Time to realign professional development

Design thinking is a buzzword these days, but don’t let that discourage you from discovering this great trend in thinking and researching.

Stanford is a leader in developing design thinking across many disciplines, including in education.  One of their research fellows, Melissa Pelochino, is working to improve one of the un-blessings of a teacher’s life.

You’d think “professional development” would be awesome — I mean, who doesn’t want to spend time investigating their professional field and deepening their skills? But so often, PD sessions are pretty dull. Pelochino writes,

PD is still being delivered in a 20th-century lecture style, and most of it looks the same: teachers sitting in rows, staring at computers or cellphones while a person at the front of the room talks at them and refers to a computer screen from time to time. 

I was recently at an “innovation conference” where someone taught a lecture called “tyranny of the lecture” — in a lecture format. Uhhhhh. So, when I tell teachers I am working on redesigning professional development, they often cheer and say, “thank you.”

 ~Designing what’s next in teacher’s professional development

It makes sense that a teacher great at her craft would assume that structuring professional development like a great classroom lesson — project work, collaboration, deep inquiry — would make for a fantastic PD session.  But…. it didn’t.

Pelochino realized instead that very short PD videos, which she calls “Two Minute PD” sessions, could be far more effective for busy professionals. Teachers have the time to invest two minutes on watching a topic that will immediately be relevant to their classrooms.  It’s a great application of design thinking to a basic workplace problem.

Thinking in Grace-based ways about teaching and learning demands that we recognize the humanity of the teacher as much as the student. Ironically, in some circles, it’s easy for school personnel to develop creative and constructive pathways for students to learn, but that very creativity drains those teachers from investing the time and energy in their own development.

Relational teaching requires not only an engaged educator; also our schools must ensure their faculty have the mental, emotional, spiritual, temporal, and physical space to learn and grow themselves.

A few practical suggestions for small schools and busy teachers to improve professional development:

  • Administrators and Boards:  Build PD time and money into your budget as an investment in your faculty.  A healthy, engaged faculty leads to a healthy, functioning school. Ignore the development of your teachers, and you endanger your school.   Build a fence around this time and money and don’t let it be overrun by even “good” pressures that would divert that time or money to other causes.
  • Principals: Guard your scheduled time for observing your teachers and mentoring them as teachers.  This is vital to building solid relationships between staff and administration and for making sure you have the right perspective when planning PD opportunities.  Ask teachers how they would like to further their own development….and listen to that feedback.  Oh and do what you can to keep PD relevant to your situation, your school … and away from latest fads. 
  • Professional development committees:  Consider facilitating two minute PD sessions at weekly faculty meetings. Whether you use Pelochino’s videos or simply ask faculty to take 2 minutes to share a technique or activity that worked well last week, build some PD discussion into each faculty meeting.  And consider free time for your teachers a priority in your PD plans — for thinking, learning, collaborating, and just recharging.  
  • Teachers:  Tell your administration what would genuinely help you be a better teacher.  Really. You might not have much control over what PD sessions are forced into your schedule, but make sure that’s not because the administration isn’t aware of what would actually be useful to you.  And insist that you get time in faculty meetings to hear from your colleagues about their best practices in the classroom — your fellow practitioners are a gold mine.
  • Parents: Be an advocate for your kids’ teacher(s).  Insist that teachers get the time and space to refresh and learn.  Don’t condemn teacher workdays as wasteful or irrelevant.  Teaching is a demanding profession, far more than you might realize, and we need time for our brains and emotions to recover throughout the school year. 
I’m glad people like Melissa Pelochino are trying to improve PD.  Props to her.  Maybe I’ll submit a two-minute video for her channel … 😉 
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