Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Power of Autonomy & Choice

Educational postcard:  " Teachers work together"
cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Ken Whytock:
As I reflect back on the current school year, it has been incredible to see some of the amazing things our teachers are doing in the classroom in terms of how technology is being used to enhance teaching and learning. While our teachers have always done a great job in the classroom, this year has brought on a new level of creativity and innovation that is exciting for the future of our school. In trying to identify the primary contributor to this explosion of growth, the one thing that jumps out at me is a targeted effort to provide our teachers with more autonomy and choice in their professional development.

Giving our teachers more freedom to choose the professional development options they want to engage in and the option to implement those ideas in ways that work best in their classroom has proven to be a catalyst for positive change. In the past, many of our professional development meetings involved everyone meeting together in one place to discuss or learn about a single tool or topic. While this approach has its place at times, it was limited in that it did not allow teachers any freedom to explore and learn about things that they were most interested in and found relevant to their particular classroom. In recognizing the limitations of this approach, I knew we had to make some changes.

With that mind, we began to offer our teachers a menu of options for each of our regularly scheduled professional development meetings. Rather than just coming to hear me share something, several of our teachers began volunteering to share tools and ideas that they were particularly passionate about giving us the option of offering a variety of session topics during our staff professional development days. This practice has since been expanded to allow teachers to come up with their own professional development options such as leading their own meeting, participating in a webinar, Twitter chat or attending a local seminar/workshop, etc. To manage the organization of all these options, we use Google Forms to have teachers register for the session they want to attend or communicate the PD activity they intend to complete on their own. The ultimate result of all this is that our teachers are collaborating and generating some great new ideas that far exceed anything I imagined.

Providing our teachers with more autonomy and choice in their professional growth has been just the thing that was needed to spark the wave of creativity and innovation that we are seeing across our campus. The following is just a small sampling of some of the outstanding student and teacher ideas that have been implemented in our classrooms as a result of our revised approach to professional development.

Science Giants - 8th Grade science website including student blogs and student-created tutorial videos

The View from 1082 - 8th grade English website dedicated to student blogs reflecting on the ideas generated through 20% time

Mrs. Peterson's Class - 4th grade website including links to student blogs and other innovative activities taking place in the classroom

Mole Day Music Video - created in high school chemistry

Anti-Bullying Video - created by middle school students as part of a project based learning unit on bullying

Shakespeare Made Simple - tutorial video created by high school students to help other students better understand Shakespeare

Slope-Intercept Form - tutorial video created by an 8th grade math student to teach the slope-intercept form math concept


  1. Great points and perspective...very powerful!! Sharing on Twitter!!
    Speaking of PD, check out my post on Technology and PD.... @CzapHil

  2. Thanks for the feedback and sharing your blog post. You did a great job connecting Gladwell's book to the role that technology can play in education. If you haven't read David and Goliath yet, I highly recommend it. There's a lot of educational application in that one too. Take care!