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Please, No More Professional Development!

Today's guest blog is written by Kristine Fox (Ed.D), Senior Field Specialist/Research Associate at Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations (QISA). She is a former teacher and administrator who has passion for teacher learning and student voice. Kris works directly with teachers and leaders across the country to help all learners reach their fullest potential. 

Peter DeWitt recently outlined why "faculty meetings are a waste of time."  Furthering on his idea, most professional development opportunities don't offer optimal learning experiences and the rare teacher is sitting in her classroom thinking "I can't wait until my district's next PD day." 

When I inform a fellow educator that I am a PD provider, I can read her thoughts - boring, painful, waste of time, useless, irrelevant - one would think my job is equal to going to the dentist (sorry to my dentist friends). 

According to the Quaglia Institute and Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center's National Teacher Voice Report only 54% percent of teachers agree "Meaningful staff development exists in my school."  I can't imagine any other profession being satisfied with that number when it comes to employee learning and growth. 

What sense does it make for the science teacher to spend a day learning about upcoming English assessments?  Or, for the veteran teacher to learn for the hundredth time how to use conceptual conflict as a hook.  Why does education insist everyone attend the same type of training regardless of specialization, experience, or need?

As a nod to the upcoming political campaigns and the inevitable introduction of plans with lots of points, here is my 5 Point Plan for revamping professional development.

5 Point Plan

Point I - Change the Term: Semantics Matter

We cannot reclaim the term Professional Development for teachers.  It has a long, baggage-laden history of conformity that does not promote genuine and meaningful learning.  So, the first point of my plan calls for educators to refer to "professional development" as Teacher Growth and Learning.  Similar to growth models we use for our students, teachers too, should strive for their learning to move them beyond current skills and knowledge.  However, in order for teacher growth to take root, educators must accept that a "one size fits" approach to learning makes no sense when the faculty is comprised of teachers with a fresh baked diploma and no experience to teachers with 20 plus years of experience and doctorates! 

Point II - Change What We Know: Adult Learning is Unique

In spite of all the courses educators take about learning, most of us have little to no knowledge of adult learning theories and, more specifically, teacher learning theories.  An understanding of adult learning should be a prerequisite for anyone who is currently or aspiring to be a principal or is the director of Teacher Growth and Learning.  That understanding would lead to greater efforts at autonomy, choice and relevance.  Ultimately leading to a greater sense of purpose and pride into the profession.

Point III - Change Forced Collaboration for All Learning: Independent Learners are not self-absorbed loners

In a world of collaboration, PLC's and teaming, the independent, self-initiated learners are often shunned.  Collaboration is a wonderful way to learn, yet it's not the only way.  I have met wonderfully, talented teachers who are life long, self-initiated learners, yet collaboration isn't their preferred learning method.  There needs to be room for them as well. Believe it or not, we can do individual and collaborative learning simultaneously. Most educators operate that way and don't even know it.  It is called team teaching.

Point IV - Change the Structure. Co- develop Learning with Learners

It is impractical, if not impossible, to plan another persons learning.  Effective teachers are learning all the time through casual interactions, observations and online venues.  As schools and districts delve into new teacher growth  and learning opportunities, planning must involve those people participating in the process.

Point V - Change the Rewards: Let's Hold Ourselves accountable for what we commit to Learn

As adults we need to hold ourselves accountable. Our rewards should simply be the learning and not the passing of an evaluation or gaining a check mark for showing up.  If one commits to online learning, then log on and learn.  If one commits to attend a conference as a preferred learning method, then attend the conference - don't skip out and head to the amusement park or mega-mall.  If one commits to meet and talk with peers about our learning, then meet, talk and learn together.  Much PD of the lame variety stems from a lack of trust. When teachers direct their own learning, they need to be responsible.

Teacher Growth and Learning allows for professional autonomy and respect.   As we begin to look at teacher development as teacher growth we will realize that all teachers, in fact all humans in every profession, possess different skills and knowledge.  Thus, their starting point, learning method and even application of learning will differ. 

It should be a principal's role, but in actuality it should be all our responsibility to understand each others starting point, and then collaboratively build a growth and learning plan that meets both the school and the individual's needs.

This individualized Teacher Growth and Learning Plan may include: conferences, seminars, courses, online learning, learning through gaming, PLC learning, self-initiated learning, etc. However, I can assure you this plan will not include all teachers learning the same material, at the same pace, in the same way, at the same time!  We can and must change our current learning pattern to reflect and celebrate our individual talents and expertise so all teachers can reach their fullest potential.

* Peter DeWitt works part-time as a field specialist for QISA. 

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