Creating New Opportunities for Professional Development

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What do you do when you don’t have any local or affordable opportunities for professional development? 

This is the situation I found myself in this summer when I started looking for local professional development on (SBAR, sometimes called SBG or SBL). This past year I began the paradigm shift to a standards-based assessment model. I had been contemplating the change for several years when I attended a workshop by and resigned myself to making serious changes in my assessment practice. I was lucky to have a friend (and fellow chemistry teacher), , who is six years into using the model. He was a tremendous resource throughout the year, and would help me troubleshoot when challenges arose.

In February, I participated in a presentation on SBAL at our local science teacher’s conference. We had a good turnout and great conversations with teachers at all stages of implementing the model in their classrooms. As school was wrapping up I began looking for local opportunities for continued professional development on SBAL, but came up empty handed. There were meetings and workshops being held in other parts of the country, but in addition to the cost associated with travel, they came with a hefty registration fee.

One afternoon as we were discussing assessment practice (yes, I really do this) and the lack of conferences in our area Jeremy asked, “Why don’t we organize a conference?”

Yeah.  I should have thought of that.

That day we recruited as our third facilitator and started planning and collecting resources. A month later we hosted the first (free!) Central Indiana Standards Based Learning Summit.

Our vision for this meeting was to provide a platform for local teachers to get together and reflect on their grading practices, share resources, and build a community of teachers who could support each other. We had no funding so we couldn’t pay teachers for their time, but we were offering the summit at no cost to anyone. I hoped to attract around ten teachers willing to share the day with us.   

I posted the information on a few groups on and on . There was a lot of interest and inquiries and in the end I had fifteen teachers register.  I was excited and little scared – I’ve hosted plenty of workshops before, but nothing like this. We also had two teachers coming from out of state to join us.  These teachers were giving up hours of their time to drive to central Indiana and staying in a hotel for a night, just to meet and talk about ways to improve student learning in their classrooms. I was really feeling the pressure to deliver something everyone would find useful and worthwhile. 

The day of the meeting ten teachers arrived from all different school districts and from a variety of disciplines. We spent the morning discussing ideal classrooms and thinking about how we would modify our current grading policies if we didn’t have any outside restrictions. We pulled readings from books and articles to help frame the discussions. We all reflected on why we have grades in the first place. We shared in small groups, and reported out to the larger group. We talked about how to give useful feedback and how to help students learn from the feedback we provided. 

In the afternoon we shared how we wrote learning objectives, how we handled reassessments, how we tracked progress, and how we calculated overall grades. We evaluated several types of rubrics and grade calculation methods. We shared our frustrations with current practice and we celebrated our victories. The teachers with the most experience offered advice and examples to those of us just starting out. 

At the end of the day, we compiled a shared folder with all the examples and resources from the day to be shared with everyone who attended. Most importantly, everyone walked away with contact information of the other teachers from the meeting. We all had great new resources to help us on our way to implementing (or improving) SBAL in our classes. 

While I could have framed this blog post as an article about SBAR or SBG (we have some great on this by the way) what I really wanted to share with everyone is the idea that you can create your own professional development. If there’s an idea you’re passionate about – go out and find others who share that passion. We have a tremendous number of social media resources where you can meet and collaborate with each other. Many schools don’t have the funds to help teachers with registration fees or travel expenses, but don’t let this deter you from seeking out ways to improve your classroom practices.  Check Facebook groups, twitter hashtags, organizations such as , , and their local affiliates – all of these places can be a place promote your idea and invite others to join you. You can even write a short article for ChemEdX and we'll post it to our site and promote it on twitter and facebook!

Sometimes, instead of waiting for opportunities, we have to create them.

For teachers interested in SBAL I suggest following  and  on twitter for great resources and inspiration. If you want to learn more about our summit, please leave a comment below and I can link you to the readings we provided.