Two words – Professional Development.
Whether you are an administrator, principal, academic advisor, teacher or parent you are likely to have strong feelings and opinions associated with these words. This week’s #edchat discussion revolved around the question, “How can PD be used to stimulate educational reform?” but I think it better answered the question, “How can we redesign and redefine PD to be more effective and useful for teachers and ultimately increase student achievement?”
When professional development is approached in the same manner as teachers “teaching to the test” it is ineffective at best and immobilizing at worst. Professional development should be approached in the same manner we approach good teaching. Good teaching is a process. It is research based, student centered, relevant and meaningful, social, comprised of checks for understanding and authentic assessments, reflective and differentiated based on student needs. Good teaching breeds life long learners. If a student is unmotivated or disengaged we do not blame the student, we adjust the learning context, content, and process. Instead of blaming teachers and writing them off as uninterested in learning, lazy, and burnt out – we need to reflect on, redefine, and redesign professional development to make it more meaningful for teachers.
Top 5 Tips for Administrators, Principals and Advisors on Redesigning PD
Stop Wasting Your Money and Use Your Assetts
@BryantHistoryT insists, “Some of the best PD comes from fellow teachers. Take advantages of your best assets.” This is so true! Every single teacher at your school has something they are amazing at, or something to share that others can learn and grow from. Take the time to discover your teachers’ strengths, every teacher, not just the loudest or most social (would you do this with your students?), and capitalize.
Teachers, like students, learn best from their peers. Take the weight off yourself, your resources, and your budget, and allow your teachers to plan and construct professional development sessions. Consider linking participation to action research plans or professional growth goals. Ask teachers what they want to learn about or need to enhance for their own professional growth and differentiate and customize the learning opportunities you provide.
Build and Cultivate a Community of Learners
Learning is a social experience. Building and cultivating a community of learners is critical for the culture and future of your school. You will be amazed at what this can do for your teachers and ultimately how it will affect student learning. Give your teachers time to observe each other, share, and collaborate. Provide resources (including time) for your teachers on Personal/Professional Learning Networks. These tools are crucial for gaining, organizing, and sharing information. As @tbfurman said, “…PD can’t just be on Wednesdays from 4-5.” Make an ongoing and valuable commitment to excellence at your school and provide teachers the time to do the same.
Design Meaningful, Practical, and Exploratory Sessions
Professional Development should be practical, meaningful, and relevant. As @ johntspencer put it, “PD should begin with the question ‘How will this change how your students learn?’ If that isn’t a part of it, you’re wasting my time!” Professional development should be composed of topics your teachers can apply immediately to promote student engagement and achievement.
Don’t forget to give your teachers time to apply and explore what they learn before moving on to the next best thing. @teachingwithsoul said it best, “PD cannot be one shot and on to the next “new thing”. Need to “slow cook” our chosen focus. Give time to explore.”
Be creative. Work with your teachers to plan PD sessions that run more like unconferences, barcamps, teachmeets, or workshops rather than lectures. @ToughLoveforX suggests, “How about (creating) authentic Projects Based PD? eg. Teams of three to look at how to make this school better.
Evaluate, Reflect, and Adjust
All great teaching begins with the end in mind, PD shouldn’t be any different. Evaluate your teachers’ needs by completing needs assessments, analyzing lesson observations, and interpreting teacher, student, and even parent surveys. Set measurable end goals.
Use a gradual release method and scaffold learning with your teachers as you would expect they do with their students. Follow up, reflect and rethink on PD sessions. Do not simply check the session off a long list of objectives for teachers and switch focus. This does not work for our students and it will not work for teachers.
As @akamrt states, “PD needs to be a process. I study/learn, try it in my classroom, I reflect, I adjust, I reflect, I share with you & others.” Implement support structures for your teachers to review or share what they have learned. Encourage your teachers to publish their learning globally on blogs, microblogs and wikis. These are great ways to check for understanding and incorporate a form of accountability during and after your PD sessions. Learn more about the twitter backchannel and how to implement it in your sessions
Let Go and Let Learn
@olafelch suggests, “How about every teacher having a personal PD (expense) budget?” If this seems like a crazy idea, at least consider giving each teacher a PD time budget. Teachers need time not only to experiment and reflect on what they are learning during PD sessions, but also to invest in themselves, to research, read, write, and share their personal learning experiences.
Don’t be scared to give your teachers’ some autonomy when it comes to their professional growth. Set aside PD time for your teachers to learn and explore on their own with their peers and personal learning network. You will be pleasantly surprised with an increased sense of community, respect, and motivation. Your teachers will be fresher, happier and wiser, which can only serve to increase staff morale and student achievement.
In closing, my biggest takeaway from the #edchat discussion was what works best with students works best with teachers!