In his book, the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros takes the “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” and tweaks it to align with professional development instead.
I’m sure we can think of classrooms that are working toward infusing these ideas, and classrooms where these ideas are the furthest thoughts away from the teachers. Professional development is the same way, and there needs to be a shift in how it is given to staff members.
In my own district, I am of the minority when it comes to learning and expanding my knowledge as needed, especially when I start using Twitter. In fact, I recently received notifications from my administration alerting me to the professional development they would like to have provided to staff members for the upcoming beginning days sessions. I will work with another ITRT to present on these topics. The change in how PD was being provided at the beginning of the year was decided on by administration after we ITRTs had left for summer obligations, so we had no say.
What is wrong with this kind of PD? Easy. It is often a one time thing. The beginning of the year professional development is required so the staff must attend. Even if we offer follow up sessions throughout the year (which we do), they are not well attended. The staff that like the initial PD will use it, the rest will ignore it, especially if it’s not watched for by administration. Since the PD is mandatory, it’s made to be a one-size-fits-all session. This whole setup is a setup for failure, and one I don’t like because it wastes my time, and it wastes the staff time.
So how might this type of PD change in my district in the future? That’s where the 8 things comes into play. See a problem, find a solution to the problem, right? Here’s how I see the 8 things being used to change professional development in Fluvanna County:
- Voice- Educators want students to own their learning. The same should be expected of them at PD sessions. Just because the presenter is at the front of the room does not mean that they are the only expert in the room. Share thoughts and ideas. Use tools that can get others involved throughout the sessions.
If you’ve ever been to an edcamp, you know that sessions are led by everyone in the room. If someone has something to share, they speak up and share. It’s a gathering of ideas, resources, and stories. There is no one leader. There is no one expert. Everyone has a voice and everyone has a say. Lecture has its place in the world, but it shouldn’t be at every PD session ever held.
- Choice- When is the last time that you had a say in your professional development? Never? Typically, there are two reasons why- You only let your district provide your PD options OR your district doesn’t count your own learning methods as PD.
If you are the first reason, then it’s time for you to take control of your learning. Not every district is ready for choice just yet, though this is not a conversation we should be having in this day and age. If you want something, ask! From my own viewpoint, I love when teachers ask me for professional development. I am willing and able to make it fit their needs and wants. I believe I need to make that even clearer this year though. Last year was my learning year…this year there’s not an excuse.
If you find yourself falling into reason number 2, it’s time to reevaluate your feelings on professional development. Are you only doing it to earn recertification points, or are you doing it to better yourself and your students? If you want the points, it’s time to turn that extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation. Yes, we cannot be motivated by every PD session we attend, but do we need someone dangling a reward in our faces? If that’s the case, then why do we act baffled when students do the same? “Is this a grade?” is to students on an assignment what “How many points will I get?” is to educators on professional development. We don’t like our students doing this, so why is it okay for us as educators to do the same?
- Time for Reflection- This ties in heavily with self-assessment later, but how many times does a professional development session allow for reflection on knowledge learned? Do you find this is often on an evaluation sheet about the session itself? “Gee, let me just BS this answer here so I can be done and out the door.” We’ve all been there before. This kind of reflection helps no one.
Instead, PD can and should provide times throughout the session to reflect and connect with others, and not just through written word. Use pictures and video to shake things up a bit. Give attendees time to think and then let them respond. A good video tool for this process would be Flipgrid. Twitter can be used, and so can Padlet. Want to have a back channel chat running? Then TodaysMeet might be more your style. Each tool lets users reflect beyond traditional responses.
- Opportunities for Innovation- Teachers cannot learn everything there is to know about a product, tool, or method in one PD session. It doesn’t matter how long the session is, or how many interesting tips are shared, we are not sponges that automatically absorb everything. These beginning sessions only help us scratch the surface of what we can do with the tool.
Instead, teachers need time to come together and create. They need time to work with the information given to them to see how it can be adapted to their own classrooms and needs. This time should not be provided during the initial session itself. Teachers are just starting to absorb the information. They have not had time to reflect and think about the learning that took place. However, time given in a few weeks to create and come together would be more beneficial. During this time, educators can create and share their work with their colleagues so that more ideas and creativity can be sparked.
- Critical Thinkers- Time and time again, we tell our students to critically think and evaluate information. They have 24 hour access (for many) and must be able to evaluate on the fly. Educators must be able to do the same. They need to feel that they have a space to push the boundaries of thinking, and to suggest new ideas. They need a space to question and challenge others, and where others can do the same to them.
Educators should be able to challenge the way things “have always been done”. It doesn’t have to be that way, and it doesn’t have to be only administration who tries to change the status quo. Of course, to be able to do this requires a good relationship between administration and staff, and the willingness to look beyond titles and rank for the good of the school community.
- Problem Solvers/Finders- One of the marks of an innovator is the ability to find problems and find solutions to them. Ever been in the teacher’s lounge during lunch? It’s a nightmare to those who are above the negativity. I have dealt with this because my office at the high school is tied to the teacher lunch area. The negativity is overwhelming, and so I often escape to the library to get away from it. Those folks can certainly FIND problems, but they have no interest in solving them. Thus, the cycle continues daily.
Instead of simply complaining, recognize there is a problem and then begin working on ways to solve it. This can be done through PD, though it may not be traditional to many. Research. Find literature and books that can help with new methods. We can create a better environment for our students, if we are willing to try to solve the issues that arise in front of us. Ask questions, learn new knowledge, try new solutions, reflection, and keep trying. You can improve the opportunities for students if only you are willing to try.
- Self-Assessment- Do you only rely evaluations from your superior or administration to tell you how you’re doing? Stop that! I get one evaluation per year. Just 1! Truly that could make or break me (thankfully I do well typically).
Relying on only that one or few times a year evaluation doesn’t provide a full snap-shot of who one is as an educator. Think about the year state exams we put students through. We don’t let that define our students, so why define ourselves that way.
Professional development should allow time for attendees to reflect. This reflection doesn’t have to occur right away, but it should occur shortly after the presentation. An easy way to do this is by keeping a digital portfolio. There are many ways to do this. One can use a Twitter account to share snippets or short videos. Over time, these snippets build up, and give a better look at any educator than an evaluation could. Another way is through blogging. A blog could host longer videos, resources, ideas, etc. The posts don’t have to be long, but they showcase the sharing and reflection process the educator goes through while learning.
- Connected Learning- Learning alone is fun, but learning together with others can have an even bigger impact. Twitter is an amazing way to connect with other educators on the topics and ideas one is most passionate about. Resources are shared, ideas gathered and discussed, and learning reflected upon. It may be hard to get into the habit at first, but in time, it pays off. Teachers can share ideas they’ve learned at PD sessions and get feedback from others who may not have been there at all. Discussions can be prompted by the simplest of ideas on Twitter.
Got a question to ask Google? Ask it on your Twitter feed as well, and use tags to get input from certain groups of people. Share snapshots of things you are doing. Use it to take notes at a conference that get shared with the world (These are great to refer back to later on). It may seem like you are small and have very few connections at first, but if you work hard to give and share ideas, your network slowly grows. I’ve been dedicated to growing mine for about 3 years now, and it has paid off.
How would your district stack up? What are some of the things you would change about PD where you are?