What-if Wednesday: What if we changed professional development?

One of the many hilariously cynical posters at despair.com

Twice in the last year, I have had the opportunity to conduct professional development at my school.  I suppose “conduct” is the wrong word, given the fact that I was not exactly a director leading the teachers.  Instead, I was able to work with teachers to create a new type of professional development.  

In my mind, the term “professional development” conjures up images of an endless stream of PowerPoint slides, unexcited language acquisition specialists, various district coaches (who, sadly, are not real coaches.  They don’t yell or blow whistles) giving long lectures and the staff playing buzzword bingo while I silently draw cartoons or grade papers.  
I’m not much of a list guy, but here is a list of twelve things we tried that worked well:
  1. Student-centered: our conversations revolved around curriculum, instruction and assessment.  The main question was, “How will this change your actual classroom?”
  2. Teacher Choice: In our technology integration class, teachers were able to have a certain amount of independent time and were given a chance to help develop the professional development topics. Personally, I would love if our school used our Thursday inservice times as elective classes where teachers could choose a quarter-long or semester-long class.
  3. Interactive: Rather than passive teacher-to-student lectures, we had individual, partner, small group and whole-group interaction.  
  4. Longer Duration: Teachers focussed on one topic for an entire quarter, which meant we delved into the topic at a greater level. Often professional development is relegated to isolated workshops or single meetings, which provide a cursory presentation of information rather than an opportunity to delve deeply into the subject.  
  5. Peer-led: I facilitated it and the group led itself.  In other words, we had not “experts” but instead focussed on shared knowledge. 
  6. Authentic Use of Data: I hate the term “data.”  It’s a great term for Buzzword Bingo, but I cringe at how often people misuse data.  However, I used qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys to help determine the direction and gain feedback on improving it. 
  7. End Product: The teachers actually worked on creating something over a period of time.  It was their evidence of learning.  
  8. Utilizing Teacher Strengths: In one of the professional development areas, teachers worked on creating a common curriculum and language arts and social studies teachers who were weak on technology were able to lend their expertise and experience in authentic collaboration.  
  9. Relevant Topics: In this case, it was “authentic tech-integration for the Digital Age,” but it could have been classroom leadership, reading strategies, etc. 
  10. Mix of Theory and Practice: Instead of simply learning trite, glib advice or being bogged down by academic jargon and theory, we mixed the theory and the practice and kept a balance.  
  11. Constructivist: Rather than focussing on teachers gaining tangible skills, the goal was the construction of knowledge.  This meant, we focussed our attention on teacher self-efficacy, motivation and authentic learning.   
  12. Limited Size: A staff-wide meeting or massive workshop is too big.  By keeping the numbers between five and twelve, we had a smaller, more personal setting for learning.  

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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