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Professional Development: The phrase has a way of striking dread into the hearts of teachers. But not because teachers don’t WANT to improve. Not because we believe we’re done growing and learning. Far from it.
In fact, so many teachers bristle at the thought of PD because most of the time, it’s executed so poorly. Although the typical one-size-fits-all format—where every teacher in the building is herded together to listen to an expert speak—has been widely denounced, it still persists as the default model. Sometimes, if the speaker happens to be engaging, some teachers will walk away with a small tidbit they can apply to their own work. For most teachers, though, it feels like a waste of precious time, time that could be spent developing skills that would make a real difference in their specific practice.
But things are starting to change. More and more schools are experimenting with personalized approaches to professional development; this guide from EdSurge takes a comprehensive look at all the different shapes this can take. And as new unconferences pop up every week all over the world, teachers are seeing just how easy it can be to learn from each other, without the need for any kind of outside expert.
And now, taking PD to an even simpler, more local, more affordable level, we have the Pineapple Chart.
What is a Pineapple Chart?
A Pineapple Chart is a system that allows teachers to invite one another into their classrooms for informal observation. The chart is set up in some location where teachers go on a daily basis: the teacher’s lounge, the copy room, or wherever teacher mailboxes live in your school. On the chart, teachers “advertise” the interesting things they are doing in their classrooms, activities they think others might want to observe. The activities could be as complex as a science lab, a history simulation, or a Skype session with a school in another country. Or they could be as simple as a read-aloud or a lesson on badminton.
The chart represents one week of school. Along the top, five columns are labeled Monday through Friday. Along the side, rows assigned to various chunks of each school day. In a middle or high school, these would be class periods. In an elementary school, the rows could be divided by hours or half-hours.
When a teacher sees something on the chart she (or he) is interested in, she goes to that classroom at the designated time, sits down in an out-of-the-way spot, and watches. That’s it. No note-taking is required, no post-observation conference, no write-up. Just a visit. She can even grade papers or catch up on email if she wants, paying closer attention when the moment calls for it, but getting work done in the meantime. She can stay for five minutes or a whole class period. The key word here is informal, and it’s the best way for teachers to learn lots of skills and techniques just when they need them.
The reasons the visiting teacher might come in are endless: It could be that she wants to start using Google Cardboard, but would like to see another teacher do it first. Maybe she’s struggling with classroom management and knows this teacher runs a tight ship. Or maybe she’s there because she always wanted to learn more about World War I. Regardless of the initial reason, what she ends up learning is likely to be far more than she expected. During that Google Cardboard visit, she’ll also notice a cool bulletin board in that teacher’s classroom and decide to try something similar in her room. While watching the lesson on World War I, she’ll pick up a questioning technique she ends up using in her own teaching. Every teacher in your building has their own unique blend of skills and talents, but the only way you’ll ever learn about them is to see your colleagues in action.
The Origins of the Pineapple Chart
The pineapple has long been a symbol of hospitality; it’s used in the chart in the spirit of welcoming one another into our school “homes.”
But that’s just the beginning. Here’s how the Pineapple Chart came to be: In early 2015, Mark Barnes and I were compiling innovative teaching “hacks” for our book, Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. I remembered my sister, who teaches science in Massachusetts, telling me about her attempts to start a “Pineapple Welcome” initiative at her school, where teachers would hang a picture of a pineapple outside their classroom doors, indicating that any other teacher who wanted to visit was welcome to stop by.
When I asked her how the whole pineapple thing went, she said, “Eh. Some people came in, but usually I would hang the pineapple and nothing would happen. I stopped doing it after a while.”
This bothered me, because some of the most valuable skills I have picked up as a teacher came from informally observing my colleagues in their classrooms. I feel strongly that some of the best professional development available to teachers lives right inside the walls of our schools, and if we could just watch each other teach more, we would all grow exponentially.
Just hanging the pineapple on the door, I realized, had two shortcomings. One, it was only visible to teachers who happened to pass by that door on that day. And two, it didn’t offer enough information: Just seeing a pineapple on the door tells the visitor nothing about what’s going on inside. If a teacher is going to spend time visiting another teacher’s classroom, he wants to know that the thing he’s coming to observe is something he’s actually interested in. A chart posted in a central location, with a bit of information about the day’s activities, solves both problems.
We asked my sister to pilot this centralized system at her school, and the first Pineapple Chart was born. Since the publication of Hacking Education, the Pineapple Chart system has taken off in schools all across the world, and the results have been fantastic.
