In a week or so, I will be presenting at AEC 2017 about blended learning design and evaluation, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give my thoughts on the enormous responsibility that we have as trainers and presenters to differentiate for the various levels of teachers that exist in our schools.
I am lucky enough to have worked at schools that take professional development seriously. When done right, in-house PD provides a forum for professional discourse on theory and practice. It is varied, active, and differentiated for the needs of all levels of teachers, and intrinsically satisfies an educator’s craving for learning. When done wrong, in-house “PD” and is little more than a few speakers force-feeding teachers information that they could easily obtain by other means (a memo!), aka Death By PowerPoint.
Like students, not all teachers have the same learning needs. What’s the sense in making a teacher with 30 years of IB experience sit in a meeting about the fundamentals of the IB program? While we all need a refresher now and then, meetings that are little more than training or housekeeping disguised as professional development can really hurt the moral of a professional learning community, and contribute to burnout, turnover and widespread apathy among educators. It also just shows a total lack of respect for the teaching profession, as if teachers are not smart enough to make their own decisions about where they are and what they need to learn next.
This is why I like book clubs
I’ve been running book clubs for teachers at my school for three years now, and I find them to be beneficial on so many levels. One of the most popular articles on educationrickshaw.com has been 5 Books To Start a Book Club for Teachers, which tells me that other educators are itchin’ for professional reading as well. Last week, we started up this year’s first book club on “Never Work Harder Than Your Students” by Robyn R. Jackson, inspired in many ways by my course at AEC 2016. The discussion was the highlight of my week.
The thing about book clubs is that it turns PD into an active exercise rather than a passive one. In the book clubs that I have been a part of, teachers read at their own pace while being guided and held accountable by their peers. Teachers choose if and when they want to attend, and are given chances to contribute to the conversation outside of meeting hours through online forums and journals. Good professional book clubs kind of model how I think learning should take place in the classroom; If students don’t deserve an education where they are merely seen as passive receptacles for dry information, then why should teachers?
Make in-house PD worthwhile with differentiation
Clearly there are times when a school will need teachers to be all on the same page, especially if there is a sense that the teaching and learning has become off-mission. But, for the most part, beginning teachers have their needs, experienced teachers have their needs, single subject teachers have their needs and generalists have their needs. It is important that we put as much thought into our in-house PD as we put into our lessons for the students. When teachers’ needs are met, and we begin to treat them as responsible, creative, intelligent theorists who are able to grapple with the latest ideas and trends in education, then we will begin to re-professionalize the profession from the ground up.
What do you think? What is in-house PD like at your school? Do you meet just to meet, or do you meet to learn about things that are important to you? Stephanie and I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below.
– Zach Groshell @MrZachG