What do you get when you combine dynamic K-12 writing units of study with over 500 dedicated Michigan teachers from throughout the state? An amazingly powerful literacy professional development experience with nationwide repercussions.
It has been nearly a month since the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA) English Language Arts Conference in Lansing kicked off the summer PD season June 24-27. This event was truly historical due to the confluence of people and events that led to its creation. Led by a team of literacy consultants from multiple ISD's across the state of Michigan, writing units of study have been refined and written at all levels, K-12, to align with the Common Core State Standards. While the units themselves enshrine practices and protocols that are familiar to veteran teachers, and informed by decades of effective practice informed by Lucy Calkins and other practitioners of a workshop-approach to the teaching of writing, the units are all extremely accessible to all teachers regardless of their level of experience. Last year these units were endorsed statewide by MAISA, which precipitated the establishment of the conference. They are public and available to all online.
The four-day experience featured dynamic keynotes each day. These were followed by breakout sessions by grade level which were led by teacher-leaders from throughout the state. I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a 6th grade section with Jianna Taylor, an outstanding teacher from West Bloomfield Public Schools. We led our 23 teachers and literacy coaches through an exploration of four of the units – narrative writing/launching, argument, literary essay, and information writing on each of the four days.
What makes this conference experience so exciting is that it was all locally led and executed. The leadership came from ISD’s throughout the state. The keynotes and facilitators were all Michigan teachers. We know that the best kind of PD is that which is meaningful and sustainable, and is peer-led. As a result, these are people who will see each other throughout the months and years to come. We will serve as ongoing resources to and for each other. This approach is also very cost-effective and sustainable in an era of limited funding. With this conference we were able to harness our own expertise to drive our own PD. This is a powerful way to lead and grow as professionals.
Plans are already afoot for the 2014 conference, which will focus on reading. As we continue to build PD capital in Michigan, we serve as a powerful complement to the kind of professional development offered by institutions like the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. We may even attract teachers from throughout the country to come to Michigan to learn and grow right here in the Midwest.