Professional development- one size does not fit all

A need for urgent change

Lately I have been thinking about how professional development is arranged and what we learn compared to how much time we spend on it. In January I hosted a workshop with George Couros, and in December I participated in day 1 of the professional development initiative from our own county. The latter involves all department heads and principals in more than 34 schools and is a 9 days workshop during a period of 1.5 years. George points to 3 things we should stop doing in professional development: creating a detailed agenda, scheduling back-to-back-to-back-learning and thinking that “collaboration” with others is the only way to learn. I agree with him all all 3 points. Point 3 he explains this way ” Why do we not create a time for people to sit and reflect.  Not necessarily create something, but actually write a reflection.  I have been doing this in workshops for awhile, and to be honest, a lot of educators seem to feel uncomfortable with that process, yet feel fine writing notes of everything a presenter says.  How much do we learn when we “copy and paste” our learning like that.  My belief is that until we get a chance to process and make connections, we don’t really learn that much. In one ear and out the other.

Differentiation for students, staff and leaders

The topic for the workshop is; how to be a pedagogical leader of you teachers with emphasis on classroom walkthroughs. Classroom walkthroughs are brief, focused observations of teachers that provide data for follow up conversations related to teaching and learning (Kachur et al., 2009). The characteristics of an effective classroom walkthrough model include:

  • focused on “look-fors” that emphasize improvement in teaching and learning; 
  • an opportunity to give feedback to teachers for reflection on their practice; 
  • having the improvement of student achievement as its ultimate goal(Kachur et al., 2009, p. 3)

Target group: principals, assistant principals and department heads. Since we are being trained on how to lead what goes on in the classroom it is easy to agree that we need to know what actually goes on in the classroom. We need to know if the students are learning, if they are engaged and I would like to add; that we are preparing them for the future. That part is mostly ignored when talking about professional development for school leaders. I think what we are learning could apply to any school 20 years ago. It is as if nothing has changed in our schools. I think students sitting in rows listening to teachers, taking notes meets the new standards in my county that we have to implement in our schools.

The smartest person in the room is the room!

if i dieI’m sure it is familiar to you; The smartest person in the room isn’t the person at the front of the room. It’s the room. (David Weisenberg). What it means is that in the room there is a collective knowledge and expertise speakers mostly chose to ignore. They usually say stuff like “many of you might know this or have done this and that”, but they rarely tap into this vast expertise of knowledge the participants possess. Just like some teachers, they choose to talk and deliver and we end up, just like students, answering mail, reading the newspapers and logging off from learning. Some might find it difficult to engage 240 participants, actually the mere thought of being able to target 240 professionals and make the day, interesting, challenging and relevant for all seems pretty daunting to me. I like this advice: Allow conversations, not just “sit & get” sessions. What you need to do to succeed here is at least leave time for reflection, connection and collaboration. Otherwise we might as well have listened to a recorded version of this in the comfort of our office, at our convenience. And if they don’t trust us to do this, then we both have a problem I guess.

My reflections and expectations

cooperationI’ve been asked to write a log to reflect on my learning. So here goes: I’m a lot more interested in hearing about what the other schools in my district are doing, then spending a whole day listening to one or two keynote speakers. I want to hear from the schools who have come far in these areas. What are their success stories, what are they looking to improve? I would also like to talk to the schools just starting. How are they planning to move forward, how are they getting prepared? How can we learn together and share our experiences? Can we use social media here? Why not share using Twitter, Storify, blogs or Google docs? After a workshop with 34 different schools we should at least take away some insight from 4-5 schools. Time is probably best spent networking and learning when at the workshop, and then reflecting and planning back at our school.  To me the opportunity to share and learn with other schools seems too great to miss out on.

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  1. A insightful reflection! Thank you for sharing.

    Although this might be targeted at a slightly more administrative level, I also see how this could be used in the classroom. Many upper secondary school students today, when I challenge them to think and reflect on an issue, find it difficult when there is no “correct” answer or when they have to provide their own thoughts and ideas. I have often wondered why that might be the case, considering how inquisitive and reflective young children are by comparison. By now, I believe it must be our school system. Despite many competence aims demanding reflection and evaluation across the disciplines, how much focus are they actually given in the classroom? How much time is spent, as Couros says, on simple reflection? Is that kind of activity even given any sort of value in the classroom, or are we – educators, students, administrators – more concerned with facts, hard evidence and things that can be measured?

    1. Good question! I believe it is also the key to getting more student involvement. School has too much focus on the correct answers. The reflection phase is perhaps not easy to measure on tests.

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