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Professional Development Puts Focus On School Climate

Students had no classes Tuesday but staff members spent the day in professional development activities that included a presentation by an expert on solving problems collaboratively to improve the climate and culture of schools.

“Classroom teachers have always been among the most important agents of socialization in society,” said Dr. Ross W. Greene, an author and consultant who has designed an approach called Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS). He added that schools are “in the business of fostering the better side of human nature.”

Green, who is based in Portland, Maine, and has traveled throughout the world giving presentations, noted that students need crucial skills -- including empathy; honesty and the ability to take another’s perspective -- and stressed that “kids do well if they can.”

He said adults often focus on “what” kinds of behaviors challenging students sometimes exhibit, rather than asking two key questions -- “why” and “when” are challenging kids challenging?”

He introduced and explained steps that adults can take to collaborate with students to solve problems in ways that are more durable and that help students learn skills they were lacking all along.

When introducing Green, Superintendent Matt Geary noted that the district has an ambitious agenda designed to eliminate the achievement gap, saying that improving the quality of instruction is a critical part of the plan.

But Geary noted that the climate and culture within schools “is really the foundation for all the work we are doing.”

The Role Of Professional Development

Tuesday’s full day of professional development was one of five such days this year. Three took place in late August (before classes began) and the other was held Nov. 3. There are also half-days sprinkled throughout the year, when students are dismissed early so teachers are available for PD.

There are also times when professional development takes place during school days, with individual teachers being pulled from their classrooms. In fact, every parent can relate to this scene:

A child comes home in the afternoon and their parent asks, “How was school?”

The child responds, “We had a sub.”

Says the parent: “Oh, was your teacher sick?”

And the child responds: “No, she was in meetings all day.”

Geary said he understands the frustration that parents might feel when their children spend time in classrooms taught not by their regular teacher, but by a substitute.

“It’s not ideal,” Geary said. “But we are committed to giving all students the best possible educational experience, and to do that we need for our teachers to grow professionally -- and sometimes for that to happen we have to pull them from their classes.”

With limited full days or half days for professional development, and so much going on -- with new numeracy and literacy initiatives, new strategies to better infuse technology into education, new approaches to ensure that lessons are consistently meaningful, rigorous and student-centered -- district leaders sometimes schedule PD during the school day.

“Yes, for that day, the routine in those teachers’ classes was different, and, yes, the quality of instruction is not as strong as when the teacher is there,” Geary said, adding that teachers are nonetheless expected to leave meaningful lesson plans for the substitutes to deliver.

“However, I am confident that there are valuable, far-reaching and long-lasting benefits derived from the work that happens during these PD sessions,” Geary said.

He added: “It is crucial that, as a district, we accept nothing less than  the highest quality instruction for our students, and that make this PD strategy necessary. The investment is worth it.”

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