Over the course of the last few years, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls has developed a sophisticated professional development program that has significantly changed the culture of the school. Historically, professional development meant “experts” were brought in at specific times of the year to lecture to the faculty. Some were excellent, some less so, but few of these one-size-fits-all presentations had a lasting impact on teachers, and even fewer translated into new classroom practices that enhanced or invigorated student learning.
In recent years Ma’ayanot has adopted a Professional Learning Community (PLC) model for professional development, a goal-oriented and teacher-driven approach that has both fostered a mindset of continual growth within the faculty and has led to the implementation of substantial innovations that enhance the educational experiences of the students on a daily basis.
For example, professional development for the 2014-15 school year began last June, when teachers worked in groups to identify potential areas of growth for the coming year, and then shared their group results with the full faculty. Tanakh teacher Shifra Schapiro and Hebrew Chair Merav Tal-Timen, Co-Directors of Professional Development at Ma’ayanot, facilitated the full-faculty discussion, which ultimately yielded thirteen areas of interest that informed the creation of thirteen PLC’s for the current school year.
Based on previously stated preferences, each teacher was assigned to a PLC that will meet monthly throughout the first semester. At the first PLC meeting of the year, PLC members collaborated to define goals and objectives for their group and divided up research tasks related to those goals; subsequent meetings will be utilized to share research results and to develop strategies for improvement. Throughout the second semester, all PLC’s will present their findings and strategies at monthly full-faculty meetings. Therefore, by the end of the year each teacher will have collaborated in the development a plan for improvement in his/her PLC area, and all teachers will have benefitted from hearing about the work of their colleagues in other PLC’s.
The thirteen PLC’s identified for the current school year include:
1. Approaches to Making Prayer Meaningful – research strategies to improve student prayer experiences;
2. Creating an Interdisciplinary Timeline – creating a platform for a physical and/or web-based display that will allow for an cross-curricular understanding of historical events;
3. Using Groups, Blogs and Wikis to Communicate with Students – best practices in the use of 21st century communication to enhance the learning experiences of the students;
4. Interdisciplinary Planning Committee – led by Ms. Devorah Wolf, Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at Ma’ayanot, this committee plans the school-wide Book Day and two interdisciplinary days, one each for 10th and 12th grades;
5. iPad Challenges – share and discuss solutions to pedagogic and discipline challenges that arise as a result of increased iPad usage in classroom instruction;
6. Israel Advocacy – research strategies for enhanced integration of Israel advocacy throughout the curriculum;
7. Motivation – research ways to help students find more meaning and passion in their learning;
8. Project-Based Learning – research and share pedagogic techniques aimed at creating opportunities for students to actively explore real-world challenges as a means of promoting deeper knowledge and passion in learning;
9. Psychology of Adolescents – research psychological characteristics of adolescents and evaluate their impact on the educational process;
10. Research Skills – develop a four-year research and computer skills curriculum that optimally utilizes 21st century research tools;
11. Skills Building – research methods for skill building, including writing across the curriculum, scaffolding across the curriculum, and developing critical thinking skills;
12. Team Teaching – Pairs of teachers from different disciplines will collaborate to identify points of contact between disciplines toward a goal of developing cross-curricular lessons;
13. Values Education – research and discuss best practices for incorporating values, particularly religious values, throughout the curriculum.
In describing the benefits of this PLC model, Mrs. Schapiro notes that “teachers get to choose an area of interest, and often end up working with like-minded colleagues that they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to work with. Best of all, the wide variety of PLC topics offered ensures that we develop strategies for reaching all facets of our 21st century students.”
In addition to mandatory participation in a PLC, Ma’ayanot teachers also benefit from voluntary monthly “Lunch & Learns,” a venue through which Ma’ayanot teachers enjoy practical presentations on issues that commonly arise in the classroom. Occasionally “experts” are brought in to present on a topic, but more often Lunch & Learn presentations are offered by Ma’ayanot teachers with particular areas of expertise that they are happy to share. For example, last year Mrs. Esther Herzfeld, a member of the English department, gave a Lunch & Learn on how to effectively foster and evaluate writing across the curriculum, and Science teacher Mrs. Ariella Rosenbaum gave a demonstration of educational Apps that can be used to enhance classroom instruction. “We have a resourceful and experienced faculty who enjoy sharing their expert ideas,” commented Mrs. Tal-Timen, “and, the teachers love to learn from each other. What could be better?”
Indeed, what could be better than teachers teaching teachers.
By Pam Ennis