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Thoughts From a PD Connoisseur

Delonna Halliday

Call me a PD connoisseur. A class on how to use a new online math program that assesses and offers remediation? I'm there. A workshop on brain theory and how to implement new strategies? I'll pay for the three-day retreat. Fortunately, I have a husband who juggles childcare and his own job to support my passion for (addiction to?) professional development.

That said, I do have some PD pet peeves:

1) Classes I'm forced to take. Arbitrary decisions about my professional learning rub me the wrong way. It is like saying, "So, Del, I've never seen you teach, and your students' test scores are fine ... but since two-thirds of the other 4th grade teachers need help with reading instruction, you must attend this class." That's when my inner strong-willed child comes out. I'm already loathing the course, even as I click on the "register" button.

2) False advertising. Once, a "math education" workshop wound up being a two-hour discussion about an article I can summarize in one sentence: "People with a math degree teach math more effectively." That's it. No helpful strategies for those of us who were theater majors.

Enough whining. All in all, I appreciate PD—and I've sampled enough to have some solid advice for administrators:

Separate training and PD. If there is a new math curriculum or technology initiative, the time and cost of training must be included in the implementation costs—not borrowed from PD budgets.

Open up the definition of "PD" and invite teachers to make decisions about it. Does PD have to be a district workshop or a college course? What if PD funds could pay for a substitute so we could view other classes, or so we could set aside time for action research? If effective evaluation systems are in place, teachers should have a sense of the areas in which they need to grow. From there, they can build individual learning plans.

Provide participants with time, space, and tools to collaborate after a "PD session." Research shows this step is critical to effective PD. After I spend some time thinking about new ideas and how I might implement them, follow-up conversations can help me fine-tune my plans.

Set aside time for teachers to share and reflect. I love a good Show and Tell! An annual district-wide PD fair could expose us to how our colleagues have explored new teaching strategies and adjusted their classroom practice. Even when something isn't successful, that's still an opportunity for growth and learning.

And one final question I keep mulling over: If a district adhered to the approach above, how might PD link to an individual teacher's evaluation?

Delonna Halliday is a 4th grade teacher at Grant Center for the Expressive Arts in Tacoma, Wash.

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