Total Pageviews

Saturday, March 15, 2014

PD: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Over the past five years I have attended hundreds of hours of professional development (PD for short) as a teacher. This includes everything from monthly staff meetings and department meetings to hour-long weekly PD sessions on a variety of topics to “beginning of year PD days” to day-long sessions, and week-long conferences. I even participated in an on-going nine month PD that met for a half-day once each month. And my title for this post sums up my experiences pretty well.

If you’re not an educator, there is an expectation in the United States for educators that we continually grow and develop as professionals by expanding our own learning in our content area as well as in the field of education. Most schools start the year with a few “PD Days” that don’t typically involve much development. They usually cover mundane maintenance information. They’re dull days spent sitting listening to other people talk at you about retirement benefits, insurance, emergency procedures, etc. Don’t get me wrong: emergency procedures are important. In fact, they’re so important, it’s probably not a good idea to sandwich them between mind-numbing sessions on insurance and SMSs and LMSs, etc.

For the record, I’m a huge fan of professional development and the concept and inspiration behind professional development, when it’s done well. That last clause is really key, because too often it’s not done well. And too often things are labeled as “professional development” that aren’t really professional development at all. But enough lead-in. I recently had a very good professional development, and I was reflecting on how much bad PD I’ve sat through, and what the difference is, and I thought perhaps I’d lay out some personal observations on what makes professional development good. So here we go…

1) It’s led by teachers. The best professional development experiences I’ve had have been organized and led by teachers. This is a challenge because teachers are already over-worked and under-paid; so putting on a quality professional development experience for colleagues takes time that teachers often don’t have. Administrators need to identify teacher leaders and find ways to free up their time so they can develop and execute quality PD for their colleagues. Teachers who are “in the trenches” speak to the experience of other educators in a way that “experts” and administrators cannot.

2) It’s practical. When teachers sign up for (or are forced to attend) professional development, they want to walk away from the hour/day/week with something tangible that they can implement in their classrooms to improve student learning. I’m not really interested in sitting through a day-long conference about why I should integrate social justice topics into my classroom. I would much prefer to spend a day walking through actual social justice themed lessons that I can use in my own classroom. I was at a conference in Grand Rapids a couple summers ago, and the presenters treated us like a class and actually did a lesson with us, and then gave us the lesson plan.

3) It’s interactive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat through PD about interactive learning or projected based learning that was delivered as a lecture. Talk about a total disconnect! Setup your PD to reflect what you’re trying to share. If it’s a PD on flipping the classroom, e-mail participants a link to a video you want them to watch the night before. I went to a day-long PD on using the socratic method in classrooms, and the presenter broke us up into groups and ran the whole day like he would run a classroom, constantly modeling the socratic method and how it can be used with students.

4) There are materials (handouts, etc.) available after the presentation, and the presentation itself is recorded and shared (or at least the powerpoint is uploaded). This is especially true at conferences. When I attend 5-6 1-1.5 hour sessions every day for a couple days in a row, it gets to be a bit of an overload, and at the end of the day, it helps to have a website where I can download materials or the presentation itself and re-watch it (even a week or a month later, when I’m thinking “What did that lady say?”).