I Wish Professional Development Was…

My education courses leading up to certification were, well… a joke.  Save for one class or two, I could have learned the same information by reading a book or a discussion board online.  The assigned projects were childish and rarely had anything to do with my subject area or teaching high school. (Don’t get me started on the classroom management portfolio… busy work and craft time.)  I was desperate for a class with substance!  That’s perhaps why I was so excited for professional development opportunities when I started my first teaching job.  Finally – hopefully – I’d be exposed to information and tools that were actually useful in the real-world classroom.

Sigh.  Nope.

I taught at my former school for nine years and each year, we had several in-services and PD opportunities.  In cleaning out and organizing my collection of teaching materials, I recently found a folder of the certificates of completion and PowerPoint slides from so many of those meetings.  Is it sad that I rolled my eyes at so many and tossed away so many more?  Looking through the documents I’ve kept, I have figured out – for me, at least – what good PD looks/feels like and what it doesn’t.

Changing the Stigma

After my second year of teaching, the emailed notices of an upcoming PD were received with dread.  I’d been through so many seminars and sessions that were just fluff.  Nothing with substance and reminiscent of the education courses with professors who’d never taught in a secondary ed classroom.  I think if administrations want to change the stigma of PD and get their staffs excited about such opportunities, they should get the input of the staff first.  What skills do they want to develop?  What are some student needs that are not being met?  How can we change that?

Administrators should ensure that time spent in PD is used wisely.  Carefully vet outside providers, conferences, or meetings.  Does the presenter have an outline of topics available?  Is the presentation just a bullet point-filled PowerPoint?  Will we receive handouts that can be lazily tossed aside and forgotten?  Will the topic benefit the whole staff or one department? Is the presenter just a education professor/friend of yours who wants to hear his voice in a room full of adults and give a cringe-worthy talk as if he knows what it’s like to be a high school teacher? (Sorry, that’s super specific experience.)  If it’s in-house, don’t spend time doing ice-breakers; get to the point!  So many of my PD experiences were scheduled right before the school year started and during quarter exam weeks.  Any wasted minute spent in PD, in-house and not, that I could have been using to develop my syllabus or lessons, clean up my classroom, or grade exams was an angry minute for me.

Administrators should be careful about selecting PD, too, to make sure they aren’t just choosing a topic because it’s the fad for the moment.  Maybe a presentation here or there, but don’t commit the school to something without proper research.  A few years before I started teaching, my district had really pushed standards-based education to all of its schools (a system of private schools), but suddenly dropped it.  So many hours spent on PD for standards-based education, and for what?  What skills, if any, can the teachers still use from those hours spent in PD?

We want PD opportunities that are engaging and thought-provoking.  I want to leave a PD and be motivated for big change!  I don’t need a motivational speaker and I don’t need fluff.  I don’t need a 17-page packet that I’m not even going to bother taking notes on because it was irrelevant to the presentation (also a very specific experience).  I want a fellow educator to give me hope in what I’m doing and ideas for positive change.

What Should be Addressed in PD?

Taking a look at the note pages and handouts from past PD opportunities, I see some common threads in what I deemed important enough to keep.  I want to learn about technology – new skills, new tools, new ways to implement it into my curriculum.  I want to learn how to get my students to think and keep them engaged – Socratic seminars, project-based learning, realistic simulations and models.  I want to learn new ways to develop my curriculum so that it properly challenges my students — writing essential questions, identifying skills, aligning tasks with skills.

Technology, student engagement, and developing curriculum should be on the PD wish-list for any teacher.  Any teacher who’s in it for the long-haul, who’s in it as a career (not just a paycheck), should want and receive PD that truly develops them as a professional.  We want to be more effective, engage our students, and make sure our students leave our class with a certain skill set for the future.

My Favorite PD Experience

I may harp on the negative experiences I’ve had (or at least hint at them), but I have had two PD experiences that were incredible!

