06 October 2010

That's What She Said

Dear Presenter from Today,

Even though you stressed the important role of feedback in formative assessment during your presentation today, you neglected to ask for any. So, as a favour to you, I'm including some here.

I agree that the Black Box article by Black and Wiliam is seminal and an important read for classroom educators. I also know that it is nearly 15 years old and much has been researched, analyzed, and written about providing student feedback and using formative assessment in the classroom. Perhaps this article is appropriate when working with teachers new to the ideas. In a room full of state leadership, this article is redundant. We have expertise. Use it.

I really loved (not) how you modeled the complete opposite of everything you were talking about today. All the stress on adjusting instruction and meeting students where they are---all the emphasis on the responsibilities of the teacher. Such important concepts. And yet, we as learners were treated to one of the most extensive "sit and gets" I have been to in a very long time. We weren't to use our phones to connect and learn and look at links you provided because the phones distract you. You. We are learning. We are the clients. You are there for us. Don't treat us like we're just a meal ticket that should bow at your feet.

You are right in that teachers need strong support. They also need real answers. When someone asks you for some concrete suggestions about closing the gap between student learning and the standard, don't give them a bunch of platitudes and then ask, did that answer your question? I nearly burst out laughing when the person quietly said "Thank you." because what was hidden in there was "No, but now I feel too stupid to ask again." And you just went right on with what you wanted to talk about instead of what they needed. You didn't have a clue what you'd just done. If you don't know an answer, at least be gracious enough to say you don't, offer to do some research, or ask the other participants for their suggestions. You've already said that you moved into administration from teaching because teaching was too hard. Now you're going to tell us what to tell teachers? How about you stick your advice in your ZPD and smoke it?

The coup de grĂ¢ce was your observation about sending teachers to professional development. I have to agree with you that there is a lot of poor PD out there. You were generous enough to show us that first hand today. But I particularly loved your statement that when you were an administrator, that if teachers came back with a "neat idea," you never allowed them to go to a workshop again because getting neat ideas is a waste. Neat ideas don't help kids. (Is that why you provided none today?) 

Let me tell you about "neat ideas." They might not help kids directly---but they inspire teachers. They make them want to try new things that can reach students for the first time. They can motivate teachers to think of new ways to present material or assess learning.  They make teaching exciting. I have to say that when I was a n00b teacher, "neat ideas" are what saved me and kept me in teaching. Now I am wondering how many careers you crushed when you told a spirited teacher "no more learning for you." 

That was my biggest takeaway today: you don't know jack about learning (especially how adults learn). Don't learn using a computer or phone---only the sound of your voice or these relatively poor visuals that were included could possibly suffice. Don't learn from the person sitting next to me. Don't go some place where I might be exposed to (gasp!) a neat idea.  

Lucky us. You're coming back two more times this year. Unfortunately, I won't make the last meeting as I am already scheduled to be looking at student work and having meaningful conversations about it. There are sure to be "neat ideas" there, so I'm sure you will be relieved to know that I'm not inviting you. But my phone and I will be ready to join you and learn in January. I hope you're ready.

Sincerely yours,



Ian H. said...

Ouch! I've had some bad PD before, but never anyone who so precisely contradicted everything they were presenting with their presentation. Yikes!

Hopefully, you can still find some positive to take away from your sessions...

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Holy Road Apples, SG!

I hope that you will share the identity of your professional developer so that we can avoid the godawful experience you had. At least email me, please.

BTW, one of my (also) pet peeves is professional developers who preach best instructional practice, then don't follow it. Like we should be able to absorb their hogwash without good procedure.

Professional developer Gale Elkins, who taught our professional development cadre teachers back almost ten years ago, totally modeled good teaching when she taught us. That's the way PD should be conducted...by example.

Adrienne said...

It is disappointing when you go expecting to hear something new or enlightening from an expert in the field and then have them basically lead you through an introductory workshop with the same ideas you have been presenting in your own introductory workshops for the past three years.

I did somewhat agree with her about the PD though. I know we all need to fill our teacher toolbox, and that "neat ideas" can be very satisfying and exciting. But when teachers get techniques without background understanding (lots of how without any why) isn't that the same thing as kids doing bunch of cool activities without building a conceptual understanding?

She may have been a bit flip in the way she talked about this idea (ok, maybe a lot flip) but I do think she has a real point about PD not asking teachers to think in ways that will really change their teaching. Neat ideas are far from bad, but if ALL that teachers are getting from a PD provider is tips, then should they keep going to them? When time is so scarce, shouldn't they be spending their time on PD that will be more impactful?

The Science Goddess said...

Ian---So much poorly thought out PD abounds. I am finding that the "bigger" the name, the more likely the person is a one-trick pony. They have their speech or workshop and can't or won't change it.

Hugh---we'll talk. :)

Adrienne---Agreed that "neat ideas" cannot be the sole source of PD for teachers. At some point, it has to be connected to conceptual understanding. I do think that we need to allow for some differentiation of PD. A few sessions of tips might be an excellent entry point to hook new or overwhelmed teachers. Use their enthusiasm about these to begin building the other components. Old dogs (the kind who will look at a neat idea and go "That won't work in my classroom...") need different inspiration. PD providers have the same responsibility to meet teachers where they are as teachers do for their students. Hopefully, the leadership in a school or district understands that and can adjust and offer what is needed.