Lately, in my province, we are in a process of evaluating our teaching practice. Each school district creates a committee of a variety of personnel (teachers, coordinators, superintendent, school board member) to collect information on what the current reality is for teachers in a school, as well as suggestions for improvement. The underlying component is to reduce teacher workload so that teachers can focus on the main task of teaching our students. In our school, we have spent some time answering questions and then discussing the realities. Of course one area that comes up is Professional Development.
So I thought I would use the data I received as well as sum up my feelings as a teacher for 20 years to help me create what I believe is the most beneficial PD that translates to the best learning in the classroom.
Meaningful PD needs to involve collaboration, conversations, observations, presentations, and time.
The number one type of PD that teachers want is collaboration. They want time to get together to learn about, discuss, implement, and revise best practices. Teachers have so much to offer each other. Just like we remind the students that they all have strengths and need to use them, the same goes for teachers. When teachers collectively share the focus, visions, and goals of the school…given time to collaborate, they will be very resourceful in building ideas and practices that are often very sustainable and realistic to their specific school.
Meaningful PD involves observations. I recall some of my best PD days were the times I had the opportunity to watch other teachers. Instead of just listening to theories and ideas, you get to be immersed in the program. With this of course, you need time to have conversations. It’s so important to discuss steps these teachers have taken, resources they needed, obstacles they had to overcome, and successes that drove them forward.
There is still a place for PD involving presentations, especially when it involves experts in certain areas/fields. I think we need to get away from the thinking that this is the number one way to achieve PD. It is so much easier to connect with experts using social media now. Teachers can build PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks) that are very specific to their interests and they can have greater control of when and how they choose to connect.
To tie it all together, teachers need TIME. They need time to collaborate, time to observe, time to present, time to connect, and time to reflect. We have to be understanding of the time that is needed to create meaningful PD. We can’t keep throwing new ideas/programs at teachers when they haven’t had time to practice and revise existing ideas/programs. It is so important to create as much of this PD time built in to a regular teaching day, we can’t keep expecting our teachers to always use their personal time for PD, they use enough of that to stay on top of the regular tasks of teaching.
We keep moving forward in our ways of teaching our students to become a 21st Century learner, we need to move our PD in that direction too!