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How To Create Teacher Led Professional Development

We rush through another Tuesday, with a modified schedule, where students are released at 1:30pm and teachers prepare for the next “tool” to add to the proverbial “toolbelt”, and already I have a headache.

I should be happy. At least PD is being held during the school day this year. We aren’t getting cancellation notices on Outlook every other week. Oh no! We meet, whether we need to or not, because if we don’t, “it would be a disservice to the parents who accommodate for the early release of their children.”  

Administration means well. They get pressure from above to “carve out the time and hold those teachers accountable to attend.” Our administrators believe that PD time is important. Here’s the problem; we have a mixed group of seasoned and brand new teachers.  Some of them were born to teach, while others stay for the time off in summer. Some join everything, take on coaching positions, set up student clubs. Others enjoy getting a chance to leave work before it gets dark. There are varying degrees of commitment and skill.  

I do believe teachers are born and not made.

Just like our classrooms, the needs of our students vary greatly from student to student, as do the needs of teachers. We are expected to differentiate our instruction when teaching, so then, it is only fitting and necessary, to differentiate the needs of our teachers when it comes to Professional Development.  

I’ve never been a fan of one size fits all. I’m not even a fan of one size fits most.  Without differentiation, Professional Learning starts looking more like mandated compliance than true development. Seasoned teachers often sit in PD that covers the most basic teaching strategy, and I have found myself on more than one occasion wanting to scream at the top of my lungs “HEY! I’ve had that tool in my toolbelt for like, EVER! Why am I here?”

I’ve voiced my concerns, only to be answered with, “Now now, even if we learn one new thing, it’s worth it.” I wonder how well that would go over if I said that to the parents of my students who are ahead?

Something has to change. I’m talking about something drastic...

The new and improved Many-Sizes-Accommodate-All Method:

In collaboration with several other seasoned teachers, a few colleagues and I took our own time long after working hours to develop a PD system that could actually work. It started with the essential question, “What could teacher PD look like if it were differentiated and led by teachers who were experts in that content area?” It would take a simple glance at the teacher’s observations to see where they stood out, and then they would be given time to create the PD around that content.  For example, my colleague is exceptional at providing effective Content Language Objectives, something that, as a district, we have to post daily, and write in a way that  students can understand what we are going to do today, what we are going to do it to, and what supports we will use to do it.  This format might look something like this:

What are we going to do today? We are going to practice keyboarding without the monitor turned on, to practice not looking at our hands and focus on our text copy.
We are going to do that to, the text on page 117 “The Formal Business Letter”. And our supports will be Word 2013, the computers, the textbook, teacher, and student collaboration. 

Many teachers struggle with the format, Bloom’s taxonomy and the function of this process, but my colleague is very effective in explaining it, and at the end of a brief time one on one with her, she can get you to write amazing CLOs.  SHE should teach a session of that in PD! It would sure beat her having to take time out of her planning to teach others one on one.

If PD looked more like a summer conference, where teachers were given a menu ahead of time, even including pre-reading, and break out sessions, they could choose which areas they would wish to focus on and which PD sessions to attend.

I liken it to an independent walk through Home Depot, where we intentionally fill our own tool belts with tools that fit, ensuring we are armed with the right tool for the right job, and no one is walking around with two identical hammers.

We must also recognize that not every tool belt needs to be exactly the same either. I am an electives teacher, and I have sat through so much PD that is geared only to Math and English teachers.  I get the things I need specific to my content when I get the chance to meet with other singletons in district meetings-- which happen very infrequently.  I also attend conventions and seminars specific to my content to assist in building my “tool belt.” It would be silly to ask teachers outside of  my content area to sit in on my summer conventions, much like it is silly to ask the same of me.

In thinking about professional development, we need to address the way it is delivered, given that there is very little evidence to support that it is effective. This paradigm shift needs to challenge the status quo that PD should be delivered by administrators (who have been out of the classroom for how long?) thus putting an end to top down instruction, and must be built from within.  Teachers know what teachers need, and we have already seen the benefits of peer mentoring and instruction.  The best thing administrators can do for teachers, is trust that they will attend the Professional Development, stop micro-managing the ways it ‘should’ be developed, and give the seasoned teachers who show mastery over different areas of PD the time and stage to develop other teachers. Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Who in your building seems to be an ‘expert’ teacher that most all go to for help?

  2. What technique, process, program, etc. do you feel you have an excellent grasp on and how would you deliver that to others?

  3. How can we maximize the time we set aside for PD to really have it mean something and what ways can we measure its lasting effects?

6 Comments

Tricia Ebner commented on November 15, 2015 at 9:21pm:

Good teaching is good teaching . . .

and that applies to professional development as much as it does to our classrooms. 

