Just in case anyone ever asks, let’s explore what is it that teachers may really want from professional development. In my last post, I complained heartily (bound to cause some displeasure in some camps) about the quality of professional development that teachers have been experiencing across the state. The staff has nicknamed it PPPD—PowerPoint PD. It is as if PowerPoint has just recently been discovered—it seems to be the only way that information is presented these days. From reading a number of other education-related blogs, my guess is that lousy PD is a nationwide problem.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! One more kvetch from another burned-out teacher. [Yawn.]
Let me make clear that I do not object to the concept of PD. I’m a long-time fan of PD. I used to sign up for all kinds of PD related to my teaching. From 1997-2002, I was out of the classroom, serving as a Coalition Science Specialist for my district’s elementary and middle school science programs. During this time, I was also permitted to attend the state’s excellent Teacher-to-Teacher Cadre training sessions—thanks Pat and Debbie. Additionally, I worked for the Penn Literacy Network (PLN), an offshoot of the Graduate School of Education of the University of Pennsylvania. I was a co-facilitator for ‘PLN 7: Integrating Science and Literacy’, a course I helped develop and teach with a multi-talented reading specialist. So, I think I have some creds when it comes to recognizing good professional development.
Over those five years, I received outstanding training in working with adult teacher learners—in other words, how to conduct professional development. I am actually a highly-trained, experienced provider of professional development, although my skills have rarely been called upon in the past eight years that I have been back in the classroom. That’s another story.
And, now that we have three hours a month of district PD for the entire staff, there is no need (nor desire) for additional training. I’m a meeting junkie, but this is too much, even for the likes of me. So, if my colleagues and I were ever asked what PD we would want, need, or relish, how might we respond? I cannot speak for us all, but here are some of my own observations. We would prefer:
- EXCELLENCE: No more mediocre PD. No more train-the-trainer, whisper down the lane–type instruction where the presenters are obviously under-prepared, only repeating their version of what they were told or shown—not necessarily what they “understand.” No more exposure to what someone heard at a meeting, but has never implemented. No more show and tell, with no time for processing, practice or review. No more sessions that begin with the comment, “Well, this is really a presentation that is designed to take six hours, but we are going to try to get through it in the next two hours.” If it is worth doing, then isn’t it worth doing properly?
- CHOICE: Teachers deserve the chance to choose from a menu of PD options. In any one staff you may have English, math, reading, science, and social studies teachers; special education teachers; art, music, band, computer, foreign language, P.E., and health teachers; therapists, psychologists, diagnosticians, librarians, and school nurses; and many more. What single professional development could possibly meet the needs of this diverse a group of professionals?
- RELEVANCE: There are certain bits of information that the entire staff needs to hear and see. I understand the value of reviewing child abuse laws and bullying each fall. However, dragging the entire staff (see example above) through some arcane math data seems like a waste of some peoples’ time. This is the kind of experience that causes people to lose interest, become resentful, and look for ways to avoid PD meetings. It gives PD a bad name. [A cheap aside: If the PD is so damned relevant and important, then how come coaches never have to attend?]
- OPPORTUNITY: PD should be to one’s advantage. It should help make me more knowledgeable, more skilled, better-prepared, wiser, sharper, more capable, more flexible, etc. than I was before I attended to session(s).
- COLLEGIALITY rather than COMPETITION: Can’t we all just get along? Not if folks keep having to listen to others tout their individual and collective successes. Sounds harmless, but I have seen it repeatedly bring out braggadocio in some and ill-will in others. A little of this goes a long way.
- COLLABORATION: Much of the time that some staffs have spent on PD this year has been under the guise of COLLABORATIVE TIME, as mandated by Delaware’s Race-to-the-Top application. 90 minutes per week = 360 minutes per month. That time is supposed to be C-O-L-L-A-B-O-R-A-T-I-V-E. Jointly decided, jointly planned, jointly conducted, jointly administered. It takes two to collaborate. Watching a 30-minute PowerPoint prepared by DO and getting to talk about it for five minutes and then share out with the whole group is not our idea of collaboration. Nuff said.
- RECOGNITION OF PROFESSIONALISM: As a 39-year veteran teacher, it would be nice if some day the bosses treated staff like teachers were trustworthy—to meet with colleagues to accomplish an important task without continual administrative supervision; to be given an important task and following through without micro-management; time to meet without having to turn in minutes to a supervisor to prove that we met and that what we discussed was real and important. Greater teacher autonomy is a joke—an element of potential school reform that will probably be one of the last things to happen. In many schools, teachers are treated like children with the principal as the mom or dad. The younger the kids, the greater the parental authority. Tell me I’m wrong.
I was worried that I had nothing to post today. Guess I proved myself wrong.
So, what do you teachers want? What did I leave out of the PD exploration? What specific topics do you need?