(image retrieved from lewisboe.com)
It’s always been a running a joke among my colleagues and I that none of us would ever want to give a presentation to a room full of teachers. We always have to-do lists, we never have free time, we always needs to speak with a colleague about a student, we have to call parents, respond to emails, update gradebooks, prep the next day’s lesson, etc. So when we finally have a few free minutes to speak with an actual adult about something other than school, we’re presented with a professional development session and a speaker who usually has no idea what it’s like to be a teacher – but they want us to check out this cool new trick they have for us! Whaaat?! As giving and as understanding as teachers are with their students, we are far less giving and understanding when it comes to ineffective professional learning.
Kristin Daniels explains in her TedxBurnsvilleED talk, that professional learning is ineffective because teachers do not know where to start after they leave the session. Teachers are given the opportunity to learn about new programs or initiatives and they become inspired by the presenters, but at no point are we given the tools or directions on how to actually implement these ideas. The new ideas are learned about in isolation (“mass PL”), with no connection to our classroom environments. The Mirage report (Hill 2015) revealed that only 40% of teachers felt that development opportunities provided for them was a good use of their time. This lack of value is mainly because most teachers feel as though there is no personalization. Personally, I agree with those feelings. There are many times where the professional development opportunities in my district simply don’t apply to me and what I do as a special education teacher. Determining how to improve our Honors and AP curriculum actually does nothing to assist me in preparing my lower level, struggling learners. Give me some tools and strategies to address the unorganized book bag explosion that just happened in my classroom 20 minutes ago instead!
Now, I am fortunate enough to work in a district where the administration is open to new ideas. Our admin is awesome and they will always listen. With that said though, I am not sure that the administration would be open to an alternative approach for professional learning. We are a tradition rich school district, and we follow a lot of the same footsteps from those before us, but with a few new initiatives sprinkled along the path. I think this way of thinking and practicing can change though if I share some of my previous coursework about change – identifying a why and a purpose, appealing to the heart and emotions, and working together to determine and set goals. I believe the teachers in my department are just yearning for some hands on, guided work time and feedback to ensure that our students are receiving our best efforts.
Heather Hill. (2015). Review of the mirage: Confronting the hard truth about our quest for teacher development. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from http://www.greatlakescenter.org/docs/Think_Twice/TT-Hill-TNTP.pdf