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Taking Charge of Professional Development

by Joseph H. Semadeni

Table of Contents


The back-and-forth motion used to plow a potato field inspired the development of television. The development of air conditioning originated by observing fog at a train station. The idea for sticky notes came while listening to a sermon in church. Fusion came to me while sitting under a tree waiting for a class on developmental supervision to begin. I was pondering the differences between teaching and administration when suddenly ideas of ways to enhance professional development flowed into my mind. After sketching a quick diagram in the back of a textbook, I hurried to class.

Since that day under the tree, I have spent hours researching the principles that have come to be known as Fusion. Ironically, the more I've studied, the more I've realized that the basic ideas that came to me within a matter of minutes are founded on sound, research-based principles. As you read this book, I invite you to compare Fusion with the latest research to see if you come to the same conclusion.

After completing my administrative endorsement, I returned to the classroom because I believe teachers play a vital role in the school improvement process, and I wanted to gain a better understanding of adult motivation from a teacher's perspective. The district where I teach is located in Star Valley, Wyoming, a rural setting nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Lincoln County School District #2 has 2,593 students and 205 teachers in five elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools.

In 2002, our district experienced some dramatic changes. Because of declining enrollment, the decision was made to consolidate four traditional K–6 schools into K–3 and 4–6 learning centers. I was among the many teachers who were shuffled from various schools to form new staffs. Needless to say, my first year at Osmond Elementary was challenging. Conflicting personalities and teaching pedagogies created turmoil that divided our faculty. It was at this time that I shared the idea of Fusion with my principal and superintendent. The principles of Fusion coincided with what they were studying in their doctoral program, so we worked together to pilot this innovation at Osmond.

When I first presented Fusion to the faculty at Osmond Elementary, I thought teachers would immediately want to participate. I was wrong. Not only did they lack enthusiasm, but some teachers were offended by the philosophy. Cheryl Erickson and Ileene Jensen, two veteran teachers on our staff, were the first to experiment with Fusion. Their positive experience influenced six other teachers to participate. Within a matter of months, our school culture changed from a negative environment where teachers seldom spoke to one another and rarely participated in peer observation, to a professional learning community where teachers were excited to get together to discuss best practices. Over a seven-month period, faculty members participated in 256 peer observations in which we watched one another using strategies learned from Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001b). A veteran teacher of over 30 years, who initially resisted Fusion, writes:

Fusion has made me a better teacher, and I have seen the students benefit. In the past six years I have learned more proven practices in education than in the thirty years since I graduated from college. I have had the opportunity to watch good educators use these strategies, and I have had them come watch me use them. That hasn't happened since I graduated. Yes, I have had administrators come into my classroom, but there isn't real help in their observations. The real help is in having teachers who have used these strategies help me to become good at using them with no pressure.
Once or twice each month teachers get together in groups and discuss the programs we are working on. This is extremely valuable. It hasn't been there for me in my career until Fusion.

Refining the presentation of Fusion and developing training for teacher leaders made it possible to extend this initiative to other schools. Within two years, Fusion was fully implemented in all five elementary schools in our district.

The next challenge was to see if Fusion would work at a secondary level. In 2005, several colleagues and I had the privilege of presenting Fusion to the Wyoming State House Education Committee. They were impressed with our results but were skeptical about it working at a secondary level. After much discussion, they agreed to provide the funding necessary to experiment with Fusion at Star Valley Middle School. Once again, we witnessed results similar to those at the elementary schools. Specifically, the middle school experienced a dramatic increase in peer observation, collaboration, mastery of best practices, and teacher enthusiasm. One resource teacher states:

Truthfully, without Fusion, I would not have stepped outside the box and implemented Venns, matrix, note taking, reciprocal teaching, and summarizing. As well, it has enhanced my area of Special Education into one inclusion program beautifully. Fusion has been an eye opener for me. I have been able to go into teachers' classrooms and see the different ways teachers use the strategies . . . a huge thank you. Fusion has opened a new dialogue in our middle school.

Three years after its start, Fusion had captured the attention of most educators in our district. High school teachers felt like they were being left out, so Fusion was expanded to include Star Valley High School. Once again, critics felt that high school teachers were too departmentalized to collaborate with and observe peers outside their content area. To complicate matters, our district had hired a new high school principal and superintendent. This development was challenging because these leaders hadn't experienced the changes we had witnessed prior to their arrival. Even with these challenges, Fusion was successfully implemented. A veteran English teacher states:

Fusion has been one of the most positive and effective professional development opportunities to come along in years. One of the biggest benefits is the chance to collaborate and share ideas with other teachers. Fusion offers a systematic method for getting teachers together to communicate about various strategies and methodologies. Another positive outcome is the chance to watch other teachers and learn the strategies that they use to make class time more effective and efficient. I have borrowed several ideas from other teachers to keep my classroom management time to a minimum, which makes more time for instruction. Another benefit is an outgrowth of the peer observations. As other teachers observe me, I have been more aware of my implementation of these strategies. Unlike taking college classes or going to a one- or two-day professional development seminar, I am able to implement the new strategies systematically with weekly and monthly goals that our study group sets. Therefore, I make it a priority to implement these strategies. I also have follow-up to the professional development. While completing the reflective statements, I think about what I am doing, have done, and need to do. If I need advice, I seek information from the peer study group.
The intrinsic and extrinsic rewards of Fusion have been a strong motivator in learning, adapting, and refining classroom management and instructional strategies for me.

Michael Fullan (1993) wisely observes, "Change is a journey not a blueprint" (p. 24). Lincoln County School District #2 has definitely had its ups and downs with the change process. The purpose of this book is to share our journey with you. Along the way, as Fullan states, "We are beginning to appreciate more of the total picture. What appears simple is not so—introducing a seemingly small change turns out to have wild consequences. What appears complex is less so—enabling a few people to work on a difficult problem produces unanticipated windfalls" (p. viii).

The beauty of Fusion is its simplicity. Applying the philosophy that the best form of professional development is to encourage teachers to learn together in professional learning communities has helped us improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Within seven years, teachers in our district have participated in over 4,500 peer observations and mastered nearly 2,200 instructional strategies. As teachers experiment with what they learn through Fusion, school becomes more interesting for students. This has increased students' desire and ability to learn, which has transferred into improved achievement scores. Our district is now one of the top-performing districts in the state of Wyoming. Discover how the principles of Fusion can improve your school, too.


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