What if Professional Development Wasn’t Horrible?

by | Jan 21, 2016

Too many teachers cringe at the thought of attending professional development, but what if PD wasn’t horrible? What might that look like?

Let’s Review

As a classroom teacher and recovering instructional technology coach, I consider myself uniquely qualified to assert that most teachers disdain professional development. Eye rolling, texting, grading, and checking Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all hallmarks of typical teacher behavior during professional development sessions.

I’ve experienced this from both sides, and while I can unequivocally state this behavior is WAY worse when you are the presenter, I have always understood it. What follows are some of the more common justifications for poor PD attendee behavior:

  • Lesson plans need to be written
  • Grading needs to be completed
  • The session is intended for teachers of X, but I teach Y
  • The technology isn’t working, so even if I wanted to participate (which I don’t), I can’t

Consider This

The justifications above are, in many cases, true, but there’s something else that teachers, administrators, and bargaining teams should recognize:

“Many teachers conduct professional development outside of the workplace with impact far greater than anything any school could ever provide.”

For years now, the education system as a whole has encouraged teachers and students alike to adopt a growth mindset. Every Danielson-based evaluation system emphasizes continued improvement in the various “domains of the teaching profession.” While the associated paperwork can be maddening, the principles they espouse are sound. The best teachers I know consistently seek ways to improve and grow as educators on an almost daily basis. It’s not something that they do only at conferences or on special institute days. It’s baked into their core – nearly instinctual.

So let’s ask ourselves, if we’re truly interested in helping all teachers adopt a growth mindset, shouldn’t we reward them for it?

A Modest Proposal

If we could identify the practices and habits of mind that are characteristic of a growth mindset in the teaching profession, we could then develop accountability measures that would recognize and reward teachers for engaging in such behavior by granting them extra opportunities to lesson plan, grade, or do any one of the thousands of other things that they really need to do during what was previously PD time.

What That Might Look Like

Here’s one example:

Every other Tuesday at 7:00 PM CST, I participate in an “edChat” on Twitter. For the uninitiated, an edChat is a giant conversation among educators who share a common bond. The edChat that I am most active in is comprised of business education teachers. Generally, a single moderator will tweet a question and everyone participating will respond following a Q1/A1 format. Every question and answer is strung together with a single hashtag. In our case: #busedu. It looks something like this:

These edChats have become invaluable to my professional practice. I connect with innovative, thoughtful, and inspiring teachers. I learn from them, share with them, and help direct an ongoing, collaborative conversation. Here’s the thing though, I’ve never received a Continuing Professional Development Unit (Illinois’ accreditation for PD) for any of this, yet it is among the most impactful things I do to develop professionally.

So what if I did receive CPDUs for participating in edChats and in return was offered time to focus on the areas of my teaching that I felt most deserved my attention? How many other teachers would consider joining or starting their own edchats if this were the case? What if ALL teachers met online with their extended professional learning networks twice monthly to share best practices, strategies, lessons, and resources? How much would our profession develop as a result of this? What impact would we make on student learning?

A Call To Action

I’m calling upon the decision makers, influencers, and loud voices in education to take a chance on this idea. If edChats prove to be a value add, we can then explore other avenues for developing professionally: educational podcasts, distributed book groups, and meetups come to mind immediately, but the possibilities for meaningful professional development are truly only as limited as our imaginations.

When you next look at your calendar and see that scheduled institute day, ask yourself this: What if PD wasn’t horrible?

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