“Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember, Involve me and I learn.” This quote by Benjamin Franklin is often used to highlight how we, as teachers, might consider our roles with students. However, what if we change the audience and consider this quote in terms of our expectations of our own adult learning experiences?
There is a plethora of research that negates the effectiveness of one-shot PDs. According to Jim Knight, coaching researcher and founder of the Kansas Coaching Project, “one-shot workshops and other quick-fix forms of professional development often have little impact on teaching and learning” (Instructional Coaching Group, 2015). In order to counteract this, districts around the country are trying to find more creative ways to implement their own job-embedded PD so that there is teacher choice, teacher voice paired with leadership opportunities, district goal-alignment, and in some cases, teacher coaching programs to target very specific district-level, building-level and teacher-level goals.
Even so, when we think about shifting the PD delivery umbrella, there are a multitude of ways that we can learn! Embedded in all of these more-creative PD structures, we can learn through: experience, reflection, modeling, observation, conversation, peer-collaboration, data teams, action research, video learning, presenting, and blogging, to name a few. How should we choose what type of PD will fit best with our own learning style and ensure long-term impact on both our instruction and our students?
I believe choosing the most appropriate form of PD for teachers can be explained in three simple questions.
- Who am I as a learner? Am I a doer, talker, thinker, writer, collaborator, etc.?
- What is your PD process?
- What level of accountability will you hold yourself to?
Think about PD that you have attended in the past. Think of one that fell short of your expectations and one that was stellar. What were some of the major differences? What felt different? How did the learning from one last longer than the other and why?
Question 1: Who am I as a learner?
How well do you know yourself? How do you take in information? Will you do best in a PD centered around listening, or do you need to be moving, talking, collaborating, and creating on the spot? If you prefer to listen, look for words in descriptions like, “Learn about…,” “Lay the foundation for…,” “Understand…,” “Consider….,” “Listen to…” These verbs are good indicators of what you will experience during the session. As you can imagine, if you are someone who needs to ‘do’ more during PD, you might gravitate toward sessions that include words like, “Discuss…,” “Collaborate with job-alikes from other districts to…,” “Help create an argument for…,” “Come prepared to be actively engaged…”
While seemingly straight-forward, we often fall into the “Everyday is a Give-Away” trap. For example, I want to attend a math PD and the description has the phrase “leave with materials to…” or “you will be handed…” Though these sound enticing, as educators, we must read between some of these blurred lines. Will these materials fit with what I am currently teaching and with current district initiatives? Will the materials be used throughout the PD (that we often pay to attend) or will I need to sort through them myself once I get home? When we are handed something that is “complete,” we are sometimes think it will be a match for the students we teach. However, when student boredom sets in, or test scores fall, we quickly realize we are not meeting student needs and giveaways, though convenient, can be misleading.
Question 2: What is your PD process?
Have you ever thought about how you choose which PDs to attend? I assume I am like many of us (often a poor assumption). I hear about the “latest and greatest” tech tool or new idea and jump on it to learn more, without thinking about how it relates to the many goals I have for the year. Then, I get frustrated that I have too much on my plate! But, I did it to myself!
When thinking about which PD to attend throughout the year, I would suggest using a much more targeted approach to selection. What goals are included in your evaluation for the year? What goals do you have for your class (whole-class, small-group, or individual students)? What are building- and district-level goals that you are interested in supporting in more of a leadership role? Then, the hardest part: when that pamphlet of the latest and greatest comes around, shred it unless it fits. One can argue that we can make anything fit, and we certainly can if it is based in best-practice. But it does not help us focus on what will truly make a lasting difference for both our students and our long-term teaching capacity. One hyper-focused year of learning and expertise-building could jumpstart the next toward some of the most innovative teaching approaches available.
After you have selected the most appropriate and applicable PDs for your own learning, develop a plan for note-taking during the session prior to attending. Though this seems like an extra step, it will help you hone your focus even after you arrive at the session. Use your goals, the PD description, and anything your team wants to know about the PD, as a guide. This way, you set clearer goals for yourself around the PD, which leads to Step 3.
Question 3: What level of accountability do you hold yourself to?
This step is perhaps the most important of the three. By the end of any given PD, you should be able to say, “Now that I have learned [or tried] this, I am going to ___________ with my new knowledge.” Though we have good intentions, too often, we may fill that blank with only a nugget of what we could have brought back to our classrooms.
With a purposeful note-taking tool (Step 2) and a focus on why the PD is important, what new goal can you set around the implementation of this new idea? Maybe you will share a few new ideas with your team. Maybe you will experiment and create an action plan around what could come next. Maybe you will partner with a coach or colleague to describe what you learned and try to make it become a reality. Whatever you choose, any next step(s) will help solidify your understanding of the topic, and will continue to allow that growth mindset of application and revision cycles to propel teaching and learning to new heights.
Professional development can be whatever we make it. We can decide to make it useful and choose according to our own goals and learning styles, looking at the verbs in the descriptions. By using this 3-step process for selection and follow-up, we can best match PDs with our current needs and look to create our own long-lasting habits of mind whose focus will positively impact the students we teach.