The longer I teach, the more I appreciate teacher-led professional development. There are so many benfits for teachers and also administrators. For example . . . 

1. Cost: most of us are more than happy to share with our colleagues, and often at a cost that is far less than an administration might pay an outsider. 

2. Audience familiarity: we know our audience, because we ARE one of these audience members. I don't mean in every single sense, but in terms of the culture of that particular school/district community, we know more than most outside presenters are likely to know. This means we can tailor our presentations more easily to our colleagues and their needs.

3. An audience that feels comfortable with a presenter is often more likely to ask questions--and also reach out to share successes or frustrations or a need for more information. 

I feel your frustration at the one-size-fits-all approach. It's exciting to read about the alternatives and the steps that are being taken to change that approach.

Jozette Martinez Jozette Martinez commented on November 16, 2015 at 7:24pm:

Teachers lead the way...

Great hearing from you Tricia (miss you!)

It is an exciting thing to talk about and we have mapped out a very effective plan of action concerning how it could roll out.  This is not to say though, that SELLING the idea is taking the most amount of time.  

We are being met by resistance, as traditionally, PD is given by adminstrators. Handing over that power when the future of our innovation school is questionable could create a great sense of fear.  For now, the idea has been dreamed, and pitched. I will let you know of the progress on if will come to fruition. 

Be well friend!

Renee Moore commented on November 16, 2015 at 11:07pm:

Raising Our Own Bar

So many wonderful ideas from both of you on how really effective PD could be done.

Jozette, those variations you mention among teachers from really wanting to learn to just biding time exists across the nation at all levels of teaching (K-20). There are many reasons for it, so I'm not going to sit in judgement of anyone--some are burned out; others should never have been licensed or hired. Changing the way we do PD will help many teachers rekindle their passion and keep going. But as you point out, part of the battle is teachers, particularly highly accomplished ones, getting more control over not only PD, but other critical areas of our work.

Lori Nazareno commented on November 17, 2015 at 1:22am:

Personalized Learning for Teachers

I find it incredibly frustrating that, after 25 years of teaching, I still hear these saem comments about PD. No more about that lest my head explode. To a more salient point....

If teachers are expected to personalize learning for students, then their learning should be personalized as well. It is quite difficult to teach something that you have not experienced AND personalied learning for teachers is a PERFECT way to model for us how to do it.

I'm with Renee about not judging other teachers and their motives for how they show up. I find quite often that there is usually a personal story that explains the behavior (not unlike with our students). I do know that everyone wants to feel valued and respected and the way that PD is most often structured does neither.

Personalized professional learning that is teacher-powered is a HUGE step in restoring both to the profession.

BTW - I don't necessarily agree that good teachers are born and not made. I think that mindset diminshes the complexity of the work and the sophistication of the professional. That's just my two cents. AND you know I adore you, your writing, and your work.

Rock on sister, friend!

Jozette Martinez Jozette Martinez commented on November 17, 2015 at 9:17pm:

Rocking out!

If ever there was a teacher with the clout and experience to speak on teacher-powered PD, it would be you my friend and mentor, Lori Nazzareno!

As for the motivations of teachers coming to the profession; agreed, we all have our own story. At some point however, a line in the sand must be drawn, and especially at schools that are 'hard to serve' well extra is just the name of the game. 

In thinking about the needs of hard to serve schools, I am from the philosophy that the schools with the highest needs must be staffed with the most effective teachers.  Like our classrooms, there are varying degrees of experience and skill. Differentiating PD could be a cog in a well oiled machine used to attract and retain highly effective teachers especially in schools that need them most. However, what often happens is this. A. The highly effective teachers are under utilized in building. There is a plethora of evidence to suggest that teacher leadership is one way to truly engage the effective teacher who wants to lead and stay in the classroom. B. Highly effective teachers are under supported, much like students who are excelling in class become invisable while the kids with the most needs soak up the majority of the teacher's time and attention. C. Highly effective teachers are seen as trouble makers, not people that can be instrumental in enhancing the experience of teachers for colleagues. Just like so many of our students who might be labeled 'trouble makers' quite often, seasoned teachers have seen it all, and this can be perceived as 'trouble' when upon further investigation, it could be deemed as important as 'consumer data' and used as a way to promote continuous improvement (to steal some philosophies from the business world.)

Just like student voice can be the magic fairy dust that opens the door to student-teacher relationships, teacher powered-PD can serve as a genie lamp, granting everyone, including administration, the wishes they choose to enhance the craft.

Natalie Teresa commented on September 6, 2016 at 4:26am:

This is a great resource a

This is a great resource a great way for teachers to connect. I myself am a teacher who grew in this fashion and now am the professional developer for a large school division. See more write my paper

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