Welcome to the igKnight Academy

A single system for infinitely personalized PD. No more one-side-fits none meetings!igknight1

Imagine a Netflix model of professional development: on-demand learning for every teacher in your building, available 24/7/365. Or think Google’s “20% Time” for teachers, with individual regular “Edcamp” like unconferences where entire faculties come together to share best practices. That means no more initiative fatigue or one-size-fits-none PD sessions. And no more staff meetings that should have been an email.

Sound like an idea worth pursuing?

Welcome to the igKnight Academy: an infinitely personalized PD system where teachers pursue passion projects, self-select their PD offerings, build individual portfolios, and replace micromanagement with microbadging to foster a school-wide culture of collaboration, learning, and growth.

Let’s face it: initiative fatigue is real, and in an era where we are asking teachers to provide more avenues for “student voice and student choice” in their own classrooms, we need to practice what we preach.

Information Overload

The sheer amount of information being added to the internet every single day is staggering — with some sources suggesting that the world now records approximately the same amount of information on the web every 48 hours that had EVER been recorded in all of human history from the beginning of time to the year 2003. Teachers are expected to keep up with latest research, best practices, and current educational trends — but there is simply too much for any one system to handle, and thus faculty PD often devolves into well-meaning, but ultimately scattershot “flavor of the month” offerings.

In an era of “binge watching” through streaming services and gamification inspired user interfaces in everything from tax return software to statistics provided via smartphone apps and wearable technology, PD needs to evolve to meet the changing needs of today’s teachers. We know that one size fits all PD simply doesn’t work. Today’s educators are increasingly asked to model growth mindset, teaching to mastery, and standards based grading — yet our PD delivery models rarely provide opportunities for school administrators to practice what they preach. Researchers like Carol Dweck and Daniel Pink are in consensus that sticks and carrots are passe. Today’s learners seek intrinsic motivation through autonomy, mastery, and choice — which helps explain why online education communities like Twitter or self-guided weekend PD events like Edcamps yield results infinitely more successful than the sleepy faculty meetings of yesteryear. This model offers the framework and considerations necessary to help educators replicate each of these same facets to create a rich, collaborative learning networks inside of their own school.

Origin Stories:

My team and I have been hard at work on this project for a long time! I first posted a blog entry on this same idea back in January of 2019, but in truth, its roots go much deeper — back to when I was first hired as an instructional coach in 2014. And so, after four years of laying the framework for a self-guided system of faculty PD through initiatives like #ObserveMe, instructional coaching, and school-based instructional rounds, and 18 additional months of systems research and development in gamification, microcredentialing, feedback systems, data collection, and multiple rounds of employee surveys, our school made the shift to the academy model of teacher PD in 2019.

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Since its launch, we are seeing incredible results in the areas of social emotional learning, project based learning, student engagement, adolescent literacy, content-specific research, and integrated curricular offerings. Teachers are more engaged in purposeful PD and peer-to-peer collaboration than ever before. Enrollment is up year over year for the past five years (we’re a private school who depends on student tuition), teacher retention rates are at their highest rate over five years, ELEOT data is consistently more positive across the board, and all metrics related to student and teacher engagement including truancy rates, absences, detentions, and behavioral interventions show clear evidence towards systemic improvement.

Here’s how it works:

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School admin and our PD team built a single Google Site, with sub-pages devoted to each of the eight different teacher improvement “tracks” inspired by our school’s mission. Since we’re a Catholic school, faith development plays a major role in each of these tracks — but public and private schools can certainly adapt the same model and align it to their respective mission accordingly. At the time of launch, our eight tracks were:

      1. Mission Integration
      2. Curriculum
      3. Social Emotional Learning
      4. Project Based Learning
      5. Student Engagement
      6. Literacy
      7. Research
      8. Service Learning
        (We also have a bonus 9th track, titled “Classroom Essentials” which we use to help rookie teachers rack up “quick wins” early to develop comfort with the program, and new hires find their way into the academy by getting a hang for the basics of classroom management and student-centered instruction).

