The planning of professional development in the world of education seems to go one of two ways... it is thrown together in a rush because everyone is too busy; or it is focused on something "trendy" that other districts and schools are doing. While I have been guilty of both of those approaches in the past (and generally the results were fine), I have been thinking a lot lately about how we could reframe the whole PD planning process. In fact, I was recently at a conference where I attended a session focused on PD and most of the participants in the room were teachers and their overall reaction to PD was pretty negative. They described PD as disengaging, irrelevant and a waste of time. Needless to say, that really got me thinking. I was thinking a lot about planning PD so that the PD is meaningful for most of the participants (we may not reach everyone), resonates on both professional and personal levels, speaks to the needs of our learning community and empowers participants to learn something that will inform their practice.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it is far from easy! In fact planning great PD is one of the most challenging aspects of our work because we want it to be exciting, positive and engaging! We want the experience to look like this...
Unfortunately, what we know is that the PD experience often leaves participants (and even the facilitators) feeling like this...
4 Possibilities for Planning PD
To that end, I would like to offer the 4 following possibilities for planning PD that focuses on learning (thank you Fred Ende for that reminder) and has a positive impact on our kids...
1) Plan ahead with a team of community members who are invested in the outcomes of the PD. One school leader I was speaking to described a PD committee that she uses to plan every PD experience for her staff. The team, made up of teachers, gets together about every six weeks and discusses how things are going. These discussions then turn into a more focused conversation about staff readiness levels and where people could benefit from more support, where people could lead the learning themselves and where there is a high level of mastery, which means they don't necessarily need support in that area at this time.
The idea of a "PD Team" is a powerful one and I would suggest going beyond teachers and building leaders on this team... I would consider inviting students and potentially family members to be part of the conversation. Our students could shed some serious light on what they need during the classroom experience and what PD for the teachers could enhance the learning experiences. Our students have an important and unique lens and ultimately we want all PD to have a positive impact on them so why not include them in the conversation? Truth is, in some instances, our kids are able to plan and facilitate some of the PD for our teachers and for that reason, they should have a voice in the process.
As for family members, while they may not be educational experts, they do see things through an important lens that can inform our practice. Family members know how their children feel when they come home, how their children engage in learning beyond the school day and how they perceive school from the outside. We should listen to these perspectives to help us determine what we could be doing better because ultimately, effective PD should help us be better for our kids.
2) Use your Twitter feed (or Instagram posts or Facebook wall) as another source of information for planning future professional development sessions. Get a team of leaders, teachers, students, etc. together and start planning future PD sessions/days based on what you are seeing as emerging themes in your story. What are you seeing a lot of? What are you seeing some of? What are you seeing none of? Use the answers to these questions to help plan next steps in regards to learning and teaching in your school/district. While the impetus for the Twitter feed may be telling the school story and building transparency between the school and the community, the byproduct (if the content of the posts are determined with intentionality) could be a whole new way to look at and facilitate PD!
3) Focus on the outcomes of the experience - not just the experience. Too often I hear about PD experiences that are solely focused on a product or PD experiences that are centered on a really "awesome" speaker/presenter. While these aspects are important, we must begin with the end in mind when planning PD - what do we want our team of educators to learn as a result of the PD? what impact do we want the PD to have on our kids and school? what practices do we want to refine and enhance as a result of the PD? The end result is critical because we cannot intentionally plan "drive by PD" that begins and ends in one day; we need to plan PD that happens on one day (or maybe more) but the results are felt for days, weeks, months and even years ahead.
4) Don't lose sight of the fact that if we want PD to matter and have a sustainable impact, it must resonate on both personal and professional levels! Based on my own research during my doctoral studies, all of the participants made it clear that meaningful PD was about getting participants to care, to be invested and to see the possibilities; PD should not be about what we aren't doing or what we "should" be doing. PD should matter to people; PD should be about possibilities; and most importantly, PD should impact the mind and heart!
These are just 4 possibilities to consider when planning PD for all of the awesome educators in our schools. What do you think? What have you tried? What has worked? What has failed? Please share your experiences below because together we are better!