Sarah Cronin is a teacher for the Halton District School Board and the program leader for Special Education at Milton District High School. She has written previously for us, sharing her work leading other teachers through their own passion projects. You can learn more about her journey on her blog.
After reading about teacher passion projects in the book Hacking Leadership, I wanted to support professional development in this meaningful and purposeful way with members of my team. Teacher passion projects are when teachers take control of their own professional learning through choosing an area of education on which to focus. Topics are varied and learning is centred around working toward becoming a better teacher overall. Learn about it here!
When I started leading this project I focused on my inspiration, implementation and leadership strategies. As the project began, we had 5 people participate. Topics included
Distributed Learning and how to use it to introduce blogging into pedagogy
Positive impacts of exercise and diet on emotional wellbeing with a student who struggles with mental wellness.
Special Education Additional Qualifications course work to understanding students with learning disabilities better
Website development designed for teachers full of helpful and thoughtful resources.
Finally my own project, enhancing my leadership skills through supporting teachers in their learning - a.k.a. - capacity building.
Some projects took right off and others continue to be a work in progress. What is important to me as a leader is not the final product, but of course, the process of learning itself. The professional conversations happening along the way are invaluable. In addition to conversations between myself and participating team members, they were also asked to reflect on their learning more formally at midterm and at the end of the semester.
Providing the opportunity for my colleagues to learn in this capacity allowed teachers to fuel their understanding of working with exceptional students. They were able to engage with students in meaningful ways ultimately creating positive impacts. The fact that teachers owned their own professional development allowed them to make connections with each other and with students in new ways that were meaningful to them and their practice.
As a program lead for Special Education at Milton District High School, one of my goals for my department is to help embed special education knowledge throughout the school and support strategies within regular classrooms. The team is diversified in their subject areas ranging from English, ELL, Science, Student Success, The Arts - to name a few - and because of the learning communities happening from within the Passion Project, this goal began a successful journey.
I set out with the intention to as a leader, support meaningful and purposeful professional development within my department as a means to enhance teacher capacity within the school. It was invigorating for me to work with my colleagues in a way that was supporting all of our learning. As much as they learned, I too learned, growing my leadership skill set. I feel this project was successful and I would absolutely run this initiative again.
The capacity to build professional learning communities within the department is a wonderful way to bring cohesion to a team that works across several different departments. It is hard to connect with each other daily, and this provided an opportunity to check in weekly ‘geek out’ in our learning. The Passion Project opportunity also allows professional conversations to filter through to several different departments, as teachers return to other departments , new ideas and strategies reach into their team practices, spreading the knowledge of supportive and engaging strategies for kids who learn differently throughout the school.
I really like the structure I used to implement the project, and I am happy with the process. I may consider personalizing the reflection questions to more specifically address Special Education as it relates to my own school. I also know that as the school year progresses so does the pace and intensity of the job. People become busier and time is of the essence, as is energy. I recommend running an initiative like this once in a year. Pick a semester and end date the project before the turnover. Why? It puts some parameters on finishing. Although we know learning never really ends and continues on, people also need to feel a sense of accomplishment and closure in their initiatives. This allows them to plan their next steps in where they want to take their learning moving forward.
If you are interested in trying out a Teacher Passion Project, feel free to connect with Sarah any time. She’d be happy to help!