Podcast: Teacher Agency in Professional Development Grows Engagement - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Teacher Agency in Professional Development Grows Engagement

Teacher Agency in Professional Development Grows Engagement

Elementary principal, Haley Beavert, created a program trading required mandatory faculty meetings for optional learning opportunities. She identifies the strategy as an example of de-implementation. The program, called “Feed Your Brain,” has teachers organizing learning opportunities for professional development which has now expanded to other schools in the district.

Read Haley’s article, “Give Teachers Agency to Create Their Own Professional Development and See Engagement Grow”

E-mail Haley: haley.beavert@cps.k12.ar.us

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!


Steve (Intro): 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening. I’m thrilled you’re here.

Steve: 00:33 Teacher agency and professional development grows engagement. Elementary principal, Haley Beavert, has implemented a strategy to transform the usual task-driven faculty meeting into a knowledge building opportunity. She has named the program, “Feed Your Brain” and she’s here today to share her initial idea with us, the impact that it’s had with her staff and how it’s developing now beyond her own school. So, welcome Haley.

Haley: 01:12 Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.

Steve: 01:14 For starters, would you tell us a little bit about your school and and your history of being principal there?

Haley: 01:22 Absolutely. So this is my 24th year in education, and I have been here at Northside as principal for the last four years. I was hired in July of the school year that we shut down in March for Covid. So my first year here was cut short due to Covid, and then we had to pivot to online instruction, and I had to figure out how to make that happen for the first year of my principal career here.

Steve: 01:50 How about the size of your school and the grade levels you’re working with?

Haley: 01:55 So we have Pre-K-4th grade, and we are sitting around 400 students. I have an average of about 65 staff members with 400 kiddos.

Steve: 02:06 So you mentioned in the article that you that you wrote about the Feed Your Brain program, and for the listeners, I’ll be sure to include that link in the lead-in to the podcast, but you said that the idea occurred during Covid. So you wanna jump us into that story?

Haley: 02:27 Absolutely. So for us here at Northside, we have several staff who have been here for many, many years. So we have everything from veteran teachers to brand new teachers, much like probably most schools across the US. But when Covid hit, we were faced with a challenge that we had never been faced with before. And that was providing instruction not only during scary times, but also digitally. And so, when we closed in March, we went all virtual, and then the following school year, we started back face-to-face that August. However, we still had quite a bit of families across the district who chose to keep their children digital. And so our teachers had to juggle the online instruction as well as teaching kiddos face-to-face. And for all of us, no matter the age, it was a challenge. We had never had to do both at the same time.

Haley: 03:31 The digital pieces were challenging because it brought about a new teaching style and then also having fear with coming into a building with Covid still going and trying to figure out how to keep everyone safe as well as keep the nerves of everyone kind of calm. So all of those posed many challenges. And over time when school started, I thought that the nervousness, the learning of the digital piece would kind of gradually get easier. And within the first week or two of school, I just saw that my people were exhausted as well as just really having trouble with the digital piece. And when I say that, I mean the the flip cameras and the videos and posting in Google Classroom and all the things that some had dabbled in, but not many. And so that’s kind of where the Feed Your Brain occurred, where that kind of happened.

Haley: 04:42 I was staying late after school. There had been lots of tears in the building, myself included, and I was trying to figure out what I could do to help. Our days were jam-packed when teachers were not teaching face-to-face. Many of them would go down to a room we had set up and that’s when they would teach their children virtually. And so it was nonstop, just the communication with families of the kiddos at home, parents being scared to send their kiddos to school. And so our days were packed and trying to get time to teach and kind of give teachers the skills that they needed during the school day was very, very hard. And so I stayed after school one day and sat in my office, it was probably, I don’t know, six, seven o’clock at night trying to figure out what I could do to help.

