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A Tale of Two of Teacher Professional Development Workshops

It’s the first week of summer vacation.  Do you know how I can tell?  It’s because I’ve only been working 6 hours each day!  

Seriously, non-teachers ask me from time to time, “What are you doing with your summer vacation.” They are always surprised to hear that I’m working. I think they are waxing nostalgic to that time when they were students and summer vacation meant long days of little responsibility. I think they imagined that teachers have the same experience over summer vacation as children do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Summertime is my time to pause and reflect on how the school year went. I read books and magazines devoted to analyzing the delicate dance between teaching and learning.

This week I’m engaged with two different, district-run professional development workshops (PD).  

One of the PD’s is co-hosted by one of our local universities’ school of education. It’s been fantastic so far.  

First of all, we got to decide what our projects is going to be about. There are some guidelines since the grant that is paying for our time and resources is called Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age. I’m using this time and training to hone the student-led school-reform project my classes did last year.

My project is required to have an inquiry question that I use to analyze the work of a sample group of my students. On the bright side, the requirements aren’t very numerous, nor are they a burden. Documenting everything on , does feel a little bit like a hoop that I have to jump through, but hey… they’re paying me to do a week’s worth of work that I would have been doing for free this summer, so through the hoop I go!

Additionally, we get lots of planning time. Far too many PD’s feel like drinking out of the fire hose. I find myself sitting in a chair for hours or days, thinking, “This is GREAT! I can’t wait to use this in my class next year.” Then, a month or two slip by, school starts and I find myself vaguely thinking about how I did something kind of nerdy and cool about something at the PD, maybe. This week, however, every afternoon I get an hour or two to just sit and think, or talk to a colleague and type. In a word, I get to digest what I’m learning.  

Unfortunately, the other PD I did this week was…  well… let’s say not so good. Luckily, it lasted only one day.

This PD was hosted by my district and was intended to train me in some new credit-recovery software we’ve adopted to replace the old credit-recovery software.

We spent the first hour listening to the sales pitch from the sales representative of the corporation whose software my district bought. I found myself thinking ungracious thoughts like, “I’m not in charge of software adoption for my school district. I’m not the audience for this sales pitch,” and, “Wait!  Didn’t we ALREADY BUY this software from you?  Why are you still selling it?”  

The sales rep wasn't the only problem in the room. A colleague kept interrupting the already frustrating professional development with overly specific or personal questions. Mostly, it seemed she just wanted to hear herself talk. There was little professional about this meeting and there was certainly no development.

The difference between these two PD’s illustrates the larger issue for teachers. Teachers need to be treated like professionals. We need space within the professional development session to make our own sense of the new information and decide how we might implement our new learning in our classrooms.  

At the same time, we teachers need to act as professionals when we are in our PD sessions, and not like copies of our most recalcitrant students.  We need to respect one another’s time and commitment.  

So, to sum up. If you are ever in a position to run professional development for a school or group of teachers in your teacherpreneur role, remember these tips:

  • Teachers should have a project in mind that they think the PD can help with.
  • Teachers need time to digest and play with the new ideas.
  • Don’t try to sell them anything.  They’re teachers.  They’re poor.
  • If you’re going to take questions at the end, hold that line!

5 Comments

Brad Clark commented on June 23, 2013 at 11:45am:

Stanley from UHF

I totally envisioned that scene from UHF when Stanley, played by Michael Richards, allows the children audience members the reward of drinking from the fire hose.  Hahahaha.  That terminology is going to stick!  I run A LOT of PD's and have been guilty on multiple occassions of letting teachers drink from the fire hose.  Your rules are simple and I am stealing all of them:)

Brianna Crowley commented on June 23, 2013 at 4:59pm:

Captured beautifully

Then, a month or two slip by, school starts and I find myself vaguely thinking about how I did something kind of nerdy and cool about something at the PD, maybe.

This had me laughing out loud as it perfectly describes how many times I walk away from a class, collaboration, reading or training inspired and overwhelmed only to lose that inspiration by the time it really matters. This is another chance for me to soap box about how I believe our school year should be spread out to allow a week or two between trimensters/semesters/marking periods to allow for this kind of just-in-time inspiration to be quickly applied to practice in the classroom. Thanks for the description.

Renee Moore commented on June 23, 2013 at 5:52pm:

Using Summer PD to "Pre-Think" Your School Year

I've been to that second PD session. The only thing worse was the year they invited a guy with a guitar who made every teacher in the district stand and sing all the verses to "(You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me) Lucille"!  This was our motivational speaker. 

Want to hear more about that first session, though. I read the piece you wrote about your  students' projects (any chance you could share the presentations or an example of one)? Using summer PD to help us reflect on past school year and pre-think specific projects for the coming one is really valuable, especially for those who don't have a PLC-type community within their schools.

zep commented on June 24, 2013 at 1:10pm:

pd

Love the idea of student directed learning/projects, whatever they deem important to them. The equivalent PD component will be when we allow PD to grow organically, the facilitator would become just that, a facilitator. PD is significant only in creating a time and space for staff to coalesce, a pre-ordained goal or "learning intention" puts us back in the box rather than providing time for us not to think about next year's projects but instead how we can increasingly empower students to do whatever it is will move them towards their adult dreams and what roles we can take on to facilitate them reaching those dreams.

Wendi Pillars commented on June 24, 2013 at 12:14pm:

Thanks for posting these

Thanks for posting these great tips--they seem so common sense! I've got an urge to create a poster for these and make them our PD norms!

(Btw, you forgot to mention those PD sessions where you're "volun-told" to be there, sans pay, sans choice...such great motivation and professional respect!) HA

Your fire hose PD blast provides a great visual--we wouldn't blast our students with info that way and expect them to retain without reflection or application. It made me think of a fire-fighting foam the fire department uses to suppress certain types of fire...the foam comes out in a gentler spray, but it lasts longer as a cooling/ suppression agent and covers more ground than pure water...So, for whatever reason that came to mind, now I've got this image of a foam spray dousing us with "cool knowledge" that sticks. :)

Summertime brain wanderings!

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