, consultants in literacy, numeracy and special education, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, other teachers, program assistants and principals.
Teachers’ work is constantly responsive. Daily lessons and plans are built and delivered in response to the students’ needs and assessments of how they progressed in the days before.
Teachers’ work requires them to understand the diverse and complex needs of students. In the average classroom, teachers have students from different cultures, different levels of ability, different levels of mental health, different social skills, different emotional needs and different physical needs.
Teachers’ work carries on after classes end for the day. Teachers use that time to meet with parents and others regarding plans for individual students. They coach and plan for extra-curricular. They review student work and enter data into tools such as PowerSchool and FreshGrade to communicate progress to parents and students. They respond to emails from peers, the principals and others relevant to the job.
And remember that teachers also have their own families. They are wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Their family time provides them the balance they need to remain mentally, socially, and emotionally capable of fulfilling their role as educators.
The nature of teachers’ work therefore means that to grow as professionals they need focused time.
The purpose of professional development is to improve student success.
All PD decisions are based on the simple question of how a teacher learning event can impact students. We rely on research to tell us what types of PD is most likely to do this. The research tells us that teachers (and most adults for that matter) learn best by talking and doing. Compared to sitting and listening to a lecture, when teachers discuss challenges, review research and collaborate to create lessons, activities and assessments, the transfer to student achievement is more likely. That’s why PD days in Pembina Hills are designed to have tons of opportunity for teachers to work together.
What will principals and teachers be doing?
On October’s PD Day, school principals will lead teachers’ analysis of the results of their students. They will look at the content of the Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) and Provincial Diploma Exams (PDEs) that students did well on, and also where they didn’t do as well. Teachers will talk about how these results compare to the tests they did during the year. They will look at individual students’ results too. Teachers will ask questions about why students did better than expected, or worse than expected. They will build on what works well, and dismantle and rebuild the things that don’t work as well. Doing this together, and remaining focused on the work for a day, helps teachers get better at their jobs. They learn from each other.
What will program assistants be doing?
On October’s PD Day, the division’s program assistants will attend a mini-conference. The student support staff will lead workshops to teach program assistants skills that can support students and teachers. Workshops will be led by lead teachers, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, literacy, numeracy and special needs specialists and others. Both the leaders of these sessions, and the program assistants who will attend, are usually in schools helping students and teachers. We rely on this non-instructional day to provide these folks with the training they need to be awesome at their jobs.
PD days are really important for staff training and when it’s done well, students become the winners.