Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Professional Development & Teachers

       Ever have a love/dislike relationship with something? On the one hand you see the value of that activity or task but on the other hand it's something you dislike--perhaps intensely? I have that kind of relationship with going to the gym. I do it, but I don't like it. For many teachers, professional development (PD) days can morph into the same feelings. Love/dislike. So what's up with that?
       Most teachers love to learn. Monday nights a group of local educators gather via Twitter to explore different education topics via #gfedchat. This weekly interaction, to me, is invaluable as I'm interacting with colleagues, learning new ideas, and having my ideas challenged professionally. Plus, I get to do it all from my own home. All professional development should be so delivered!
       Actually, I should qualify my previous statement. Most teachers, like students, like to learn relevant material delivered in a manner in which teachers are told to deliver instruction. What do I mean? I mean avoid teaching teachers using the exact model administrators tell teachers NOT to use. Instructional philosophy swirls around the importance of engagement and avoiding the lecture format of teaching. Yet most PD days are filled with what? Lectures. Reading presentation slides, verbatim, to teachers. Words filled mostly with little meaning because teachers are not engaged.
       Some of my most enthralling PD instruction came in shorter segments when I was able to CHOOSE what I wanted to learn about and how I wanted to learn it. It was instruction from my colleagues, many of whom delivered flawlessly in their area of expertise.
       Frankly, I don't understand why administrators offer the "teach as I say, not as I teach" model of PD, yet teachers are evaluated on how engaging we make our instruction. It seems kind of like a double standard.
       Professional development can be just that--professional--when educators are treated the same as we are to treat our classes. Just as teachers are to offer choices, let students have a voice, and modify instruction, wouldn't it make sense for PD to model the same techniques? Let teachers have choices, let them have a voice, and let there be different levels of instruction on the same topic. Some teachers may be new to the use of interactive projectors in the classroom while other teachers may have spent numerous PD days studying this technology. Should the former be expected to be at the same level as the latter? Should the latter have to endure sessions on elementary information about the projectors? Modify delivery so learning is scaffolded. Sound familiar?
      Administrators will continue to hear rumblings of dissent over PD days if the sessions continue to be offered using the same old-same old model. If there are any admins reading this, take this to heart for more engaged PD days.. Change your format, offer choices, use the teacher experts in your own district which validates teachers and their skill levels, and allow for differentiation in delivery and learning. Avoid the old model of teaching and embrace the same model you want teachers to employ.
      By implementing these ideas, PD days will go from "hate" days to "can't wait" days as teachers anticipate professional development days rather than dread them. Engage teachers. This can only benefit the district and the students. The more engaged and involved the teachers are during PD, the more learning takes place. The more learning that takes place, the better instruction for the student. It seems like a win/win situation  for everyone.
      So be innovative, take a risk, and change PD delivery. It will make all the difference.

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