Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The professional development we all want, but can't have.

To start, I want you to know that I realize this is not new information. People have written, complained, and posted about poor professional development. It may be seen as a primary gripe of most school staffs. It took a couple of really good conversations with @gscholtens and @1stgradeross to get a good grip on what I see to be the scope of quality PD. I want to share my ideas with you.

Here is how I see the scope of professional development from least effective to most effective:

  • Whole group professional development - We have all sat through the "sage on the stage" or "flavor of the month" style professional development. These are arranged by some phantom organization (super/curriculum director/outside consultant) and offer one choice of information for your entire K-12 faculty. This style of "development" is impersonal and is usually accompanied by a terrifyingly long Power Point. The follow up to this PD day is usually lacking. You will hear people say some time later, "Remember that PD day? Whoa, that was rough. What was it about? I remember we went for Chinese at lunch."
  • More effective is the district "conference" day - This was something my district, and I'm sure plenty of other districts, did to offer a more personalized approach to professional development. As you can probably guess, there was a call for proposals from our curriculum director. Those who wanted to lead a session submitted a short description and we even used sched.com to organize the event. Other districts in our area were invited and before long the high school halls were crowded with name-tag-wearing, doughnut-eating, iPad-toting teachers. This was a huge step forward for our district. There were 40 some odd sessions to attend and teachers now had a choice. It was great. However, the problem was when we tried to do the same event a second time. Those who had presented the previous PD day were not signing up to do it again. I led five sessions the first day on three topics. I was exhausted. We found out we had teacher leader burn out. This can be combated using AEA staff and outside consultants, but is probably a once a year idea. Not an every PD day idea.
  • The next step would be a building level "conference" day - What you are doing here is providing a more specialized offering to those with similar present realities. Meaning we are all middle school teachers, so we kind of speak the same language. The way our school did it was to poll our teachers to see what the major needs were, and then provide sessions that would meet that need. We received really good feed back on this format. It seems that this is most effective if you need to teach all of your teachers a certain skill or idea. We had just rolled out 1:1, and all of our teachers needed a few core learnings. Worked great. However, it may not be a great idea to always use this approach. Two things may happen with the overuse of this method. 1.) You will run out of things to teach to the whole of your staff or will not have enough teachers that feel qualified to lead sessions on those sessions. This can lead to irrelevant sessions that do not meet the need of your staff. Or, 2.) without the use of outside resources or leadership, you can get into a PD rut. When used effectively it can be very well received. I am fortunate enough to work for a district who did it right. It was a great event, but we've only done it once. You know what they say about too much of a good thing. 
  • Bordering on revolutionary would be the "EdCamp" style PD day - For those of you who have attended an EdCamp, you get it. For those of you who haven't, click here and get yourself to an EdCamp. They are FREE and usually include FOOD! EdCamp, in my opinion, is best described as PD for the people, of the people and by the people. There are no key note presentation, no pre-registration for sessions, and no handouts. The development is "developed" by the people who are attending the EdCamp. This can work for a district. Get your people into a room. Have time slots and meeting spaces arranged. Ask your teachers what they want to learn today. A teacher can offer to facilitate a conversation/session.  The teacher is not expected to present or lecture. They don't even have to know the most about the subject. They just want to learn. It is a way to give voice to your teachers and then listen to that voice. Revolutionary. Go to EdCamp.
  • Now here is the type of professional development I really want: Personal Professional Development. Okay. Imagine this: Your principal comes to you and says, "I need you to fill out this form for our next PD day." The form includes these questions. 1. What is it you want to explore during our professional development day? 2. How will this directly affect your students? 3. How will you prove your learning? This mentality expects that teachers to act professionally. This mentality holds teachers accountable to their primary stakeholder; their students. Now this approach brings with it an armload of caveats, culture shifts and questions, but has the most potential to transform professional learning. Imagine what would happen if you stopped being told what to learn and became responsible to prove what you are learning helps your kids. 
So, what do you think? Does this sound like improvement? How do we convince our administration to take action?

Your comments are welcome and encouraged,

Dane Barner


  1. Well said. Ever think we will get to the last bullet point?!

    1. Yes! At Hoover High School this is exactly how we approach professional learning. All PD is custom tailored to the needs of each teacher with large group, small group, one on one, co teaching or learn on your own options. Proud to be a Hoover Buc!

  2. Good Lord, I would hope so. I think if we met with our curric. director we may be able to convince her.

  3. Dane, GREAT thoughts here! Imagine the power of personalizing our pd/studies

  4. Great post! You're right in saying that culture shift is important in the process of changing professional development. There are many philosophical changes, for both teachers and administrators, that come along with individualized PD. Some of my colleagues would freak out if they had to come up with their own learning focus and demonstrate what they learned; others would be great with it. I think a hybrid of multiple models you suggested would be ideal to meet the needs of an entire staff.

  5. Enjoyed reading your thoughts around this topic. Unfortunately management is the key factor as to why PD is still designed the way it is today. I recently wrote a blog post similar to this topic. I wasn't sure if you saw it. If not, I've included the link. Let me know what you think.http://tinyurl.com/lxe9jdx

  6. I'd love to see an edcamp model approach to PD. A choose your own PD workshop where topics and generated on the fly!

  7. Nice post...we have a PD Menu day down here that we pretty much fill out the form you speak of and we go from there with our specific needs. Those of use with resources to share are identified on the sheet and can be accessible by anyone in their own manner. It works but allows for flexibility - with it, however, comes a trust from our administrator of our productivity that I'm not sure, unfortunately, that all schools have.