Professional Development with a Long View

A recent article in the British Journal of Educational Psychology entitled “My brain feels like a browser with100 tabs open: A longitudinal study of teachers’ mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic” caught our attention. One of the conclusions of this study was for teachers to engage “in more collaborative communication (to ensure) greater accessibility of sources of social support.”

Since 2015, we believe Santa Catalina’s teachers have flourished in professional learning communities directed at applying the innovative use of edtech devices and modern pedagogical practices, both in and outside the classroom, in-person and remotely. 

  • Collaborating with our partners at Knowing Technologies, the practitioners were paired with a coach who developed long-term supportive relationships over the course of a year. 
  • This kind of professional development was unique in that the teachers agreed to meet regularly with their coach to examine their classroom practices, and they were accountable to their coach and a wider audience of colleagues at our school and at partner schools locally and in the Bay Area. 
  • The purpose of the learning communities was to introduce, practice, and reinforce the use of technological tools and pedagogical practices that enhance instruction, engage students where they are, and improve student and family satisfaction.

Those involved were asked to meet one-on-one with their coach at least three times a month, with occasional larger group meetings in which demonstrations of learning were shared. The teachers were active participants, accountable to their instructional coach, their supervisor (either academic department chair or division leader), and their students. The instructional coach described each participant’s goals in these broad terms:

  • “[They] used their time to design lessons that provided a range of strategies, tools, and experiences that supported all learning styles,
  • “Used technology as a way to build connections between students, their ideas, and [others] beyond the classroom walls, and 
  • “Actively participated in regular professional development outside of the one-to-one coaching model, aligned to their needs, and were regularly encouraged to push beyond their comfort zone.”

Additionally, the faculty involved were asked to demonstrate their learning at faculty meetings, at regional conferences, and with our school's Board of Trustees.

The school was eventually able to provide this coaching program opportunity to almost all classroom teachers. Faculty throughout the school, supported by their grade-level leaders and division heads, participated in a variety of offerings that grew to include summer experiences and more intensive, shorter, school-year opportunities. However, the success of the program became clearer when the school shut down due to COVID restrictions. Most classroom teachers were able to carry on using the skills and approaches they developed during their time in the program. The school and its teachers were able to pivot quickly and “reopen” for online classes within a week. While in-person classes are demonstrably better at creating a community, the faculty, administrators, and parents were able to see continued academic progress for individual students at all grade levels.

Alongside the thoughtful use of technology used by teachers to advance student learning are the complementary ways students are able to use their ideas to build. Industrial designer and Catalina’s Technical Arts teacher Henrique Monnerat explains “When engineers think about whether a table is sturdy enough or easy to fabricate, designers are busy thinking about what kind of table do people want? How will it feel to use it? What functions should this table have? Learning about people’s needs is something we are trained to do. Now, in a makerspace, you want kids to do more than just learn how to build things—you want them to build meaningful things. Before they build, they are challenged to reflect about who it is for, what people need, and then practice skills of learning how to find that information.”

  • Henrique helps students through the process of bringing ideas to life: sketching on paper, building prototypes, and learning to refine, refine, refine. 
  • He works closely with teachers to ensure his projects can enhance students’ learning in other subjects: 
  • Designing a game around a topic that students are studying in history.
  • Collaborating with a math teacher on an affordable housing project for sixth-graders to learn about scale and area. 
  • To learn more, please click through to this faculty profile, written by Jeannie Evers.

As we move forward, the many strategies or “tabs” developed during the pandemic are motivating teachers and students to further expand the variety of tools employed for learning. This includes technology, sketching, and building … to develop connections between students and  their ideas, and going beyond the classroom walls.

Meg Bradley, Former Head of School, and John Aimé, Assistant Head of School

Santa Catalina School

Tagged in: Coaching, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Leadership

All Comments

Posted on October 22, 2022

This is an encouraging story about the success of professional learning in your school! Taking that "long view," as you mentioned, benefits the whole school community. I wonder what advice you would give to school leaders and instructional coaches who are looking to cultivate this kind of professional community and culture of lifelong learning in their school environments?

Posted on November 07, 2022

I love how you are using lessons learnt during, and from, Covid and continuing these practices. I have seen many teachers wanting to "Snap back" to the old ways they were doing things as it was more comfortable, and probably they were over change.

It's great to see Leadership supporting sustained change. Looking forward to hearing how your journey progresses further.

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