Better Teacher Professional Development: Pairing Teachers

contributed by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher

Professional development isn’t something that many teachers look forward to.

By thinking about activities that engage teachers and bring motivation back into professional learning, schools make leaps and bounds in building a community that uses its own expertise to become stronger and closer. These strides translate not only in professional development, but academic results and an improved school climate.

See also Professional Development For Teachers

All too often, professional development follows the following format: Schools pay expensive consultants, and people are forced to listen. Maybe the session is helpful for a few people, but it might not be what others need. Money is something that is in short supply these days, and our own talent is something we underutilize. Most schools have hidden treasures that never get tapped–their people.

Here’s a faculty development option that might just kill two birds with one stone–encouraging all faculty members to develop skills they want to develop while at the same time-saving money from the bottom line.

Match people up.

Have people offer to help others in their areas of expertise, and have people ask for the help they need from their colleagues.

Making It Work

There are several ways to do this. One way is to have “Hello” tags at the doorway at your next faculty meeting. Have two colored tags or markers representing “I need,” and “I can help with.” Teachers fill out tags and wear them during the activity, which is best organized as a mixer or snack session. People roam freely and enjoy some downtime chatting, with the objective of connecting with at least one or two people that they can assist and one or two that have a talent or skill set they’d like to learn. They can arrange to connect at convenient times, or even spend time during that meeting or during the next professional development session.

A professional development idea like this does two things–it helps people find the resources they need while the school saves much-needed funds, but also helps to improve the climate of the school. In order to accomplish appropriate matching at the highest levels of productivity, people need to look forward to working with colleagues they might not have worked with before and be given the opportunity to do so. I notice I don’t often get to see colleagues who are more than two or three doors down from me. I teach six classes straight and never get that far away from ‘my zone.’

See also Why Teachers Need One Another

We’ve all worked in grade-level or department groups, but we need to have a reason to form different circles as well. If the skill I want is classroom systems or classroom leadership, and the person offering to help me is outside my normal circles, that is a good thing. It widens my base of collaboration and helps me connect more deeply with new people. By including other members of the school community in these circles, such as support staff and administration, the positive influence and chance to share gifts widen further still.

The Big Idea

There are so many skills from which we might benefit that matching people up gives us new ideas about the possibilities for excellence in our schools–ideas we might not consider until we see what people are offering to give. This creates openness, a sense of adventure, and an all-around better school climate.

Creating a school climate is something that is not done easily. It’s something that takes trust, collaboration, and a healthy dose of down time to spend with others. “Down time” shouldn’t be considered nonproductive, however. The greatest companies in the world, like Google, give employees down time to create great ideas. Google allows employees time to work on projects of personal interest that could possibly benefit google. Many of the features we use and love have been born from that “20% time.”

Even though Google is setting some rules around this recently, the concept is a paradigm that works. An activity that matches people up organically for the purpose of professional development and bettering the school sets the stage for people to open up, utilize their many talents, and reach for the stars.

As always, thoughts and comments below!

Image attribution flickr user annabelfarleyphotography; Better Teacher Professional Development: Pairing Teachers

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