By Caroline Freudig
As I near the end of my 25th year of teaching I am reflecting on the types of professional development that I have most recently been a part of and I wonder if we’ve being doing it all wrong these past 25 years.
Let’s start with the conference I attended this past March. As a Hope Street Group Hawai‘i State Fellow, I was invited to the ECET2 (“Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers”) Hawai‘i regional conference. The day and a half was structured with Keynote speakers, breakout sessions and celebrations all along the way. Prior to the weekend, an email was sent out that allowed me to read over the various breakout sessions and choose which ones I would prefer to attend. How often does that happen at our schools where teachers are given a menu of options for professional development prior to the day it’s being delivered?
Another novel idea that we don’t often see in our schools is that the breakout sessions were facilitated by our teachers. I attended one session on VTS: Visual Thinking Strategies where the presenters included the school coach along with three classroom teachers from Kalihi Kai Elementary School on Oahu. The content well-delivered and we had the opportunity to ask questions directly to the teachers that were implementing the strategies being shared with us. They were upfront and honest about what was working and some of the challenges they were facing. They didn’t present themselves to the be the ‘experts’ but rather they were genuine teachers experiencing something they were finding beneficial for their students and they were willing to share their day to day struggles and successes with us. When does that happen in our schools? Do we invite and allow all teachers to have an opportunity to share their teaching experiences with other teachers in a formal setting considered to be professional development?
In this environment at the ECET2 Hawai‘i regional conference, I found myself fully engaged throughout the weekend and was excited to share what I had learned and heard from the breakout sessions, the keynote speakers as well as my fellow colleagues with the teachers back on Kaua‘i. It also reminded me of the HSTE Edcamp workshop that I attended on Kaua‘i in January. This too was something that I hadn’t yet experienced when it came to formal professional development for teachers.
Edcamp was designed so that everyone attending planned the breakout sessions right on the spot. All of us attending were asked to ponder on what topics we would like to facilitate conversation around and/or participate in. If we felt there was something we wished to share, we wrote it onto a paper and placed the paper on the grid filling up a spot. Once all the spots were filled, we each had to choose which session we would attend during each time slot. Could you imagine what a faculty meeting or a full day of professional development might look like if it was designed this way? What an ingenious idea to have “on the spot” topics of professional development that are led by both administrators and teachers, equally considered to be leaders.
When I take these recent experiences and reflect upon how our teachers, both on Kaua‘i and within the state of Hawai‘i, were living examples of teacher leadership engaging their colleagues in rich learning experiences, I wonder why we aren’t taking these best practices of delivering professional development and embedding them into each and every school throughout the year. I recently read an article from Powerful Learning Practice that stated, in very simple terms, ten things that teachers want from professional development. The number one item on their list of top ten was teachers wanting “a voice and choice in the PD offered”. Although this article titled “10 things Teachers Want in Professional Development” from Aug 28, 2015 didn’t really contain any earth-shattering, new information, I ask myself why do our schools continue to deliver professional development in the same way that we know is not best for our teachers? How difficult would it be really to get to know the teachers at the beginning of the school year by surveying what their most immediate needs and concerns are for ongoing professional development? I would think this can easily be a quick survey via google perhaps that teachers fill out during one of the two administration days at the beginning of the school year and, poof, there you have it, professional development topics that the teachers are looking for. At the same time, the topics could be shared with everyone so that the teachers would be able to present the topics if it was an area of strength for them.
So, what now? Do we return to the same old, same old for our PD next year? I say, let’s not. Let’s make a change and start the school year off right. Let’s survey our teachers now and see what types of PD they’d like to see happen in their school next year. Then, as a complex, let’s take those survey responses and create district PD that’s differentiated so that teachers can choose how they want to spend six hours of professional development at least for one or two PDs that are offered.