In my last two years of teaching at my former school, it seemed that someone at the top finally listened to what we needed as teachers.  Almost all, save one, of our PD experiences had taken place as a whole faculty.  To try something new, we tried in-house PD — presented by our own colleagues — on topics that were relevant to what we were trying to achieve at that time.  First we dealt with technology.  There was a wide range of ages and tech experience among our faculty, from the “how do I turn on my iPad?” to “how can I use this app in my classroom?”  In a way, we differentiated our PD.  I had been using DropBox with my students with great success, so I presented on how to work with DropBox.  Another teacher gave a presentation on using Notability, with another presenting on another app.  Our tech guy held an iPad basics class, from Apple IDs to updating.  The faculty had choices – that was the clincher.  I provided handouts with screenshots and made them available to teachers who chose to go to a different PD.  One of the best parts about doing PD in this style was that we – the presenters – were available for follow-up questions and one-on-one help anytime!  We tried this style of differentiated or split PD sessions when we discussed student engagement.  Two of my colleagues gave a presentation and demonstration of Socratic seminars; it’s one of the few handouts I deemed worthy enough to keep.  When the PD was held by our own colleagues, I think we felt more comfortable asking directly, “how will this really work in my classroom?” Our colleagues were more in touch with the realities in our classrooms, so we weren’t filled with fluff and nonsense of what could be.

My second favorite PD experience was participating in the JumpStart 2017 course.  Since my 4th-grade GATE teacher implemented an IMP (independent math person) program, I’ve loved self-paced work, so JumpStart was right up my alley in that aspect.  Even better, JumpStart let me explore and actually test out different technology skills.  I wasn’t just sitting through a presentation on how to make a screencast; I was actually making one!  I felt an instant connection to the skills and tools and the course was rooted in reality.  I could visualize using any of the tools with any group of students in any subject area.  I didn’t have to play the “only if” game; the “I could use that tool only if I had high-level students” or “I could use that resource only if I taught physics” or “I could use that tool only if I had unlimited funding” game.  The course sparked my imagination – but with my feet planted in reality – and has kept me on track with redeveloping my curriculum and plans for when I return to the classroom.

Evolving PD in a Digital Environment

I think the format of the JumpStart course is the future of PD in a digital environment in three ways: being multidimensional, encouraging continuing education, and trying something new.

  • The lessons in Jumpstart were multidimensional, with readings, videos, active participation in the skill, and reflections.  I wasn’t just watching a video; I wasn’t just reading and taking notes.  I wasn’t just passively receiving information — as most PD experiences have felt.
  • The readings always noted other resources to check out so that I could continue my skill development.  So many PD experiences end when the meeting ends and that’s the last you ever hear of the presented topic.  I felt engaged with each lesson and I could barely fight the excitement to keep learning how to use different features of a certain tool or exploring what other teachers have done with it in their classrooms.  I was driven to want to see and do more.
  • The course asked me to get out of my comfort zone and try something new.  I felt very comfortable with using technology in the classroom, but I’d never even seen a HyperDoc.  Rather than just telling me about a new method or skill, I was forced to try it out myself.  By trying something new, I was instantly able to connect with how I could use it in my classroom.  I felt engaged and connected to what I was learning, as I hope my students feel with what they learn in my classroom.

In all, I wish that PD experiences could be engaging and relevant, driving me to want more for my students, and maybe most of all — truly be an experience, not just something I can read from a book.

One thought on “I Wish Professional Development Was…

  1. Hi Hailey,

    Sadly, I agree with you. There is a lot of ordinary PD around that perhaps aims to ‘tick boxes’ rather than truly educate and inspire. I’m so glad to hear that you have had some great experiences recently. It was interesting to read about what made them special.
    I love how you mention not being a passive recipient too. I’ve always felt that PD can’t be something that is ‘done’ to you!

    Thanks for posting!

    Kathleen
    @kathleen_morris

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