Haley: 05:34 And that’s when the Feed Your Brain concept kind of was started. And basically, I just knew that if I could provide them with some afterschool help, some training, and it was purposeful training with a certain topic, then I felt like that would kind of help alleviate. And so at that moment, I sent out a feeler email on if I can get our district technology guru to come, would you guys stay after school and let her show you all the things? Google Classroom, digital camera. And immediately, the responses started rolling in with “absolutely, yes.” And I made sure to tell them it was completely optional. It was not something they had to do. It was only if they felt that they needed it. And we scheduled that, and I believe we had around 25 or 30 teachers stay, and they were still going at 5:30 that night just using all of the things technology. And that is where it started and it has definitely gone from there.

Steve: 06:47 There’s kind of a trade off you made with folks around that. Go into that in a little more detail.

Haley: 06:54 So we have always in education, done the once a month faculty meetings. Those faculty meetings over the years, I feel like, have just become something that administrators do to put on their calendar and say we’ve done a faculty meeting. Most of the time, those faculty meetings were not for new learning. They were for going over things that very much could be in an email, going over things that you probably have already sent out at some point through another source or talked about in a team meeting. And so the trade off for Feed Your Brain was that faculty meetings would stop. So at that point, Feed Your Brain is a once a month, faculty meetings are no longer unless we absolutely have to have something to make sure a message gets out to everyone. But that swap, a mandatory faculty meeting then became an optional learning experience with Feed Your Brain.

Haley: 08:00 And it’s very much centered around what teachers need and teacher topics that they come up with. And I really feel like teachers appreciated that because it was not wasting their time. It was giving them something that was beneficial. So to kind of show you the difference, a faculty meeting would’ve been led all by an administrator – by myself. Where now, Feed Your Brain, the teachers, the staff give me every month’s topic. So we have a new math curriculum. They may come to me and say, “can we do a feed your brain on our new math curriculum? Can we do a Feed Your Brain on a phonics first refresher?” Just whatever topic they come up with. And so at that point, I then find a guru in that subject, schedule them, send out the invite and staff only come if that topic is of interest to them. So we traded mandatory, which was kind of informational, not much of a get and go to an optional time where they can come and learn a skill of their choice.

Steve: 09:11 The empowering piece is kind of built in there to make this choice.

Haley: 09:15 Absolutely. And sometimes the guru in that topic is a staff member, and so it allows that staff member to get up and it also helps their leading and shows their leadership ability as well.

Steve: 09:32 In an earlier conversation you and I had, you described that this was an example of de-implementation. So I was wondering if you’d expand on that a little.

Haley: 09:45 Absolutely. So de-implementation is a fairly new concept for me, but when I read about it, it was basically taking something off of someone’s plate that no longer was beneficial or served the same purpose that it used to. And I feel like education, especially, our plates get so full and it becomes routine and administrators kind of sometimes can get stuck in the rut of doing things because it’s always been done. And not just administrators, but educators in general. And so with the de-implementation, it is looking at everything that you are giving to your staff and what can you take away that you may think is beneficial, but is actually causing more stress. And so looking at the DE implementation faculty meetings absolutely fell into this category because again, there was no reason that you had to have them most of the time and so it was just checking a box. So when we made this switch, I instantly related it back to the DE implementation article that I had read.

Steve: 10:56 Yeah. I think you really hit on it that the faculty meeting gets in the calendar, and once it’s in the calendar, it ends up being held whether there’s really a need to have it or not.

Haley: 11:12 Absolutely. And a lot of times, not all your staff can attend, so you end up sending it out anyway and you’ve met just for the sake
of meeting. And so I think that’s been very, very well received from staff.

Steve: 11:30 Has this has the Feed Your Brain program had a an impact on the culture that you’d describe in your building?

