Risk and Professional Development

Teacher Professional Development
Is this your teacher professional development?

I recently found some time to reconnect with a few teachers that I haven’t talked to in a while.  A group of us were able to meet up and discuss our lives during the past school year.  As the conversation extended beyond pleasantries a few common themes emerged:  high-stakes testing, new teacher/administration evaluations and district professional development (PD).  The last topic took up most of the time and reminded me of how important it is to connect with fellow educators.

Some stories about PD were positive and some negative.  I listened to a few less than stellar stories of districts that dictate all PD needs. These top-down, one-size-fits-all PD sessions help certain staff members, but not all.   One of the teachers at our table insisted that school districts need to be able to differentiate their PD opportunities .  Just as teachers differentiate for their students, districts should also differentiate their PD for their staff.  I’m encouraged to hear that other educators like Ellen (@sneakyfritz) have similar thoughts about PD being more aligned to teachers’ needs.  Teachers learn at different paces and have a variety of strengths, therefore different opportunities should exist for them.  I find that the second model in the image below is used frequently in some districts.

photo credit: superkimbo via photopin cc
photo credit: superkimbo via photopin cc

Another teacher in our group thought that educators should be able to choose their own PD sessions, even if they’re located out of the district.  By not mentioning PD opportunities outside of the district (Edcamp, Twitter chats, conferences, workshops, MOOCS) teachers’ professional growth can be limited. Administrators that aren’t connected may not be aware of the PD options that are available online and outside of their school.  Discouraging teachers or omitting opportunities outside of the district also infers that a district doesn’t trust the professional judgement of its teachers.  Obviously, not all districts are like this.  I believe that teacher ownership plays a role in increasing the effectiveness of PD.  This terrific post by Dean (shareski) sheds some light on some of the important issues of PD and teacher ownership.

When teachers share what they’ve learned with each other the district often benefits.  I applaud districts that encourage teachers to be part of the PD process by having them lead district training sessions, similar to an edcamp model.  That seems like one way to encourage teacher ownership and solidify a mutual trust between teachers and administration

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 8.15.20 PM

Sometimes the one-size-fits-all model of traditional PD is mandatory, as regulated by the state.  I’ve found that districts that have total control (top-down) of the PD often informally discourage sharing and innovation.  Not all sessions have to be this way. Districts can encourage teachers to grow professionally by taking a risk and trusting their teachers to pick and choose the PD that meets their specific needs.  Districts should advocate for their employees to attend the most effective PD sessions.  Many of the teachers in our discussion stated that some of their best professional development came from outside of their school district boundaries.

Another teacher in our group stated that many educators are already taking ownership of their professional growth through a Personal Learning Network (PLN).  In many cases, they take ownership because the district might not providing opportunities for the growth that they need.  Regardless of a districts financial situation, many beneficial PD opportunities exist and are found through Twitter and other social networking sites.  These sites are generally free to join.  It’s truly unfortunate that some districts decide to rely on traditional PD and expect it to dramatically change teachers’ skills.  By omitting the use of technology for PD opportunities, districts are actually limiting their effectiveness and devaluing the educators that are already utilizing these outlets for PD.

Despite the lackluster view on the process of PD in some locations, the group that I sat with agreed that there’s good news.  The good news is that teachers aren’t depending on school districts to provide adequate PD.  They’re seeking out their own PD and bringing back innovative ideas to the classroom.  Teachers can bring these ideas to other connected educators around the world.  Teachers are connecting with other educators across the world through Twitter and other social media avenues.  This connection has many benefits.  Being a connected educator often gives teachers opportunities to learn more from other educators and bring back practical ideas to the classroom.  These teachers are using ideas found through their PLN to better their students’ learning experiences.  Often times they are enhancing their students’ learning experience without the district even knowing.  Districts need to be able to identify and celebrate theses succeses. I’m optimistic that school districts will adapt their current PD practices.   My optimism is rooted in the fact school districts  are listening to the staff and increasingly adopting non-traditional PD approaches to meet the professional needs of their teachers. These teachers are taking risks to better their own classroom/school and I believe school districts have the opportunity to do the same.  I’m going to end this post with a Tweet that assisted in inspiring this post:

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 8.12.45 PM

photo credit: mikecogh via photopincc


Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

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