Through my increased involvement in online and collaborative learning (including ECMP 355), I have really begun to take a closer look at two things:
-professional development, or as I prefer to call it, “professional learning” (here’s why I like this term better); and
-in-school professional development and how I’d like to see it change to reflect more of what I’ve lived on Twitter.
For starters, I have become increasingly excited about my own professional learning. Twitter is one of many places offering tremendous amounts of professional learning opportunities for teachers. (This article states its greatness in the area of PD.)
But to be more specific, what do I like about it? Here is a list:
-It is a quick and simple way to start and keep learning about the things that interest me professionally.
-It is a fast way to connect with people in the education field in order to discuss, analyze and critique a plethora of interesting and important topics.
-It provides a sharing space that is second to none.
-Everything is collaborative: everything is a discussion, there is no one answer, nor one sole expert.
-Everyone is equal andhas expertise/experience to share.
-It is practical in that I can share and receive ideas in a timely fashion: they are explained succinctly and could be easily applied, even as soon as the next day.
(If you’re looking for some cool apps for professional learning, check out this site for some ideas.)
What I find difficult is when I think about the type of PD we get in school. When I take the benefits I get from Twitter and other professional learning I do outside of school and compare it to what I get at my in-school PD, I am somewhat disappointed. I in no way intend to discredit the time and effort put into planning our PD events, but I am usually discouraged by the topics and methods of presentation chosen. Here are my issues with PD sessions:
1) People who lead PD sessions are always experts who provide mounds of information, particularly data.
2) Presentations are usually not engaging and do not provide time for discussion or collaboration with other teachers.
3) Sessions are usually based heavily upon theory, leaving little to no time for practical application (strategies, practices, activities, examples of these, etc.)
4) Sessions often point out professional weakness without providing “doable” solutions for said weakness.
5) Sessions often do not pertain to current issues or challenges that teachers are facing: topics are chosen by division administration based on what they feel we should know and be able to do (better).
Again, let me specify that I am not trying to be disrespectful, but I do intend to be constructively critical because I feel that professional learning is extremely important.
First off, based on my experience in online professional learning communities (PLCs), I think that it is essential to get away from one sole presenter in order to move towards group work. While there is an obvious need for a facilitator/organizer, I think that more meaningful learning happens when discussion and sharing are the main focal points of PD days.
Secondly, in my in-school experience, a presenter will often stand up and lecture for large amounts of time. Since we are trying to somewhat discourage this as a teaching method (based on research stating that lecture often does not create valuable or meaningful learning), I question why we are doing this during professional learning time. Wouldn’t the same research apply to professional learners as it does to student learners? And shouldn’t good teaching practice be modeled within our professional development time?
Thirdly, teachers are looking for practical application of what they learn during PD: it is the practical aspect that often makes professional learning meaningful to them. Sessions need to shift more weight from theoretical to practical if we want to see real results. It is in the “practical” that teachers will find PD meaningful. “Practical” helps them to feel more equipped and better able to tackle weaknesses that are identified in PD sessions. I often find myself leaving sessions saying: “This is great. GIVE ME WAYS TO DO THIS.” If we can answer practical questions in professional learning sessions, then we are providing authentic learning situations.
Finally, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, I feel that (at least) a certain amount of PD time offered should be teacher planned/directed. While I will certainly give credit to school divisions for knowing what is important in education, and while I understand they must respond to all that is required from the provincial government, teachers will experience the most meaningful professional learning by being able to collaborate and learn based on their own interests. Teachers are constantly identifying and addressing their challenges and questions and would appreciate time to inquire about them in a collaborative environment. They want time to pursue their professional interests. If board-mandated PD is all that is received, then teacher inquiry and creativity are eliminated. Teacher planned PD will, in my mind, provide some of the most valuable, motivating and creative professional learning that could ever exist (just as my Twitter experience has confirmed for me).
I know I’m not alone in these thoughts. Here’s another individual who has suggestions for how she’d like PD to be.
This is just my take. What is it you want from your in-school PD?