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!