Teacher professional development



This morning I had a chance to sit in on the junior math triad at our school.  The triad is made up of three schools – St. Gregory, St. Daniel and St. Monica.  The teachers in each triad meet throughout the year and set their own learning goals as the year progresses.  These learning goals become the basis of our school improvement plan.

I believe that this is a very powerful model for professional development.  It puts the teacher in the driving seat and shows due respect to the adult learner.

I try to sit in on as many triad meetings as possible and I always find their conversations really interesting.  Because the teachers set their own learning goals and decide when they are going to meet to work on their own inquiries there is continuous discovery based on the evidence gathered from student work.

I have been fortunate enough to work with this group throughout the school year.  They have been working on a continuing inquiry on the use of math journals as a way to introduce and reinforce math concepts.

math inquiry
The rectangle and the parallelogram – a student reflection on learning.

If we continue to solidify students’ ability to communicate about math through the use of math journals with support through conferencing, then they should be able to demonstrate their learning through oral or written responses using math language..

current math inquiry goal – junior math

At this point, the teachers are reflecting on what they have learned this year and where they want to go in the future.  Reading through the math journals, it is very interesting to see how the students reflect on what they are learning.  The teachers shared some of these reflections with me and I am posting them here.

The junior triad is now exploring how the journalling, especially the reflections can lead to more sophisticated student inquiry.  They have learned that the ground for inquiry needs to be carefully prepared before jumping into one.  The math journals, leading to individual student reflection on learning is a great way to do this.




The wonderful thing about the triad teacher inquiry process is that teachers choose what they want to learn based on the needs of their students.  They all record their learning in an Evidence of Learning document that gets updated every time they meet.  Ultimately, their inquiries become the basis for our school improvement plan.

For me, the most interesting teacher reflection throughout this process has to do with how their inquiries has changed their teaching practice.  We added this question this year after reading Intentional Interruptions by Steven Katz.  Katz states that every time teachers embark on a new ‘doing’, they need to reflect on some key questions.  One of these questions asks teachers to reflect on how any new initiative will deepen their professional  understanding such that teacher practice changes. (pg 78)

This is how the junior teachers answered this question:

Where to next?  Now what?

“The journals have shown us that explicit teaching prior to, or in combination with, inquiry allows for more success.  We need to fill the student’s toolboxes with concepts and strategies before we can expect them to be confident in problem based inquiry.  Confidence is one of the most important tools for students to be successful!

We have also learned that the journals have built in differentiation for all the learning styles in the classroom with the flexibility and creativity allowed in the reflection piece.


We will definitely continue the Math journal into next year.  Where possible, the students remaining in the school will have their journals passed on to the coming teacher and continued on from there (teacher discretion). We hope to take the explicit teaching in the journals and use it to strengthen the students’ inquiry skills.

Possibility for next year are some shortcuts for the kids who have a difficult time with copying or concepts, for example having the curriculum learning goals pre-typed, having some of the interactive tools photocopied, creating alternative interactive tools based on student needs.

More conferencing needed.”

Really interesting to see concrete examples of teacher learning taking off once they are given the autonomy to try out new concepts on their own!


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Week 22: Differentiation…for staff? #SAVMP Feb 10

“Supporting teachers begins with knowing that we should meet their individual needs in their own learning and growth. We no longer can be ok with the status quo, or a one size fits all mentality when it comes to PD. As the leader, it is up to you ensure that each educator has what they need in order to be the very best that they can be in their classroom.”

If you really want teachers to take professional development seriously, you have to let them set their own agenda.

This seems to be difficult for many leaders to accept.  I think it is the most basic of questions – what do you want to learn – and with that – how can I best support you.

 If we teach social skills to a target group then will we see an increase in self-regulation and positive social interactions outside of the classroom, within the target group (s).

resource teacher triad

 I have written about this before and I welcome the opportunity to do it again for the #SAVMP blog. It is more by accident than design that we started using a model that allows teachers to set their own agenda for professional learning. Three years ago the principals in our group (triad) decided to do our school improvement planning together.

It was hard to figure out at first – none of us had ever done this before, there was no model or guide to follow. I think one of the most important elements was, and continues to be the support we received from the school board. This was new to them too, but they were willing to let us try this new model out.

Over the past three years the teams have changed and we have learned a great deal. We still plan together and we have gotten a lot better at recording our learning. We have a great respect for the inquiry approach and have followed the learning stance of our board that encourages teachers to ask questions about how students learn.

If we continue to solidify their ability to communicate about math through the use of math journals in support with conferencing, then they should be able to demonstrate their learning.

grade 4,5,6 math inquiry

Teachers now keep a running record of their inquiries in a Google Drive document called Evidence of Learning. I am drawing inquiry statements from this document for today’s blog. This document allows the principals in our group to have a good understanding of what teachers are working on.  With an app called Kaizena, we can actually leave audio comments for each group in their evidence of learning section.

There nothing cooler than being able to talk about the learning plans of teachers in three schools!  As principals, we are active participants in the learning, but the teachers are in control of the process.

Having said that, I really feel an obligation to keep a careful record of what they are learning this term. I was able to do some of this last term and I have blogged about some of the really interesting work the math and French teachers were doing. Now I really need to get the rest of the groups!

Through the month of April, I should be able to meet with most of the groups and add the results of their inquiries to the blog!

Through this process, we feel we are giving the teachers the opportunity to set their own agenda.  We will continue to do this and teachers will continue to learn and grow.  I think this is the very best that we can do for the teachers we work with.

