Helping teachers learn

One of my hats is “In-School Professional Development Leader”. Basically, I help shape what professional learning goes on in school, be it through meetings or structures for learning through teacher evaluations. As I get ready to actually plan 2016/17 professional learning for YIS teachers, I’ve been reading Dylan Wiliam’s new book “Leadership For Teacher Learning: Creating a Culture Where All Teachers Improve so That All Students Succeed.  Before I went off  this and starting worrying about logistics of planning faculty meeting I wanted to reflect on some of the points Wiliam brings up. 

I have been at staff meetings where I’ve considered if it would be less painful to stick an icepick in my ear rather than stay and listen to one more thing. Every one of these memes resonates for me.



And now I’m the person organizing Monday morning meetings.  With the admin team, I help shape what professional learning looks like at YIS. It’s a hugely challenging/fun job. And I work really hard for the meetings to be learning experiences, not a rehash of what could have been said in an email. But I know one is that happy to receive an email from me reminding them of Monday’s meeting. Even me, some days, if I’m honest.

So as I get ready to plan next year’s professional learning plan, I wanted to put some quotations from Dylan Wiliam and do some reflection before I start working.

“Once the “what” of teacher professional development is clear, then the focus should turn to the “how” of professional development, and in particular, the process of teacher learning should be tailored to the focus of teacher learning that has be identified as a priority.”(p164)

It seems obvious that the “what” should be improving student learning. But what that means is more difficult to assesses. And sometimes I get so focused on the logistics and the plan and choosing the exact right activity to do with teachers, that perhaps I don’t communicate the focus on student learning as clearly as I should. So when I start planning…I’ll start with the “what” rather than the “how”.


“The aim of professional development is not to make everyone a clone of every other teachers, but rather to support each teacher in becoming the best teacher he or she can ben. Teachers are often their best when they are their quirky idiosyncratic selves and that is why choice is so important” (p168).

I love this quote. One of the reasons I love YIS is that it does embrace the quirky. Professional Learning needs to allow teachers to be themselves and play to their strengths. At international schools, where people come from many different backgrounds, this may be especially true. But that said, I do think all teachers can improve. But improvement can and should look different for every person.

“Teachers have to make small incremental, evolutionary changes to their practice…only a small numbers — ideally one or two, and certainly no more than three –aspects of their practice at one time”  (p 175)

It’s probably no surprise for anyone who knows me, but I like to go full steam ahead. But that isn’t really what is best. Change in school is evolutionary, which can be so frustrating when I want change RIGHT NOW. But I need to take a breath. The best example I can think of this is how much I want to introduce data collection and analysis into how we think about professional learning. I think there is a lot of value of knowing if what we are doing is having an impact on learning. I think I was ready to do that next year. But I’m realizing that is a long-term project and I need to create the circumstances for that to evolve so that it sticks at YIS for a long time.


“Teachers may, of course, chose to engage in research on lesson study [or}…learning styles… [etc] if they choose to do so, but that should be outside their contract. In contractually committed time, teachers should prioritize what makes the most difference to the students” (p 177)

This one has really got me thinking. As an inquiry based school, we value teacher and student inquiry. Our Professional Learning Plan is basically a year-long inquiry into a topic of teacher interest. Nine full faculty meetings are put aside for people to work on their inquiry…..that is a lot of time AND money our school puts towards this type of learning. I believe passionately that teachers need to have ownership of their learning and the best learning happens when people choose to construct meaning for themselves. I’ve seen great things happen when teachers choose what to study…even if it’s not what I would have chosen. So trying to balance teacher inquiry with practices that best serve the students (even if it’s not what the teachers would choose) is an interesting one that I need to think more about.


About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
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4 Responses to Helping teachers learn

  1. Great post! I’m sharing this with my staff–I love the amount of reflection going into the process. Thanks so much for sharing this, I hope your plans make for a stellar year of PD at YIS!

    • Thanks, Tricia! There is so much reflection that sometimes I’m worried I’m wasting time. As a jump-and-figure-it-out type of person, sometimes the reflection can seem slowing me down. But I’m learning…. 🙂
      Please tell who ever helps w/ PD to check out the book. It’s really go me thinking.

  2. Thanks for the book idea. I’ve added it to my husband’s summer reading list. 🙂 (And I will resist sending the memes out to my colleagues as we are about to go into a full day of ‘PD meetings’.

    The ‘small, incremental’ quote resonates with me right now. We had to have a minimum of six professional goals across three mandated topics for this year. I feel dragged down by the amount of what I am supposed to do that I don’t feel I have been able to really focus on really improving any one thing deeply. Sigh. (The good news is that next year we get to have ONE goal.)

    • 6 goals is a lot. I’m a little wary of over goal setting in general, especially if there is not support or time put into place. The small and incremental is tricky because with kids there is always so much we want to do to help them learn.

      And there are literally hundreds of funny faculty meetings memes. I think this is an universal thing 🙂

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