     

Teachers explore the site at their leisure, and find a particular offering that they’d like to pursue in any track they’d like to explore. Here’s a sample course:igknight3

Every “for credit” course is presented with a:

  • STANDARD – so you’ll know what the course is demanding of you
  • DELIVERABLE – so you’ll know what you’ll need to submit to earn course credit
  • REFLECTION – a 2-3 paragraph blog entry (or a 2 minute video) where you talk about what you learned in this “course”

Likewise, courses are weighted based on the projected amount of time it might take to complete them, so some “easy” courses (like using a Google Form in your classroom and reflecting on the experience, or posting an #ObserveMe sign outside of your classroom and talking about why you’d like specific feedback) are worth one point. Courses of moderate difficulty (like building a class escape room, or giving an alternative assessment) could be worth three points. And courses of advanced difficulty (like reading an educational book or attending an off-site conference) are worth 5 points or more.

The only requirement is that all teachers use their at-home learning time (or time in the school calendar that would otherwise have been wasted on one-size-fits all faculty meetings) to complete at least 24 “credits” a year — or 6 credits per quarter — the results of which they’ll be given time to collaborate on and discuss with fellow colleagues who might be interested in similar areas for professional growth. New teachers are required to complete at least half of their credits in the “Classroom Essentials” track — but everybody else?

To quote Fleetwood Mac: “You can go your own way.”

No micromanagement. And no corporate mandates. Simply pick the course that works best for you and complete it at ANY time throughout the year, and you’re off to the races! Which leads us to…

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In order to earn “course credit,” all teachers need to do is submit their course’s deliverable to standard, and post a short 2-3 paragraph blog entry to their school Google Site where they’ll share what they’ve discovered (successes, struggles, scaffolding considerations, rubrics, timelines to consider, photos and/or video of the activity or relevant work products, etc.) so that other teachers can learn from their example.Complete a course of your choice, and it’s rinse and repeat back in the menu for another opportunity to learn and grow in another area wherever you’d like. Because, as Walt Disney once said…

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Meanwhile, behind the scenes…

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Using a single spreadsheet — school admins and PD staff will have access to an entire directory of teacher websites, so they can quickly scan for updates and monitor signs of teacher growth throughout the year. Teachers, in turn, have 24/7 access to a single “transcript” site of their own (Google Sheets are excellent for these sorts of things) — where they can see a clear visual dashboard of each of the courses they’ve completed for credit. This likewise gives a sense of each of the remaining courses and tracks available, and teachers can choose to go as wide or as deep as they’d like throughout the year.

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On a weekly basis, school administrators and PD professionals scan teacher blogs to see highlights of high quality work products to share with the school community. And using a regular faculty e-newsletter, the team can provide personalized “Shout Outs” to work products worth showcasing (along with relevant links to individual teacher blog entries) — championing a culture of transparency, collaboration, and lifelong learning while providing everyone in the school with the resources necessary to adapt and improve upon the work products of their colleagues to improve instruction throughout the building.

Rather than dangle extrinsic rewards (like gift cards) or flimsy incentive programs like a “top seller” initiative — the entire academy model is designed to reward higher levels of learning with new learning opportunities that teachers can share with their peers. And as teachers demonstrate mastery in different growth areas and “unlock” higher levels of success in the passion projects of their choice, they’ll be rewarded with new opportunities to help school administrators develop new avenues for learning — including invitations to national conferences, opportunities to pilot new curricular resources, and beta-tester access to relevant instructional technologies free of charge. The academy model likewise features a “course proposal” option where teachers can build their own PD (with admin approval).

As Doug Lemov writes in Teach Like a Champion: “the reward for correct answers… will be harder questions. Learning never stops.”Which, finally, leads us to…

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On four select dates throughout the year, the entire faculty gets together for school-wide collaboration days, where teachers take part in an “unconference” event in the style of Edcamp, celebrating accomplishments, sharing ideas, and connecting with other educators across all disciplines to discuss courses completed, credits earned, and resources developed across the personalized learning pathways of your choice.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with his wife, Laura, a high school music teacher and fellow graduate of The Catholic University of America, and a giant-sized Maine Coon cat named Jack.

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