07 Apr Individualizing Professional Development: Using Atlas and Action Research for School and Individual Growth
By Elijah Bonde, Nativity Prep Academy
This session will go in depth into how to use Action Research and Atlas to individualize professional development. Current research shows that individualizing professional development has significant impact on instruction practices. Action research is a process that allows teachers to reflect on their practice in a structured way, so they can take action to make improvements. Atlas provides the means to minimize the time commitment of teachers but still allows for the reflection and growth.
In my current role as principal, I am tasked with designing and carrying out the professional development for the school. One of the hardest parts of designing high quality professional development has been making it individualized. Professional development that is individualized tends to have a greater impact than whole group presentations (Garet, et. al., 2001). Similar to the needs of our students, we should give our teachers time to work with new ideas in a way that will benefit them. Some teachers will have more or less experience with a topic or learn with different modalities. The difficult aspect of individualizing professional development is similar to designing a high quality 21st century learning environment. We have not seen these strategies in practice, so it is difficult to design trainings.
I have decided to use action research as my main method for individualizing the professional development that I lead. Action research is a reflective process that is rooted in creating actions to improve practice. Often research is seen as being completed by the elites or those that are not doing the work. The action or day-to-day work is left to the practitioner, who is often seen as unworthy of doing research or they feel inadequate to do research. Action research attempts to break this dichotomy by having the practitioner create the living theories that explain the work they are doing (McNiff & Whitehead, 2011). Action research has been used in school settings often and can empower teachers to improve their instructional practices in a systematic way. All good teachers reflect on their instruction and try to make improvements, but action research provides a structure for the teachers to work through their growth. Giving the teachers the opportunity to speak confidently about the work they do and why they do it can help to improve their instructional practices.
In our school, we have used the Rubicon Atlas curriculum maps to design templates to go through the action research process, but to also limit the amount of time and energy that is put into the research. My first experience with action research was with my exit requirement for my Masters degree. The study ended up being a 75-page document. Our teachers do not have the time to devote to writing a full study, but they have the time to engage in deep reflection to improve their practice. In our templates (see below), we used short open text boxes with prompts to guide the reflection. The benefit of using Atlas is that it allows for the reflection, but keeps the writing to a minimum.
During my presentation, I will go more in depth into the action research structure (see below) and how it has been used at my current school to support school improvement and individual teacher growth.
We will also have time to discuss other methods of individualizing professional development to best support teacher growth. There will also be time for participants to work with the material being presented to see how it or something similar might fit into their schools. I hope that each participate will walk away with a greater understanding of high quality professional development structures, a comfort with action research, and a knowledge of how to use Atlas as a support for professional development.
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Elijah Bonde is currently the principal at Nativity Prep Academy (NPA) in San Diego. He has been the instructional leader of the school for the past three years and a teacher at the school for the nine years prior. He earned his MA in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego (USD) in 2015, his single subject teaching credential in English and Science from USD in 2007, and his BA in Philosophy in 2005.
Elijah’s work at NPA has focused on transitioning the school toward 21st century learning with an emphasis on student-centered lessons, incorporating technology, and increasing rigor. He has also focused on developing a professional learning community that is rooted in collaboration and addressing the individual needs of each teacher.
Garet, M.S., Porter, A.C., Desimone, L., Birman, B.F., & Yoon, K.S. (2001). What makes professional development effective? Results from a national sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 915-945.
McNiff, J., & Whitehead, J. (2011). All you need to know about action research. Sage publications.