Imagine being a teacher and having an invigorating yet busy and stress-filled day full of new lesson plans, grading papers, and maybe even bus duty. Then imagine, after that, having to sit through a professional development activity. A lot of times, the end of the school day is not the optimum time for a lecture, which is why, this year, Principal Craig Reed and his team at Patapsco hoped to get away from that model.
Instead of sitting in an auditorium, listening to a speaker and taking notes, teachers are getting a more hands-on and interactive experience by participating in the “Patapsco University” program. Reed hopes to revolutionize professional learning by catering to individual teachers needs and providing them with training on topics that matter most to them.
“One of the thoughts I had is that frequently we sit in faculty meetings or large meetings and don’t get something that is really valuable to us,” Reed said. “Trying to design a learning program that is going to meet all [teachers’] needs is going to be virtually impossible if you do it in a traditional way…With Patapsco University, teachers have a total choice about what professional learning activities they choose to do, when they choose to do them, and whom they choose to do them with. They can craft these opportunities based on their own interest and availability.”
Teachers at Patapsco High School are asked to complete 12 credit hours of development throughout the school year. Teachers also have the option of completing 15 credit hours to receive a Maryland State Department of Education credit. Professional learning options include multiple technology workshops, leadership sessions, learning walks, book studies, as well as “Teachers Teaching Teachers” sessions, where innovative lesson plans are shared among staff.
“I borrowed the idea from [Principal] Weglein at Sollers Point [Technical High School],” Reed said. “Many of the teachers there are untraditional. They are chefs or carpenters and are learning best teaching practices as they go, oftentimes during breaks between classes. I thought it would be great to take that model and adapt it into what we need here at Patapsco.”
So far, feedback from teachers has been mostly positive, and Reed hopes to grow the program even more throughout the year and for years to come.
“I love the learning walks because you can meet with departments throughout the building, and you get to have conversations you wouldn’t normally get to have in regard to instruction,” said Christina Pirie, the math department chair at Patapsco. “I think [Patapsco University] builds morale and builds community. It let’s us open up conversations about what we could do differently in our classrooms, and often we don’t get time to think about those things during the day-to-day, when we aren’t meeting with other departments.”
“I think the primary goal is to meet teachers where they are and encourage new professional learning to occur. We want to give them incentive to grow and reward them for helping each other,” Reed said. “If asking for help and asking for feedback and learning from each other is part of the expectation then hopefully it becomes part of the culture.”