21st century PD

As teachers, we have all sat through boring meetings intended to help us develop professionally, but that somehow fail miserably.  So you’ll understand my excitement over the following:

The professional development sessions at my new school have been especially productive and in tune with the needs of teachers so far.  

I described some of these PD experiences to teachers on the TLN forum, and they were as enthusiastic as I am about them.  It is crazy that these types of activities are so unusual in schools, but it seems that they are.

Here are a few activities that stood out to me:

  • On our 3-day orientation retreat for new teachers coming on staff (there are many of us, because the school is adding 7th grade this year), we watched videos of actual teachers teaching lessons. These were videos available to anyone on Youtube and education websites.  We rated them, critiqued them, talked about the strengths and weaknesses of each one.  We had a real dialogue about pedagogy.  It was so much more valuable than I even imagined it would be, and easy to do too.
  • After we talked and read about some teaching strategies we wanted to use, we tried them out.  We were given interesting, educationally relevant Tedtalks videos to watch in small groups. Then we had to come up with ways to teach the rest of the group something about the video using strategies we’d studied previously.  Finally, we critiqued each other’s “lessons.”
  • My principal spent some time talking about how we should give and receive criticism.  I can’t really remember what he said, but it stuck with me that he took the time to talk about how important it is. He did say that teachers have a tendency to take criticism very personally, and we want to get away from that, both in how we deliver it and receive it.
  • Over the course of 3 days, there was time for each new teacher–there are quite a few of us because the school is adding a 7th grade next year–to meet one-on-one with the principal, director, and the department chair (separately).  These meetings were informal, professional get-to-know-you, conversations.  We basically took a walk, and talked about what brought us to teaching, what was on our minds about teaching lately, what we wanted in the next five or so years professionally, etc.  It was great to have that individual talking time, post-hiring process.  Most times, you talk a lot in the interviews.  But once you’re hired, you’re just thrown into the mix.  You often only speak to the principal when you need something.  Also, it was unusual to be asked by my supervisors where I see myself professionally in the future.  The implication was that they would be shaping PD in such a way as to help each of us toward attaining our professional goals.
  • A week after the retreat, we had 3 paid days at school in early July for curriculum planning.  We looked at the mission of the school and were introduced to some guiding principles for structuring our curriculum.  We had time to meet with our departments and also teachers from other disciplines with whom we were encouraged to collaborate.  Then we were actually given “free” time to write an annual curriculum map.  We presented them to our grade teams (or what we had done) at the end of the three days, and discussed areas for integration.  I have never been asked to do this so far in advance.  We always come back to school a few days before students arrive to find out all the things we’re supposed to be doing in our classrooms, and we’re given no time to plan.  All that planning teachers have to do in the summer is generally off the books and off the radar of school leaders, which is a loss for the school in  many ways.  I’ve never had other teachers, besides my close colleague-friends, know what I’m teaching in my classroom and offer to help.  The art teacher, for example, had an idea for a project that she thought might work with a novel study. So we sat down and worked it out!  How nice that time is provided for us to collaborate.

These things are not rocket science.  They’re just sensible ways of working with a groups of teachers at this point in time.

What do you think PD should look like in today’s schools?

When I posed this question on the TLN forum, teachers emphasized individualization of PD experiences, where teachers would have the opportunity to create their own professional development goals and seek out resources.  Teacher-driven action research was also mentioned as an important form of PD. What should we add?  What issues stand in the way of 21st century PD becoming a reality in all schools?