O.K., So What Do You Teachers Want?

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?

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11 Responses to O.K., So What Do You Teachers Want?

  1. ob1katobe says:

    Been reading your blog for weeks now and this is the best post yet (IMHO)! Very thoughtful piece here and right on target. I enjoy reading all your musings but this one hit the spot. KEEP IT UP!

  2. Frederika says:

    Thanks a bunch, and do keep reading AND POSTING RESPONSES. I hate talking to myself.

  3. Mike Matthews says:

    Frederika,

    You’ve perfectly encapsulated how I feel about professional development. As I’ve only been teaching two years, I feel you’re much better versed in these discussions, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone in thinking pretty much the same as you.

    It goes without saying that a majority of my school’s 360 monthly minutes are non-collaborative. After speaking with folks from dozens of other schools, it’s clear to me that this is the norm across the state. My fear is that we’re twisting the intent of Race to the Top and not optimizing our potential.

    I can count on one hand the valuable PD I’ve had in the past two years. I recall one absolutely frustrating PD during October’s inservice day regarding math content standards. A colleague and I sat in the back row and were utterly floored at how unengaging, pedantic, and unnecessary it seemed to be. We spent three hours in a room with other elementary teachers on how to break down the math standards.

    Want to know how that time could have been better spent? Working with my fifth grade team developing SPECIFIC math lesson plans, putting together manipulatives, or targeting high-needs skills via data review. But, you make a great point about trust. Where is it?!? Unless administration is able to account for every last second of our time (“Make sure you sign in!”), then it seems like we’re never afforded the trust I feel we, as professionals, deserve. So, back to the PowerPoint Pool we go for some absurd presentation on States of Arousal or some other ephemeral topic to never be mentioned again.

    The State needs to audit these meetings in some way. They’re non-collaborative for sure. And, if deeper measures were taken, I’m sure they’d reveal they’re barely effective. It just makes me wonder. Why are we doing this? It surely isn’t for the kids. Whose high-level administration job is being secured by keeping some of these asinine PD jobs in constant rotation?

    I want collaboration and I want it now. I want a tangible outlet to share information with my team, develop effective and creative methods of delivery, and even just to freshen up my classroom every now and then. Really, is this too much to ask?

  4. Tchrme_73 says:

    Mike,

    I can’t agree with you more. As part of the leadership team at my school, it is infuriating to listen to the “trainers” at the monthly training meetings. They read from a script, talk to those listening as if we were illiterate and couldn’t decipher the information for ourselves. Don’t even get me started on the PowerPoints that are read to us. And by the way, who edits these PowerPoints? I have sat and read these and have found numerous mistakes in information that is just glossed over and not addressed. I remember a long time ago, when I first started teaching, a seasoned teacher said to me, “PD is a vicious circle, it is the same information that keeps coming back only with a different acronym.” At the time, I found much of the information useful to me. Now, I see what he was talking about. A good example is the introduction at the last training of “Advanced Organizers”. What the hey!

