How and where have you been involved in PD? Director of Professional Development 12 years at Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center. Lead a team and the work facilitating school change using numerous frameworks: design thinking, improvement science, appreciative inquiry, and other large group change methods. Also certified critical friends group coach using protocols to support learning in a context of critical friendship. Previous to this job, as principal of a New York City high school, was lead facilitator for New York City Leadership Academy's Scaffolded Apprenticeship Model (SAM). We taught aspiring principals towards their certification using qualities of job-embedded or work-based learning.
What roles have you played in K-12 education? Math and science teacher (gr. 8-12), houseparent in a residential school for at-risk youth, an assistant principal in NYC public school based on Expeditionary Learning and founding principal of NYC public school based on Big Picture Learning principles. Currently Director of Professional Development.
What led you to pursue teacher PD? I became a high school principal in 2002. Feeling like I had enough on my plate to lead and build a brand new school, my tendency was to outsource our PD. I also lacked confidence in designing and leading PD. Within a year I was dissatisfied with the mismatch between consultants' motivations and delivery and our unique needs. So, I became interested in getting better at it myself. I studied, leveraged an internal team, and eventually was selected to train aspiring principals. That last experience was like a boot camp for facilitation. From all the above, I designed an approach that always serves the needs of the partner who seeks PD. It's very process oriented to support the content they are interested in. We do not have a “package of content” that we download on anyone. Rather, we ask what they want to improve upon and we use change methods to support their success.
What advice do you have for other teachers who would like to create and deliver teacher PD? Stay focused — fewer topics for longer periods of time. Make it actionable… something that teachers can apply immediately. Make it job-embedded — using the job as a source of reflection and action.
What's the biggest mistake you've made and what did you learn? Outsourcing my PD (see story above in how I became interested). I learned that the elements for good PD always exist in one's context and we don't need to seek outside for the answers (yes, we can learn something and be inspired, but the core is in one's context).
If you could go back and give your 20-year old self some advice, what would it be? My 20-year self dropped out of school and joined the army. My 27-year-old self became a molecular biologist. I didn't start in education until 31. I would tell my 20-year self to stop worrying about what you are going to “be” in life and just follow your curiosity.
If your FUTURE self in 20 years could look back at where you are today, what advice might the Future You offer the Current You? Find a way to ease off of being so work-focused and put some of your passion and energy into building a life that includes more leisure and family focus.
What are the biggest mistakes you see teachers making in the classroom? Thinking they need to answer questions directly rather than facilitate the thinking of students. Taking things personally and reacting from a place of personal offense. Not preparing lessons. Not having an arc to their lessons and units.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of the various forms of PD delivery? My process-oriented approach has the benefit of being tailor-made for any content or situation. The drawback is that there might be solid content out there in the world and we don't have the best of it in our approach (My solution is to partner with a content provider that the client has chosen and then help the school make sense of the information provided).
The content-oriented approach (“hi, I'm an expert in PBL and here's how to do it”) has some great materials that can be used or adapted. It forms a great grounding for new practice. Its disadvantage is not being custom made because it's usually delivered as a one-size-fits-all. Doesn't take into account the unique ecology of place.
As Master of the Education Universe, what 1-2 things would you change about K-12 education and schools? 1. Build schools around the principles of “how people learn” rather than built (a) as a reproduction of historical practices, (b) to comply with external administrative agencies, and (c) to be able to logistically manage for the adults.
2. Be clear on the purpose of education for your school or community and keep everything focused on that shared purpose. All decisions — taking or declining resources, and so forth — should be filtered through that purpose.
What would you change about university teacher education programs? Make them job-embedded. Have candidates practicing immediately and in scaffolded ways. Tailor the learning to -draw upon that experience.
What would you change about traditional PD as used in schools today?
Make it job-embedded — using the day-to-day experience as the “text” under study. And, make everything actionable — help translate knowledge to application.
Do you have a favorite quote or expression you live by? When it comes to schools, my favorite quote is from Dewey: When preparation is made the controlling end, then the potentialities of the present are sacrificed to a suppositious future. When this happens, the actual preparation for the future is missed or distorted. The ideal of using the present simply to get ready for the future contradicts itself. It omits, and even shuts out, the very conditions by which a person can be prepared for his future.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do, be, or try? I hate to have missed out on the military experience but in retrospect, I see I could have done college better rather than dropping out – I can imagine making that a re-do while following my curiosity.
What are the 2-3 most important work-related purchases you've made in the last year? A course by Tiago Forte called Building a Second Brain on Personal Knowledge Management, the Carnegie Foundation Explorer's course on Improvement Science and Networked Improvement Communities, and Omnifocus, the task manager software I use to manage my entire to-do list and projects.
Are there specific resources you use that you'd recommend to others? Omnifocus. Google Suite of products. Zoom for video conferencing.
What's your next goal? Take the past 12 years of processes and tools developed by me and my team and turn them into online courses (that can still be supported by real-time coaching on-site or virtually). Want to create a “change lab” that is freely available to anyone — could be used stand alone without us, can be used with some real-time support, or can be used as an entry point to longer-term support.
Anything else you'd like to share with other teachers who want to follow in your footsteps? Drop perfectionism and just do as many dozens, hundreds of hours of PD as you can. Get the road miles in and keep at it.
This teacher profile is part of SimpleK12's Teachers Teaching Teachers — Views from the Field series, where we interview educators about what they're doing to train other teachers and administrators.
If you have any questions for Michael or anything else related to this topic (and there will be more Teachers Teaching Teachers profiles and stories coming soon), please leave them below in the Comments.
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