Sunday, March 7, 2010

Drive Through PD

flickr CC image via Robert Couse-Baker

Saying one-shot teacher professional development is a valuable and effective tool toward positive teacher growth is like saying drive through restaurants contribute to long-term health. Serious involvement and meaningful change take time and commitment, neither of which are elements of our profession's most popular form of professional development.

We need to seriously re-think how we do professional development for teachers. There is a pervasive tendency within our profession to add-on to an endless stream of the "latest and greatest" ideas pertaining to teacher growth and the provision of high-quality learning environments. We attend school, district and large (sometimes massive) scale professional development events, for the most part organized around a list of one to three hours sessions discussing (if you're lucky; if not you just sit and listen while a stream of Power Point slides flashes in front of you) virtually everything. There has to be a better way.

It seems to me that it's so easy to "add-on"... teachers are always looking for the latest trend, topic, resource, perspective, etc. to save them from the challenges they face in the classroom. The pendulum swings back and forth as we jump on, and off the bandwagon trail of teaching philosophies and "best practise" trends. I read dozens of comments via Twitter arriving in real time from the recent Association for Supervision and Curiculum Development Conference in San Antonio this past weekend mentioning the overwhelming volume of not-to-be-missed PD offered to delegates. People were saying things like, "I can't wait to put these ideas to good use," or "there's so much going on here, I don't know where to start." I'm not sure these comments are as encouraging as they first seem relative to the provision of authentic and sustainable professional development for teachers.

I must admit, as a presenter, I'm guilty of providing this drive-by style of teacher professional development. When I get my invitation to speak, the parameters regarding the room I'm assigned, the conference schedule, duration of my allotted time and the target audience are all elements that I have no control over. I simply do what fits, and strive to make the content engaging and provocative enough to make sure the participants in my session have a good experience. I try to do things outside the box as much as possible... I tell participants to leave their phones on, and feel free to use them (immediatley after the moderator asks them to please turn them off)... I insert as many interactive possibilities into my presentation as time allows (I have yet to leave a session I presented without having learned something from the session group)... and I try to present thoughts as opposed to knowledge.

Above all though, the most important point I need my session participants to understand is that I don't believe in the use it on Monday approach to teacher PD. There is nothing I can share with my colleagues in one, two or even three hours that has the capacity to change their immediate plans for their classroom. On the contrary, my goal as a PD facilitator is to plant a coneptual or philosophical seed that I encourage participants to continue exploring, and if it resonates with them, great... if not, that's OK too. I usually do alright with this approach; participants often tell me they're appreciative of the provocation.

I don't want to contribute to the never-ending supply of latest and greatest trends about how to do education better; I'm more of an ideas guy. I want to boil contemporary ideas about how to do education better down with the authentic, grassroots and timeless pedagogical ideologies we teachers prescribe to (but sometimes forget about amidst the fervor to find the latest and greatest) so old meets new in a thoughtful and critical manner. Why can't our conferences reflect this concept? Perhaps they can.

Any ideas?
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