We all know those Professional Development meetings, when we are on our phones under the desk, when we have our laptops open and are super excited that we got the seat at the back so no one can see that we are actually checking our email and planning our lessons for the next day instead of listening. So how do we plan Professional Development that is not like that?
Accessed from Teacher Problems on Twitter
I think there are a few problems with the way Professional Development is usually approached and structured. Maybe by addressing these issues and looking at solutions we can make Professional Development more engaging, relevant, challenging and significant.
1. Professional Development as Professional Learning.
Plutarch is credited with saying, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” This is the stance we take when educating the young learners in our classrooms yet when we look towards the education of the adults learners in our school we go back to the idea of vessels to be filled with knowledge. Often times Professional Development is a chance for leaders to develop their staff but not a true opportunity for learning. By changing the way we speak about and approach Professional Development we can move towards Professional Learning.
2. Professional Learning as a Unit of Inquiry
Many schools offer early release or late start days for teachers’ Professional Development. During these times a new topic is addressed to help teachers develop as educators (in the worst cases these meetings are staff meetings and don’t honor learning or development). These topics might range from teaching literacy to integrating technology to planning conceptual math lessons. These one-off topics are not connected, not conceptual, they do not provide deep learning, they do not offer time for reflection or action and without these opportunities they do not offer real learning. But what if they were connected and transdisciplinary, what if they were conceptual, what if they had one big idea and what if they gave time for personal choices, actions and reflections? What if weekly Professional Learning “meetings” were structured as whole, as a unit of inquiry for teachers to inquire into? (I’ll share how I’ve done this in a coming blog post)
3. Autonomy Mastery Purpose
As an entire educational community we have been working on being more child centered, student driven and agentic in our thinking. I have read about amazing classrooms allowing students to plan their own units, schools giving students voice in strategic planning, and assemblies being led by students as choice workshops. These opportunities have allowed students to be autonomous in their choices, to master areas of passion and to find purpose in their learning. Are we giving our teachers the agency we would like to give our students? I suggest that Professional Learning could be approached as a self selected inquiry (autonomy), that could be followed and developed throughout a year or more (mastery), and could be applied to enhance the teaching and learning taking place in our schools and classrooms (purpose).
4. Time and Space for Reflection
The New Enhanced PYP has announced that the key concept, reflection, will be removed from the concepts in order to be integrated more fully into the teaching and learning. If we are to give our young learners the opportunity to more authentically reflect should we not give our adult learners the same chance? The real beauty of reflection is that when we have that time and space to look back, to think, observe and learn we can better move forward.
5. Learning Leaders
Our teachers are guides for the learning in the classroom; they lead their learners to the departure point for their own journey. What if our school leaders were the same? What if our leaders within schools were agents of change that led teachers to departure points for learning journeys. We need leaders who are the lead learners within our schools, who model lifelong learning and who guide us all along our paths. We also need to look at our journeys as shared experiences. In classrooms we ask children to share expertise and model for their classmates. In schools we need to allow our teachers to become learning leaders. Not all knowledge can come from one, we need to look more towards shared leadership and empowering all learners within our community to be learning leaders. (see the idea of Choice Workshops as one suggestion for honoring teachers as learning leaders)
The worst Professional Development sessions and workshops I have attended have had us sitting at tables, not moving around, listening to the instructor lecture, and filling in fictional lessons/units/etc. We practice the art of teaching (pedagogy) and use best practices and try out engaging teaching strategies in our classrooms with our young learners, so why not with our adult learners? We need to remember to model in Professional Learning sessions the teaching practices we expect to see in our classrooms. We all learn through experiences and by doing, let’s provide our teachers with opportunities to “do” through engaging learning experiences.
If we want to create the conditions for professional learning to impact education and to change thinking and practice we have to allow teachers the time and space to take action, to try out new initiatives, to challenge the status quo. Our Professional Learning should push teachers beyond just being our best to continuous choices, actions and reflections that allow teachers to do their best and look at new ways to do even better. In a workshop recently I was presented with the word Praxis; the Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as: praxis noun /ˈpræk.sɪs/ the process of using a theory or something that you have learned in a practical way. It is the living PYP Action Cycle, we have to remember to allow for Professional Learning to be a space for praxis, to take action.
I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand ~ Confucius
What’s worth knowing, what’s worth learning? Finding purpose in what we learn is what drives motivation. In Professional Learning often that purpose is relevancy; can what I am learning be used in my classroom on Monday to make a difference to my teaching and learning? Whatever it is, Professional Learning needs to be relevant in order to be purposeful. Purpose trumps passion in motivation and learning, if we can help our teachers find that relevant purpose in their own learning and couple that with a topic they are passionate about they will be unstoppable.
“People who were passionate about their jobs – who expressed high levels of excitement about their work-were still poor performers if they lacked a sense of purpose.”
Collaboration in Professional Learning is essential however, we need to expand our ideas of what collaboration can look like, sound like, feel like. There isn’t just one way to collaborate. Can we consider how Professional Collaborative Learning can honor our introverts? Can we consider the danger of Group Think? Can we look for collaborative partnerships that will challenge us and our ideas? Collaboration should be an opportunity to co-construct knowledge, share experiences, reflect on practice, seek feedback and contribute to the learning of others. We need to acknowledge the many ways this can happen and it is not just by working in the same environment together.
10. A Place for Shame Free Mistakes
The work of Carol Dweck has brought into focus our beliefs about how we learn and persevere through failures, to think about how we can honor those moments as learning experiences. John Hattie, when speaking about feedback drew conclusions about the role of mistakes in learning. He suggests feedback and learning thrive on mistakes, in the realm of “not knowing.” We do not do our best learning in contexts where we already know and understand. And so just as we ask our teachers to welcome misunderstandings and mistakes in their classrooms we should support error and failure within Professional Learning. But students and adults alike will only learn in an environment where they can get and use feedback about mistakes and failures without having to fear negative reactions from those around them. We need to unlearn the ideas that failure is bad, we need environments where teachers are willing to take risks and give their best effort, we need schools to be places for shame free mistake making.