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Teacher Team inquiries

Stephen Katz emphasizes that the adult learning that takes place in a school should
be directly connected to student need – “Given that we have evidence to suggest X
is the most urgent student learning need, what does that suggest is the most urgent
teacher learning need? And from there, what is the most urgent leader learning
need?” (Leaders in Educational Thought, 2013). Student learning is the catalyst for
educator learning and “forms the essential material” of professional inquiry (Capacity
Building Series – Collaborative Teacher Inquiry).
Capacity Building Series :  Dynamic Learning

Our triad teams – three schools – St. Daniel, St. Gregory and St. Monica are starting on our second round of inquiries.  My goal this term is to do a better job of documenting the work that the triads do.  Each group was given a half day last week to review the inquiry from the first term and come up with a new inquiry for the second half of the year.

The videos here are my attempt to capture some of the learning that is happening within the groups.  I am hoping to record the work of some of the groups as the term progresses.

Triad teams working together
Triad teams working together

“If we teach social skills to a target group then will we see an increase in self-regulation and positive social interactions outside of the classroom, within the target group (s).”

special education inquiry

What is most important to the teachers and principals of the triad schools is that we are in charge of the learning.  When teachers are able to create their own inquiries, they are the ones setting the agenda, they are the ones who develop the ideas for inquiry.  As principals, our job is to facilitate this learning process and make sure that a good record is kept of the results of these inquiries. These inquiries and the findings of the teachers then become the basis for our school improvement plan.

“If we use a graphic organizer to introduce descriptive writing, then the students will be able to write short descriptive paragraphs related to various different areas of the curriculum.”

grade 1-2 inquiry – term two 

Reflect / Discern  Analysis / Assess

How does this change our teaching practice?   What have we learned and discovered? Where to next?  Now what?

It taught us to take our time and move at the students’ pace. It also made us allow time for reflection on new concepts before moving on to something else.  Allows for time to consolidate student learning in more depth than the standard 3 part math lessons.  Looking at the “proof” and “reflection” sections really shows which students are ready to move on and which are not. We are also taking the time to produce quality work with the students rather than simply quantity to get  through the curriculum.

taken from ‘evidence of learning document’ created by grade 4,5,6 teachers’ math inquiry

Over time, we have been able to reach some conclusions:

  • teachers who set their own learning goals are much more motivated to learn
  • teachers are able to clearly indicate inquiry goals and key learnings based on these inquiries
  • over time, a much wider variety of evidence is being used to document learning
  • communication tools like Google Drive and Google+ are indispensable tools that drive deeper collaboration
  • as principals, we have a much better understanding of what learning is going on in our schools

This is an important process to document, as a firm believer in this process I will devote more time this term to keeping a good, visual record here on this blog of the work that will be going on.

It will be an exciting journey!

Research shows that teachers working together to support children’s
learning is an effective means of teacher professional development.7,8,9
Professional learning communities (PLCs) facilitate knowledge sharing
and collaboration – often with experts in the area – to support teacher
professional learning.10 Features of effective PLCs include job-embedded
learning, group meetings held during the workweek and use of technology.11
What Works?  Research into practice Research monograph #46
students working on math journals - part of the grade 4-5-6 math inquiry
students working on math journals – part of the grade 4-5-6 math inquiry
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Teacher collaboration project – Math journals


I have written briefly about one of the teacher collaboration inquiries that has been going on in our three schools.  In this post, the teachers have written an explanation of their work so far.  I am hoping that more of our teacher groups will do the same so we can post their work on this blog.

These rest of this entry is written by Teresa Zappavigna, one of the teacher triad members.

Our Triad team came together in early October to determine an area of focus for our students in our junior grades.  After examining EQAO scores, last year’s records, and our personal running records to date, our next steps became quite evident.  The attitude toward math and in particular, problem solving, needed to be addressed. Many times, students have the skills, but are thrown by the math language.  Students needed to find a tool to help students break down math  problems (scaffold their thinking) in order to understand:  “What do I know?”; “What do I need to know?”;  and “How can I help solve the problem/ What strategies can I use?”. A tool was introduced by our partners from St. Daniel’s.  They were in the process of working on interactive Math journals which help guide a student’s problem- solving process and encourages them to demonstrate their understanding of new math concepts in a personal and creative way (through re-enactment, art, poetry, music, crossword puzzles, etc.,).  Our intention is that if we explicitly teach problem solving strategies and provide opportunities for students to prove, explain and reflect on their learning in Math journals, then students will have more success in explaining their thinking while problem solving.  By allowing students the opportunity to express themselves creatively (be it literacy, numeracy, arts, verbal, kinesthetic, tactile,) we hope to make math fun for students who shy away from math.

We are still in the process of developing a routine using these journals with our students.  Our observations so far have been positive.  Students have been eager to share their rap songs, cartoons etc with the class and are often asking the teachers if we will be working on our “journals today”.  The atmosphere is changing and we hope to continue these “brag books” as a tool to help students develop efficient problem solving strategies.

Video of a student conference…Please watch both (one is the continuation of the other) In this video, teachers can see the importance of conferencing with students on their journals, EVEN if the student puts a GREEN traffic light on the activity. He or she might not fully understand the concept. The example is a student working on Place Value activities.

samples and photos from the teacher inquiry


math journal - grade 4


Sample of a grade 4 journal – this is a collaborative project in grades 4, 5, and 6 being carried out in three schools