Perspectives on Professional Development

Earlier last week, I had a discussion on twitter that I wanted to share and provide a bit more perspective upon:

Three questions rang out in my mind when I read his first tweet were:

  1. Why is most structured professional development, something that should benefit both teacher and school / district, either ineffectual / non-existent or unfocused / irrelevant / unwelcomed.
  2. Why do many feel that their PLN (Personal Learning Network) is the only successful form of PD for them?
  3. Are PLN’s considered by districts effective as change agents?

While I don’t claim to have the answers to the questions I am raising here, perhaps my thoughts can help to provide one perspective on the arguments surrounding professional development.

In thinking about these questions, it really seems that Professional Development, in many school districts, faces a “catch-22” situation.

From a faculty perspective: In the discussions I have had with educators, in a variety of districts, most express that the district sponsored professional development (if actually provided) is simply without apparent focus or driven along lines that are of little interest to faculty.

From district office perspective: There are goals (RTI, NCLB, State, PLC’s, new systems, tech or constituent changes, etc.) that simply consume all of the possible PD time that may be available to faculty. Additionally, many districts provide a stipend for faculty to continue developing within his or her content area. Building-time or District-time should therefore be dedicated to building / district initiatives.

As a result, you have faculty that feel very much like @andersongl… PD is extremely important, but why does it feel like it can only be done on personal time?! From my perspective, I agree, and from the mere fact that we have created a term for it “PLN” (Personal Learning Network) it can be inferred that many teachers across the world are in similar situations or have similar feelings. For those who are not familiar with PLN’s or how they might help, Kevin Honeycutt posted a great video on this topic. See the bottom of this post for the video.

Don’t get me wrong. The development and advancement of the “Professional Learning Community” by the Rick DuFour can be a wonderful vehicle to advance teacher collaboration and begin to carve out district time for professional learning. However, in some rollouts, professional learning can be left behind in the name of collaborative communities as the time dedicated to PLC’s as directed by district / building office personnel is often very formalized or programatic as well as built exclusively around data. While the focus on student data, can enhance and assist in adapting teaching and therefore student learning, where does this leave personal investigation and teacher learning? Proponents will say that the PLC, through the process, will be able to determine learning needs of teachers and use that time to also work on teacher learning initiatives… Are you in a PLC? Does this happen?

So, if the PLC process focuses primarily on student learning and district / building time is almost exclusively dedicated to that initiative, where does that leave personal professional development? Hence, the rise of Personal Learning Communities…but should this personal time be dedicated to advancement in the craft of teaching and learning?

Interestingly, Scott McLeod of Dangerously Irrelevant recently tweeted about an older post he had written back in 2007 called: Why is Staff Development So Bad? Amazingly, I find much of it still true today.

…Yet what does staff development look like in most school districts? Typically it involves three or four one-shot “sit and get” (or “spray and pray”) sessions spread across the year, each on a different topic than the one before, that are attended by most or all educators in the organization…

…Rarely is there follow-up. Rarely is there sustained, focused conversation
about a specific learning issue over time… …The end result, of course, is that most school organizations’ staff development practices have little to no meaningful impact on instructional practice and/or student learning outcomes….

So, is there, (can there) be a balance between district / building initiatives, and personal learning objectives that blend time from both respective groups? Could the rough model I propose above create this blend?:

  1. Have specific consistent time within building / district PD sessions to set goals (personal and student learning goals – some of which align with building / district goals) AND develop a personal learning plan for how to achieve those goals.
  2. Leverage personal time (and some building / district time) to deepen understanding and progress toward the growth plan.
  3. Use building / district time to check in with department chairs or building administration on goal progress with real constructive guidance and evaluation of said progress. These sessions would provide a vehicle to re-align personal goals, learning objectives, to set more immediate outcomes to ensure progress.
  4. This time can / should also be used to apply the learned growth into curricular design and lesson / unit development to ensure personal and professional learning has an impact and focus on student learning.
  5. Woven throughout the process would be opportunities (not mandates) to connect with colleagues who may have similar goals, regardless of whether they are on-site or at a different school.

Is this model a possibility in your building or district? Is this already being done in your district? Are there reasons this model would not work? Suggestions for improvement are welcomed in the comments.


Here is the What is a PLN? Video from Kevin Honeycutt:

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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