  5. Ancora Imparo says:

    Thanks for asking. Too often teachers are not asked. There is this idea that teachers don’t know what they need. Teachers don’t understand the “big picture,” test scores =AYP. I will absolutely agree there are poor teachers in the profession. However, in my years of experience, I am shocked that their evaluations are never poor. It seems that those who see the “big picture,” plan for professional development are also those who can’t use the research to monitor, guide, evaluate a poor teacher to make a choice to progress or a choice out. Therefore, I submit it may be time to allow master teachers to guide professional development choices and work with other teachers. I chose NOT to use the word collaborate because it has been inappropriately used as time for presentations, lectures AT teachers, not with teachers. I am incredibly offended at blatant misuse RTT $ and professional educators who have found financial opportunity. Just recently, teachers at our school said, “please, no time for collaboration. I can’t sit still and listen to lecture of what I need to do when I have already done that in my classroom. This plc time is holding me up from what I need to for my students.” I am not sure the RTT policy matches the implementation. I can imagine someone reading this and saying, “well, if you had been doing that in your classroom, then there would be results!” I might ask them, if a doctor sees 65% patients with hyperthyroidism, treat all patients for this? I am not suggesting I have nothing to learn as a teacher, au contraire. Like Fredrika, I am a life long learner. My specific choices you ask? THANKS!  First, I would like technology application onsmartboard, alpha smarts, and other venues for item analysis in assessment diagnosis. In addition, I would seek peer mentoring forlarge size classroom management – high level achieving students, motivating “I don’t want to be here” students and setting realistic, appropriate goals for severe at-risk students to be successful. Most of all, TIME for actual implementation and reflection on the ideas/suggestions made at building level, an aligned curriculum K-12. These are the needs we “sneak” when not sitting in a 2 hour professional development lecture that fulfilled a checklist on the LEA RTT Plan. Notice I did identify these are my specific choices, which means other faculty may have other needs. However, there seems to be concern from building/district admin if they can trust their faculty to 1) make good choices that impact achievement 2) use their time wisely, appropriately. Without trust, 85 teachers are hustled into a cafeteria for a lecture. Even is only 35 teachers used their time wisely/appropriately for student achievement, I suggest more would be gained from their work and modeling behavior to peers vs. cattle herd lecture.
    I am scared that no one realizes what is on paper is not the same as what is happening. My fear is that no one cares because what is on paper matters more. I am not suggesting that it was intentional or calculated; however, I am suggesting that this impacts student learning and achievement.

  6. Frederika says:

    Thank you AI for the insightful comments. RttT is an opportunity. Too many teachers feel that part of it may be on its way to being squandered by micromangement and misdirection. Collaborative time should be one of the easy implementations from RttT. If we cannot get this part of the plan right, then what will happen to the more complex and ambitious portions of each LEA plan?

    So, added to our list are: (1) technology advancements that seem to really matter for the classroom teacher for classroom management, engagement, and data analysis; (2)strategies for managing and enhancing learning in large classes and/or classes of greatly mixed abilities (like four out of my five classes–my son, who has taught for a total of eleven months is teaching classes of 30-39 students!!!); (3) time to process, implement, and then reflect upon school and district initiatives; (4) an aligned K-12 curriculum.

    All great ideas. Keep them coming!

  7. Ancora Imparo says:

    While you are collecting that wishlist, as an educator and a parent, I wish for children’s education not to be directed by testing. I would like for students to learn foreign languageS, science, music, history. In order to avoid a RTT education, you must apply to a charter or pay for private. It seems strange those who are demanding a world class education are supporting policy that lowers narrows curriculum to English and Math.

  8. NGTA says:

    I feel like I should chime in just to be fair. My experience with collaborative planning time has been amazing. We meet as a content team of grade level teachers twice per week. We used to meet more often, but two seems to be about right. In a nutshell, we identify student needs and interventions. We get updates on issues our students face (discipline, homelessness, grades declining, etc). Our administrator attends when we want him to, but gives us freedom to do what we think needs to done. We have had meetings where we make him a “to do”list that will help us. Andhe does it! He always treats us like professionals and our team takes it seriously because it is the only time we are treated that way. I feel like this what a PLC should be, but we only have it this way because of one administrator. The rest of my school is not having the success that we are. Having my great team makes working at one of our difficult high schools a great job. It sounds most teachers are missing on what I think is the best part of my job.

  9. Frederika says:

    NGTA: You may be right. There are probably more teachers going without collaborative time than those who have an experience as rich, productive, and rewarding as yours.

    I need to meet with the special education staff because I have every special ed student on my team–I teach science and also have an inclusion class with all of full-time special ed students from the entire 6th grade. The special ed folks have a different planning time than I have so we cannot meet then. We need to compare notes on kids. My whole team should probably meet with the exploratory team to discuss our kids–same thing–no common planning time.

  10. Ancora Imparo says:

    NGTA: I have had some awesome collborative experiences in which I was able to discuss strategies, share ideas, learn about AP potential, use data and reflect on how to use in my classroom. – think it is because of those experiences that I am unwilling to call a lecture presentation “collaborative” planning. I don’t want to suggest collaboration is wrong or should be removed. I just want the true collaboration. Otherwise, 5 years from now someone will write a book that policy didn’t meet implementation and come for inservice.

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