I have been chewing the proverbial fat on two ideas as of late. I'm going to share one today and spit out the other tomorrow. (Sound appetizing so far?) Both deal with different aspects of professional development for teachers. While I'll be approaching these posts from the staff developer lens, I am hoping you teachers out there will chime in with your two cents---because really, these ideas are about you.
Every August, I read post after post about cringe-worthy staff development days as teachers go back to school. I defy you to find me any veteran of the classroom who doesn't have at least one example of excruciating staff development that they endured (myself included). But over the last five years, I've had a chance to also be on the other end of PowerPoint and design staff development. I do a pretty darned good job with it, too, based on the feedback I get from teachers---who are usually harsh, but fair, critics.
I base my design on a few key things. First of all, the needs of adults as learners are different from those of school-age students. I think this is where a lot of professional development (PD) people fall down. They don't respect the needs of their audience. In the quest to model certain strategies or techniques, they choose to treat teachers as if they were children. I'm sorry, but that dog don't hunt. While I encourage and engage in modeling good instruction, I don't need to talk down to teachers to do it. Secondly, the elements of high quality lesson design for the classroom can (and should) be applied for staff development. Again, this does not mean you have to view adults as kiddies, but it does mean that there should be a Big Idea driving the instruction and that there should be multiple "input" methods (not just sit-and-get with PowerPoint). In short, differentiation is key in giving people various ways to connect with the material. If the material is important enough to take up teacher time, then they deserve to have a rich learning experience. Do your homework, staff developers.
If we step out even further and consider a district as a single unit, shouldn't the overarching plan for staff development be differentiated? I got to thinking about this again after reading Mrs. Sommerville's comment on my recent PLCs: Jumping the Shark post. Her district has School Board mandated Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). And while I'm sure that they haven't directed exactly what each group will focus on during these times, I'm a little nervous about any district that has a "one size fits all" policy where teachers are concerned. PLCs can be fabulous things...but they won't be productive for every single teacher. How can we use one breath to express the need for teachers to do whatever it takes to reach every child in the classroom and in the next assume that teachers are all cookie-cutters? If the most influential factor in student achievement is the classroom teacher, shouldn't districts be doing what they can to reach every adult who works there?
I am chafing against this a bit in my new role...working with some people who, I believe, don't get "it." The "it" being effective professional development that is respective of adult learners and differentiated according to need. I think as leaders that we should expect more of ourselves than creating a basic presentation plan simply because that's the easiest thing to do. Hey, we might as well just push play on a pre-recorded PowerPoint and read the newspaper while attendees scribble down notes. That's a great example of learning for them to take back to schools, dontcha know? How do I shake them out of that mode of thinking? What do I do to get them to wake up?
So far, I've just mentioned planning and delivery here---in my next post, I want to talk about the missing aspect of most PD: output. For now, though, weigh in and let me know what you wish staff developers considered when preparing to spend time with you. What things have I forgotten or should change on my list?