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Peabody School Professional Retreats, Fall 2015

Peabody School Professional Retreats, Fall 2015
Posted on 12/01/2015
… the greatest effects on student LEARNing occur when the TEACHers become LEARNers of their own TEACHing and when students become their own TEACHers. - John Hattie, Visible Learning, 2009

This fall, the Peabody School gathered at the Museum of Science in Cambridge, MA to host their second round of Professional Retreats for classroom teachers, special educators, and additional support staff. Retreats for educators connected to grades 3-5 met in early October and the JK-2 team met at the beginning of November. With the support of Lesley Kennedy and Maggie Rabidou, both staff members of the MoS Educator Resource Center, meetings occurred in the Lyman Library and the exhibit halls of the museum.

Retreat planning began last June upon return from the spring retreats that were also held on-site at the museum. The Peabody Instructional Leadership Team met to discuss the agenda for the fall retreat meetings, using feedback from teachers and staff from the first round of retreats and progress monitoring data collected from the work connected to our School Improvement Plan.

The retreats were planned with purpose and intention. Teachers were asked to challenge themselves and one another as they explored their teaching practice, asked difficult questions of one another, and prepared for the upcoming school year. While commonalities linked both retreat days, each one was tailored to the unique needs of the Jk-2 and 3-5 teams of educators.

Both retreats opened with the intent of supporting group development. School Reform Initiative: A Community of Learners states that “ . . . structures support us as we take up the challenging work of being accountable to one another, engaging in public and collaborative assessment of student and adult work, and questioning one another’s assumptions, beliefs, and practices” (Resource and Protocol Book p. 132). Therefore, the decision was made to try the Attributes of a Learning Community protocol. The purpose of the protocol is for group members to explore and identify attributes of a learning community by recalling past real-world experiences.

One key focus for both days was the introduction and explanation of the High Expertise Teaching work that Ms. Ford, Ms. Varella, and Ms. Vecchiarello completed in the school year 2014-2015. Participants learned of the district’s plan to continue with the work of John Saphier and Research for Better Teaching. As such, prior to the retreat dates, Ms. Ford requested all participants to read the “Clarity” chapter from The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills by Saphier, Haley-Speca, and Gower. With limited time and the hopes of having a meaningful discussion of this lengthy chapter, the Leadership Team employed the “Save the Last Word for Me” protocol to clarify and deepen our thinking of the text. Small teams were constructed and individuals were asked to identify the most significant idea of the article to present to her/his small group. Group members then had the opportunity to respond to the passage. Once complete, the whole group reconvened to debrief the process. Comments were positive and we heard that the process was “organized” and led us to “places in the chapter that had meaning [we] might not have recognized as critical without the group’s input.”

Both retreats incorporated grade level meetings for teacher teams to meet with one another to discuss student strengths, learning styles, and practices that work well with individual students. These meetings were held as rounds, with teacher teams also meeting with the Instructional Math Coach, the Instructional ELA Coach, and the Principal.

Science was another top priority of the retreats. At the 3-5 retreat, teacher teams met with Dan Monahan to discuss and plan for upcoming science work and observations. Teachers participated in decision-making rounds and teams were scheduled for various observation loops. Teacher teams also identified what unit they are using for observations, as well as which Next Generation Science Standards -- Science and Engineering Practice they are incorporating into their teaching of that unit. Each cycle will include the following: team planning, team feedback session with the science coach, a pre-observation team meeting with peer observers present, teaching the experience with peer observers, post-observation with team feedback structured with protocols, and presentation of the lesson and cycle to the entire faculty.

At the JK-2 retreat, Mr. Monahan presented the teachers with a video a kindergarten classroom during a science lesson incorporating the use of Next Generation Science Standards – Science and Engineering Practice #6: Constructing Explanations. Participants were given a draft Science Observation Tool that was created by the Leadership Team for this purpose. After a brief introduction to the tool, teachers were asked to try it out while observing the classroom video. After a rich discussion of what was observed (content and practice), the group also discussed the tool, offering feedback for improving the tool so it can be revised for our situation and to meet our peer observation needs.

Once again, teachers and educators were provided guided exploration time of the exhibit halls. Ms. Rabidou and Ms. Kennedy offered ideas and suggestions for exhibits and materials specific to our grade level content needs, as well as locations teachers could study the use of NGSS Science and Engineering Practices 6,7, and 8*. The JK-2 group was also treated to a trip to the Butterfly Garden.

Both retreats ended with Connections and a written reflection. Connections is ‘bridge building’ protocol, a structure to move people from where they have been to where they progress with new experiences and understandings. The reflection tool asked teachers to consider what went well at the retreat, what was challenging about the day, how feelings, attitudes, or outlooks changed from the beginning to the end of the retreat, and how the retreat process might be improved for future meetings.

Teachers thoughts on the retreats
The easiest part of the retreat was “having discussions about the ‘Clarity’ chapter by using a protocol. Everyone’s voice was heard and I was able to listen to and appreciate other people’s thinking, which made me think more deeply about the article and topic.”

“It was great to connect with my colleagues and continue to learn better teaching strategies.”

“I was really looking forward to today because last year’s retreat was such a wonderful experience. Today was just as wonderful.”

“The science video helped me to have a better understanding of what it means to create explanations at the K level based on a question and claim.”

“I liked beginning with the ‘Attributes’ protocol. It gave us an opportunity to learn more about one another and be receptive to different opinions and learning strengths. Everyone has a story.”

“I always enjoy being with staff, talking about students and curriculum. I’m leaving with a positive outlook and plans to look carefully at clarity when talking with students.”

*Next Generation Science Standards – Science and Engineering Practices 
(Appendix F)
#6 – Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
#7 – Engaging in argument from evidence

#8 – Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

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