22 April 2012

One Size Fits Some

I've been traveling a lot this spring--the Jenny Appleseed of PD. I've done a session in a mall...in a bookstore...in a conference room that seated 200...a first grade classroom...a school library in one of the smallest districts in the state. There have been any number of topics: standards and assessments; cues, questions, and advance organizers; reading strategies for digital texts; and so forth. If you tell me you need me to do a 20 minute session and the only space you have available is the janitor's closet, I can make it work. I do all right with presenting. I won't tell you that I hit my mark 100% of the time with 100% of the audience, as much as I would like to do so. But I like the opportunities, mainly because of the conversations that happen along the way.

Much of what I do would be considered "traditional PD," which is the current whipping boy of staff development. There are many excellent reasons to revile Sit-and-Get. I can't think of a single teacher I know who can't describe at least one horrific experience as part of a captive audience. Research shows it's grossly ineffective at changing teaching behaviors. It can be mind-numbingly boring. And yet, I think this form of learning still has a place in the arsenal. Why? Two reasons. One is simply that there are some teachers who like it. I routinely get feedback on sessions where at least one person says, "Please don't ask us to talk so much. I just want to sit and listen. " Fair enough. But I also think that there is more than one goal (change instruction) of this type of PD. You could argue that the sheer cost of teacher's time to attend a one-hour session gives very little return on investment if it doesn't result in instantaneous change. I would say that there is another purpose: to provide teachers with an opportunity to think and reflect. It's a brief window to feed a the teacher soul. You can inspire a bit of wonder and have time for discussion of one or two key ideas. Maybe that's all you need. Not everything in education is a problem to solve. Sometimes, we just want a reason to keep going.

I won't claim that traditional, face-to-face PD is more desirable than other varieties. There are lots of options for teachers through social media channels, "camps," informal workshops, online courses, job-embedded support, and more. All of them have a place. All of them will be a favourite of one teacher or another. I'm all for teachers being able to learn in an environment that supports them best. But what I see lost in all the shouting these days is that it should be up to each teacher to decide. I see plenty of tweets and blog posts deriding one form of PD or holding another above everything else. And what is lost in all of that is the simple truth that even "one size" (traditional) PD does fit some. It doesn't have to fit all. Ditto for unconferences. And PLCs. And Moodle courses. Seems like we should celebrate learning in all of its many forms.

15 April 2012

Pop Quiz, Hot Shot

Suppose this email landed in your inbox:
From: Health Person (HP)
To: Your Boss, HP's Boss
cc: You, HP's Friend, Person HP Wants to Join Her Gang, Person Who Once Attended a Meeting with All of You

Dear Your Boss,

Thank you for your follow up on HP Friend’s hand-written revisions of the raw data.  She spent many hours sifting through the numbers to provide an accurate picture for the Summary of Findings report. It is disheartening and unprofessional that You threw the revisions away as it was a public document. HP's Friend was very clear at the meeting that she wanted them back for the team to use to move forward with this report and Your Boss assured us that the revisions would be returned. It is unfortunate that we were unable to make a copy of the revisions as HP's Friend had taped numerous sheets of paper together for ease of reviewing. These revisions were the only documentation that provided us with clear and accurate numbers for our report.

You talk to Your Boss. You've completed all requested work on this project. (A) You weren't present at the meeting discussed and no information was relayed to you. (B) Public documents are the responsibility of the originator...and, as notes/drafts are not considered worthy of retention, they are only public record if the originator chooses to keep a copy. And, most importantly, (C) this is not the first time HP has publicly harassed you. (For kickers, keep in mind that HP has responsibility for K-12 standards against cyberbullying.) and (D) the giant printed spreadsheet would have been unnecessary of HP and HP's Friend had completed their personal responsibilities when the data was submitted (instead of giving it to an untrained secretary...who apparently did also not know how to use a xerox...but this is somehow all Your fault).

Your Boss says that s/he will talk to them. You talk to the HR department, who tell you to just ignore the junior high taunts, although they would be quite happy to call in HP's boss in for a chat. But hey, you trust Your Boss will do the right thing.

Only time goes by...and you discover that the problem has been made far worse, as evidenced by forwarded emails from Your Boss. Monday afternoon is your next big meeting with all the players. What do you do?