Two Schools Where Pineapple Charts Are Making an Impact
Gator Run Elementary, Weston, Florida
“The Pineapple Chart has been a game changer for the staff at Gator Run,” says Intern Principal Cyndi Felton, who initiated Gator Run’s first Pineapple Chart in January of 2016. “We have some of the very best PD available under our own roof. Now teachers have the opportunity to get into each other’s classrooms and learn from one another.”
Since the chart has been going, Felton has seen teachers trying new things more quickly. “Last year we noticed tools and strategies spreading throughout the building after Pineapple Chart visits. Kahoot, Nearpod, Plickers, in-class flipped lessons, SeeSaw, and performance scales in addition to unique procedures, classroom management and teaching strategies.”
Maple Avenue Middle School, Littlestown, Pennsylvania
In January of 2016, when Assistant Principal Cortney Golden first launched the chart in her school, she worked hard to keep it full. “I was very aware that if we lost momentum, and the chart was blank, it would die. I sent staff-wide emails, group emails, personal emails, face to face requests, and even had my secretary appealing to teachers to sign up. Getting teachers to sign up was my first priority….then, once that became more automatic, we began to ‘push’ visiting.”
Since then, informal observation and an open-door policy have become part of the school’s culture. So much so that the word “pineappling” has become a verb:
“Collectively, we embrace pineappling now more than ever,” says Golden. “As teachers desire to grow their craft, to foster 21st century skills, and to help students discover and pursue their passions, it becomes clear to all that teachers need each other. Pineappling gives teachers the permission they feel they need to collaborate, observe, ask, and reflect. It is a ‘safe’ and powerful professional development opportunity. Pineappling is free, fits within the school day, and has proven to be the BEST professional growth experience.”
Tips for Making Pineapple Charts Work
Find creative ways to make the time.
The simplest way to squeeze these visits in is for teachers to do them during their planning time, or part of it. Remember, we’re not talking about a whole class period necessarily; a 15-minute visit may be all that’s needed to pick up a new strategy. In cases where teachers want to see something that doesn’t coincide with planning time, the staff will need to be more creative:
- A floating sub can be arranged for a day (or a few days) and teachers can “sign up for the sub” in order to visit another room.
- Administrators (or other certified personnel) can step in to cover a class. This solution does double-duty, as it gives the principal some time to interact more closely with small groups of students. Instead of covering the teacher’s regular material, the administrator could use this time for having discussions about school issues or just getting to know the students.
- Teachers can team up to cover each other’s classes. Imagine a scenario where teacher A agrees to cover teacher B’s class while teacher B observes in teacher C’s room. Then everyone switches roles two more times. A motivated school might even experiment with a second chart (beside the Pineapple Chart) where teachers post a need for coverage and other teachers sign up to cover for them.
Keep it voluntary.
Administrators, be warned! The quickest way to suck the life out of this initiative is to make it mandatory for all teachers. By keeping visits informal and strictly voluntary (for the host teacher AND the visitor), you’ll ensure that the Pineapple Chart is always seen as a positive thing, a learning opportunity initiated by the teacher.
Skip the documentation.
An equally fast way to drain people’s enthusiasm for visits is to force them to do some kind of write-up afterward. Please don’t turn the chart into another reason to require teachers to document. If they know paperwork is expected of them, they will be far less likely to visit.
Start with the bold and the brave…
When you first launch the Chart, many teachers will be shy about posting lessons. Get things going by having your most extroverted teachers sign up first. If you get a group of 5-10 teachers willing to put themselves out there, this will eventually help others step forward as well.
…but set the bar low.
Make sure teachers know they don’t have to be doing something ‘impressive’ in order to post a lesson to the chart. “The hardest part is getting teachers to understand it doesn’t have to be an extravagant lesson to sign up,” says Felton. “Their everyday strategies and standard procedures can be incredibly helpful to someone who has never seen or thought of it. You really never know what you might learn whether it’s a 5- or a 25-minute visit.”
Especially when you first get started, encourage those who do the observing to share the good things they saw by talking about it in faculty meetings, sharing a compliment on a teacher “brag board” or posting about it online. At Maple Avenue, Golden encouraged teachers to tweet about their experiences using the hashtag #MAMSLearning. “This helped keep the excitement high, and the pressure low,” she says. “Although I still have to harass teachers every once and again (I call it “gently wooing”) to showcase the teaching and learning in their classroom, it has become very much part of our culture.”
Share Your Story
If your school has already started using a Pineapple Chart, tell us about it in the comments. I would love to hear about tweaks you’ve made to the system and how the system is impacting teacher relationships and student growth.
The Pineapple Chart is just one of the 10 hacks Mark Barnes and I share in our 2015 book, Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Get your copy today and start hacking tomorrow! ♦