Thinking Outside our Classrooms: A Day of Peer Learning

Fostering a lifelong passion for learning and exploration, not only among our students but also among our parents, faculty, and staff is an ongoing priority for us at PKS. Our students are encouraged to explore personal passions and interests, parents are offered a wide range of PKS Learns and SPEAK workshops, and faculty are encouraged to attend and present at conferences around the country.

A few weeks ago, our Pedagogical Team wanted to try something innovative and engaging to provide our faculty and staff with a different type of professional development (PD) opportunity; something we call “Pinterest Live” or “Old School Pinterest.” Months of planning, teamwork, and design went into the PD which we wanted to be interactive and collaborative - one that modeled project based learning, connected us with our greater Bay Area network, encouraged collaboration, and took people out of their familiar grade level groups and classrooms.  

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As teachers, we can become so wrapped up in our own spaces and long lists of to-dos that we forget the joy we feel when we stop to look at fresh ideas. So, on a Friday PD day after a long week of parent-teacher and student-led conferences, our teachers put on their backpacks and went to school - only it wasn’t to go to PKS. Instead, in 2-8 person cross-divisional groups, they traveled throughout the Bay Area to 11 schools with models similar to and very different from our own (Children’s Day, Park Day, Friends, Synergy, CAIS, Town, Yu Ming, Black Pine Circle, Star Academy, Head Royce, and Urban). The goal was to see what our peers were doing in their classrooms and to bring back interesting ideas to implement in our classrooms.

At our host schools, teachers had opportunities to participate in morning meetings; see innovative ways to design learning spaces; ask questions about collaboration and transitions; and inquire with host school teachers about building relationships with students, behavior management, and social-emotional development. The driving question behind these conversations was how to support diverse learners.

Teachers returned to PKS enthusiastic after a morning of learning and hungry for their bento box lunches. Over lunch, there was a buzz of excitement as each school team sat together to discuss their observations. With preschool, elementary, and specialists mixed together, there were plenty of interesting observations from a number of different perspectives. This exercise reinforced a second goal of the day: cross-division bonding.

After lunch discussions, teachers regrouped with their grade level teams to share and to tackle goal three for the day: using unfamiliar technology as a means of expression. Led by Daryl, our STEAM specialist, teachers were asked to sort their takeaways into categories like space, transitions, and organization systems, and then to express three to five of these takeaways using a technology of the group’s choice: Green Screen, iMotion, Scratch Jr., or Slides. Our teachers became students, learning how to use unfamiliar technology to express and convey their ideas and learnings.

By the end of the allotted time, most groups were far from done. We heard a chorus of “We just need five more minutes to do XX!” and “We’re not done, we just need a little more time!” There was just so much more the teachers wanted to do, to share, and to convey. It was at this point that an important lesson was reinforced: it’s about the journey and not the destination. Sometimes in our drive to finish projects and check off tasks, we forget that learning occurs not by reaching an end goal but throughout the process of researching and organizing. During the share, teachers were able to show the beginnings of their technology expression paired with a deep understanding of the value of seeing others and how the visits can impact the way we teach at PKS.

The week following our school visits, the journey was still not over. Teachers continued to talk to each other about which schools they visited and what they learned there (and other schools said they wanted to visit us and schedule a similar PD opportunity for their school!). And more than just talking, some teachers were already starting to plan subsequent visits to continue their learning and gain even more insights from peer schools to bring back home to PKS.