Changing the Way We Approach Professional Development

Lately, I have been reading a lot about adult education and the ways to make Professional Development really effective. And collecting articles in a Flipboard magazine. There are some really great articles out there!

We’ve all been there, sitting in those meetings, with our eyes rolling back in our heads, wondering why in the world we’re being forced to endure such torture. Whether someone is reading a PowerPoint to you or telling you how to use Google Docs instead of Word, we’ve all found ourselves in the position where we felt our time was being wasted.

And for a teacher, time is everything.

flickr photo by Sean MacEntee https://flickr.com/photos/smemon/5281453002 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

So much is asked of teachers who already have so little time.

As someone responsible for providing some professional development to our staff, I continue to look for ways to ensure that the opportunities I have are well planned to meet the needs of our staff.

I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, including my own.

I’ve read about the importance of the choice in adult learning and for them to be in control of their learning.

Earlier in the year we tried “speedgeeking” for the first time. Everyone was really happy with the experience and though it was really valuable PD. We’re planning on this happening again next year, at least twice with Technology topics, but maybe also using it with other subject areas.

One thing that makes speedgeeking great is the opportunity for our teachers to teach each other. More teachers can and should share their knowledge with others. We all think that what we’re doing is not exciting enough to share and quite simply, we’re just wrong.¬†Each school has so many great resources within the building (the TEACHERS) that really can and should be used!

Last week, we took a page from the Learning2 playbook and offered an “un-meeting” instead of our standard faculty meeting. One of the elements of Learning2 are un-conference sessions that are determined by the participants during the conference. There is no set expert or agenda. The group that shows up determines how they will spend their time with that topic.

Our meetings are held on Wednesdays, so on Monday morning I emailed out a Google Doc with directions for adding ideas that the teachers were interested in learning about or talking about in a group. Once ideas were added, teachers could vote on the topics.

Wednesday afternoon I counted all the votes and picked 6 topics that appeared to have some interest. I assigned each topic a room.

Before heading off into the topics, we met in a large group just to discuss the overall idea of the “un-meeting.” We talked about how each group might go about getting started and what to do if no one in the group felt like an expert.

I also borrowed an idea from the Eduro learning team that Kim Cofino posted about where they asked everyone to think about the feelings you have when you are forced to learn something versus when you learn about things that you are passionate about.

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I wanted to get everyone on the same page in terms of recognizing their choice in the “un-meeting.” Their choice of topic, their choice to be an active participant, their choice to be fully present.

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After the meeting, we asked each group to share back some of their discussion on a Padlet so that you could see what happened in other groups and that the learning was available to those who had some other commitment.

We also did a short survey to gather some feedback.

Here’s what we learned:

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Overall, it appears that most everyone felt their group was productive, which is good. With some of the topics that had been voted on I was a little concerned it might just be a session of complaints.

And no one wants to sit through that!

We also asked teachers to write one new thing they learned. Here are some of their responses.

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I thought some of the comments were really thoughtful, in recognition of there being possibilities to explore new ideas and learn to work together more.

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Since I organized the “un-meeting” it was important to me to have an understanding if my explanations and structure made sense to everyone else.

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Clearly, the idea for choice did resonate with the teachers. I think that the smaller group size and informal setting was something that allowed more people to participate in a meaningful way and that made a difference in the success of the time spent.

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I also asked for suggestions for improvement. Beyond the idea that the teachers would be really happy to see prosecco show up for the “un-meetings”, the most commonly mentioned thought was about following up on the content discussed. I think this is especially true because two of the meetings involved topics that affect the whole elementary, the schedule and the units of study. And it makes sense that those groups would want to know that the time they took discussing and developing ideas was heard by all and thought about in planning for next year.¬†This is something for me to connect with our principal about and see what would be the best strategy to take those ideas and discussions into consideration.

There is also a bit of interest in there being more structure to the “un-meeting.” I think that this is something that we look to because we’re so used to having everyone tell us what to do and how to do it. We need to continue to challenge ourselves to build our own learning and find comfort in the lack of structure. This is difficult, even for me, but I think it is the path to take. For ourselves as learners, and for our students.

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Has your school explored different formats of Professional Development? What strategies have you found that are effective? I’d love to hear your ideas!

2 thoughts on “Changing the Way We Approach Professional Development

  1. Philip Bruce

    Some interesting reflections. I love the feedback you gathered to support your thinking. Finding that balance between self-direction and guided structure is a challenge. I think that’s where a compelling vision can really help. If you get that right (and that’s another big question), people will want to either create a structure that helps them get to where they want to be, or will feel much less claustrophobic about any guided structure that is provided because they understand where it might take them.

    In terms of creating a guiding structure, I had wondered about designing standards for professional learning experiences. I’m sure you (as do most schools) have instructional standards for lessons. However, what about the lessons we lead with other teachers? Here is my blog post discussing the thinking behind creating standards as a reflection tool for teachers leading professional learning experiences: link to educationcogitation.wordpress.com

    The link to the standards I developed (as a thought experiment…) can be found in the post. If you’re familiar with Danielson’s teacher evaluation rubric, they are a re-mix of hers. I’ve used the guiding questions I created with a couple of PD sessions I have run recently and found them helpful. However, I (we) have not trialled these standards beyond that.

    Reply
    1. Profile photo of Carrie ZimmerCarrie Zimmer Post author

      Phil,

      Thanks for the comment. I read your post and really like the way you’ve thought about setting the standard for PD. I like what you’ve come up with, especially how it would force reflection of the presenter to ensure high quality experiences. At my school I feel like we are still on the road to putting all the pieces in place to make this system really something solid and I hope to keep your standards in mind as we move forward.

      Thanks,
      Carrie

      Reply

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