I spent Wednesday on a “site visit” at another school. This school, also a middle school, was being shown off as a model of how to use our district’s learning management system for blended instruction. There were about 75 teachers, technology coordinators, and administrators there, including some from the neighboring school district.

Two hours of the visit were set aside for observations of about 20 of the teachers, who had designed lessons with various levels and uses of technology in them and were willing to participate by letting us observe their classes. The observations were great, and I certainly saw some new and different ideas being tried out in different classrooms.

That’s not what really impressed me.

The one observation that I can’t get out of my head is just how incredibly different the professional culture is there. The list of teachers who were willing to open their doors and let complete strangers watch them teach was a page and a half. And it wasn’t all the gifted classes either; I spent more time in special education classrooms than anywhere else. All of the students knew what was going on and, amazingly, they pretty much just ignored us.

When we were looking through the list of teachers and lessons to come up with our individual schedules for the day, we noticed that the teachers had rankings next to their names: Novice, Practitioner, and Expert. The principal explained that teachers took a survey of their technology skills (with an emphasis on the learning management system), and that the survey provided them with a score. The score was used to group teachers by ability level. There was absolutely no stigma attached to being labeled a novice teacher, and these teachers freely discussed their current level of implementation and the difficulties and challenges they were facing.

After lunch, the school let us pick between three different panels, one per ability level. Since I represent a school with a large number of new teachers, I chose to attend the novice discussion. I was so inspired to see these teachers openly and honestly discuss their challenges–and successes!–and tell us how they were improving their skills. At one point, the principal walked in and joined the discussion, and absolutely nothing changed in the teachers’ tone or the things that they said. I asked them how I could better deliver training to novice teachers and their answers were refreshingly honest and based in their personal experiences.

I came expecting technology tips, and I certainly got that, but I left wanting to figure out how we can improve the culture at my school. I’ve struggled with this for years, and I’ve often felt like I’m the only one who notices (or cares), but this issue is just too important to leave to others.

Now, where to begin?