Building a Culture of Professional Learning at Mercy Burlingame

By November 15, 2018All
PD at Mercy Burlingame

Lauren Conklin is the Assistant Head of School for Academics at Mercy Burlingame, an all-girls Catholic school in Burlingame, CA founded in 1931 and sponsored by the Mercy Education System of the Americas. The school enrolls about 400 young women in grades 9-12 and aims to prepare its students to become compassionate and successful leaders driven by intellectual curiosity, critical thinking abilities, and self-confidence. Lauren’s role at Mercy involves supervising teachers and other staff who work with students, including overseeing teacher evaluation and professional growth. To this end, she has helped to develop the school’s comprehensive professional development program.

Mercy has committed to the growth of their teachers’ and has consequently built a professional development (PD) program that reflects their investment in the growth of their faculty. Under Lauren’s leadership, professional development activities at the school are designed to make teaching and learning more effective, engaging, and efficient—any PD the faculty does should focus on these 3 goals. Important for the culture of PD at the school, activities and workshops are quite often led by Mercy teachers, which reinforces the teacher-centric model at the school.

Among the many resources that Mercy devotes to professional growth is time. The faculty meet together as a group once per month with a full staff meeting to start, followed by faculty learning and department meetings for specific content areas. Twice per semester, they meet as a full faculty for an entire day. And in June Mercy devotes 2-3 days for professional development opportunities, in which they typically use one day for exploring innovative uses of technology in the classroom.

Currently, professional development falls into two main areas of study: assessment and best-practices for student engagement. To address the former, Lauren shifted part of the focus of the PD program 5 years ago to target assessment strategies, based on Pearson’s Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning. The program aims to improve the school’s facility with assessment techniques, focusing on critical thinking and formative assessment, while guided by the principle that quality feedback is critical for student learning.

Complementing their work with assessment, Mercy also began an instructional coaching program in 2016 to increase their teachers’ comfort in using technology for instructional innovation and engagement (see here for more on KT’s instructional coaching program). The program has allowed cohort members to embrace leadership opportunities granted by the growth culture Lauren and the Mercy administration have strived to establish. Many program alumni, in fact, now serve on an instructional innovation team that helps expose the faculty at large to new modes of instruction, including technology.

In collaboration with the school’s instructional coach Jim Puccetti, Mercy’s instructional innovation team launched a “Fun Bus” (Faculty Unity Network) activity this semester, based on the “Pineapple PD” model (for more on the model, see here). Using a calendar in which teachers can indicate their preference for classroom observations (i.e., red to indicate their first time trying a particular tool or strategy, yellow for previous experience but not expert-level comfort, or green for a high level of practice), faculty can identify classrooms to visit based on their needs and interests. Visits, moreover, are not just about technology, on account of the school’s belief that edtech should only amplify what already doing by making classroom activities easier and more engaging.

As part of their professional growth and evaluation process, all Mercy faculty must complete at least 2 classroom visits during their prep periods and must follow up each visit by sharing feedback on Flipgrid with the goal of making connections on what they observed elsewhere at the school. Lauren then reviews their comments and adds some of her own to keep the conversations moving forward.

Not surprisingly, the faculty has received the program rather well and speaks highly of their experiences in it. When asked what was a favorite part of an activity featuring 6-table rotation of fresh practices, a teacher reported anonymously, “I liked being able to talk with other teachers in other departments. I love learning from the other teachers and hearing what works for them and what doesn’t.” And another added, “I had fun. This was the first time in a LONG time I’ve had PD that spoke to my scenario and not just general ones. :)”

Moving forward, Mercy will continue with their assessment framework for about 18 more months. In the meantime, Lauren remains interested in trying new things with the faculty, though she has committed to finishing what she started with them. She also intends on developing even more opportunities for activities that are based on what teachers want and need, while ensuring that their PD program activities remain relevant and teacher driven.

Thanks to the school’s commitment to the professional growth of its faculty and the PD program Lauren and her team have built to sustain it, Mercy now reflects a school culture that values consistent and relevant learning opportunities with and from each other, while always remaining mindful that improving the quality of student learning is at the center of their PD goals. And their faculty, in turn, have responded to the program with excitement and enthusiasm for what they can now do with their students.

For more updates on PD models we find useful and effective, watch our blog or follow Knowing Technologies on Twitter at @KnowingTechk12.

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Author Moss Pike

After spending 8 years teaching Latin at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, where he served as MS Dean of Faculty and helped to both launch and support the school’s 1:1 program, Moss Pike assumed the role of Director of Educational Technology at Vistamar School to build a computer science department and be a member of the school’s senior leadership team, while also implementing a BYOL program. In addition to his mentorship work with the Google Certified Innovator program and design coaching experience with Teachers Guild, Moss has also spent time as board president for the CUE Los Angeles affiliate and board secretary for the Beacon School for Boys. He is now a member of Knowing Technologies' Instructional Coaching Team.

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