Haley: 11:42 I would say very much so. I was a little unsure at the beginning whether or not it would be something that we would continue past Covid. Honestly, I’ve been extremely surprised just at the number of people who continue every single month to say, “do we have a Feed Your Brain topic yet? Have we talked about a date?” They have gotten to where they expect it and they love it. And we have several staff who have been to every single one and several staff who just come as the topics apply. But what it has done, I feel like is, it showed the staff from the very beginning that I value their time and that I was listening to them. And so in times of stress, very much so at the start of Covid and in times of desperation, I was listening to their cries.

Haley: 12:44 I was listening to their words and their worries and trying to find a way to help. And so since then, stress has not gone away just because Covid has died down some. It is very much a stressful profession. So I think in listening to grade level needs and listening to my staff feedback and then making it happen and continuing to make it happen, three or so years later, I think has grown a culture of trust. It has also shown my staff that I am on their side and I’m here. And I think that another thing that it’s done interesting enough is we have several paraprofessionals in my building who were in grad school to become a teacher. And this has been a opportunity for them to grow and for them to learn when most of the time, they would not have been involved in the training. And so I feel like it has shown them that I am very much on their side as far as their future and their interest in this profession. And it’s been very exciting to see it grow for sure.

Steve: 13:57 I’m almost sensing a modeling of of teacher agency that kind of paints the picture for where we want be with kids.

Haley: 14:10 Absolutely.

Steve: 14:12 The student voice coming in the way that teacher voice is coming in here, the student choice coming in the way teacher choice is coming in.

Haley: 14:22 Right. Absolutely.

Steve: 14:24 And you mentioned it looks like it’s gonna expand beyond your building?

Haley: 14:30 Yes, it has. So my staff joke with me and say, Beavert, please stop opening your mouth because I keep telling people about it. And so it’s gotten bigger and bigger…

Steve: 14:42 And now You’re doing a podcast on it, you’re in serious trouble.

Haley: 14:45 Right? I know. Blogs, podcasts, who knew? But I think that I have been most impressed not just what it’s done for the culture, but how far it has gone. So we have decided recently, to open it up to our district elementaries and middle schools as well. So when we set our schedule and when we set our topic, we have nine elementaries in our district, and so I send it to all elementary principals and then our two middle school principals as well as the CLA, it’s a learning academy across the street. And so I send the topic and the date to my administration friends, and they sent it out to their staff. And so we have now, every month, we have teachers from other buildings across the district coming to learn with our staff.

Haley: 15:37 We have administrators coming to learn with our staff, and then one of the middle schools has taken it on, and the administrator there is also doing his own Feed Your Brain at the middle school level and offering it to that age group. So it is growing. I have been contacted by teachers in other districts now saying, hey, we’ve heard about this. Is it open to at a district teachers as well? We have not had them come but just yet, but I definitely foresee that it’s going to be around for a while.

Steve: 16:16 So learning is motivational.
Haley: 16:19 Learning is motivational. That is right. I think the key, too, that I haven’t mentioned yet is it is not led by administration. It is led by either, again, a guru that I find or a teacher or a staff member. We have probably only had two in three years that have been led by administrators. And that’s just because in that topic, that administrator was the guru. So we sit at the back of the room, I provide the snacks, and we just sit and listen and let our staff step up to be leaders. So that has been a really cool thing to watch as well.

Steve: 17:01 Another great modeling piece for teachers to take back to their classrooms.

Haley: 17:07 Right.

Steve: 17:08 Very cool. Well, I appreciate you sharing the the information with our listeners. I’m wondering if you’re okay, we’ll stick your
email address in at the end here. You wanna go ahead and tell folks what it is, but I’ll also put it in the lead-in.

Haley: 17:27 Absolutely. I have all kinds of things that I would gladly share and topics that we’ve done over the last few years. If they have any questions, I would be more than happy to answer them. It’s haley.beavert@cps.k12.ar.us.

Steve: 17:51 So thank you. Have a great rest of your week. Bye-Bye.

Haley: 17:54 Thank you, you too. Bye.

Steve (Outro): 17:58 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean, and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @SteveBarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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