5 PD Strategies to Leave Behind in 2019
Twenty years into the 21st century, we still think we are being innovative when we yap about “21st century learning.” Our professional development (PD) is struggling, as well. There is so much talk about making professional development relevant, engaging, and ongoing that you might actually think it’s happening that way! It’s not, and it’s time to take a stand. Here are five professional development strategies to jettison as the teens give way to the twenties.
No More Expensive, Single-Session Professional Development
How many times have you experienced the following: The faculty files into a large room for a “professional development day.” The room is abuzz with the mixture of hopes, dreams, energy - sometimes cynicism - and small talk that characterizes any mandated workplace gathering. An expert has been brought in. They might even be well-known and respected not just locally, but regionally or nationally. The topic is a “hot topic” in the field that some go-getting administrator heard about at a state conference six months ago: Differentiation, student engagement, assessment strategies, emotional needs, take your pick. Everyone agrees that the topic is important, they’re just not so sure how it is relevant or what they can do about it.
The day is spent primarily in a large session format. Hopefully there is coffee. Perhaps a bagel and a smear. Lunch is taken care of - that’s on your own. The hours pass. A ton of information is covered, perhaps even discussed in some small groups. There might be healthy dialogue between the audience and the guru at the front of the room. Everyone receives a copy of the speaker’s slideshow, complete with well-worn memes and humorous video clips. All agree that the speaker was interesting and, again, that the topic seems important, but still have questions about the relevance and practicality of the ideas. How will they implement strategies? What will the follow up look like? How will they get their lesson plans done for Monday? What about that stack of papers to grade?
The crowd files back out of the large room, stack of PD materials in hand. The materials are placed on a shelf or in a desk drawer, Monday’s lesson plans don’t incorporate any of the new strategies, and nobody gets together to collaborate on ways in which they might be implemented. Administrators don’t hold any follow-up meetings, and no further professional development meetings or days address the topic. Ever. Again.
Does this sound like an ideal way for a school or district to provide professional learning and support? So why do so many of us do it this way? You can do so much better than this “traditional” PD model.
One Size Rarely Fits All
Along the lines of the large-group, “expert”-led professional development sessions that are still so common, it’s time to abandon the concomitant one-size-fits-all mentality. It’s 2020 and personalized learning is “a thing” for students; it should also be a thing for your staff.
In planning a solid lesson, you ask yourself what your students need to know, understand, and be able to do by the end of the lesson. Professional development with adults should be no different. What does your staff already know? What do they want to know? Afterwards, what have they learned? What should everyone know, understand, and be able to do by the end of the PD session and during follow-up sessions? How will you respond when people tell you that they want to learn different things?
Eliminate one-size-fits-all PD at your school. Move beyond compliance-based professional development to a system where you build teams of adult learners who want to learn and apply knowledge now where it matters most - impacting student learning.
Professional Development Absent a Professional Learning Community
A Fordham Institute blog post cited the importance of delivering PD within the context of “thriving professional learning communities.” That means that the most effective professional development takes place within an overall culture of collaboration, where professional teams of educators work together to analyze relevant student data to drive the next day’s instruction and refuse to buy into the “close the door and teach” mentality that is so pervasive in our schools.
The tricky part about ensuring that your PD is taking place in a PLC is that many schools and districts have professional learning communities in name only. Beware of “PLCs” that don’t empower educators, use buzzwords without substance, or follow protocols that don’t result in peer/group lesson study and adjustments to classroom practice.
Professional Development Should Service Student Goals, Not the Other Way Around
Of all the outdated and ineffective professional development strategies that are still prevalent in our schools, one of the most insidious is when adult professional development becomes an end in and of itself instead of directly supporting student learning or behavioral outcomes. “Using assessment of students’ needs to drive the learning work of schools ensures that the instructional strategies emphasized through professional development serve a clear purpose.” Keep students and their learning needs at the center, always.
For example, your district might host a PD session to implement a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program. No issues there, but is the goal to have a PBIS program or is the goal driven by needs in the building - say, for students to be empowered and be in a position to direct their own lives. Is implementing a positive behavior system the end in and of itself, or has a student need been articulated first? It may not seem like a major difference, but this does require a shift in mindset for many.
Ditch the Analog… Let’s Get Digital, Digital
Stacks of handouts headed for an ignominious end in the recycling bin. Binders destined for shelves. Death by presentation software with no active involvement by meeting participants. These are all potential pitfalls of well-meaning but ultimately ineffective offline, analog trainings of yesteryear. It’s time to engage in a new style of professional development - one that combines the best professional learning practices with the power of your learning management system (LMS).
Instead of bringing everyone together in one room for one presentation delivered by one presenter, what if you created a menu of professional development opportunities that allow your staff to self-select the training they need most? Using your LMS for professional development allows you to personalize PD in a manner that is paced for the individual adult learner, and promotes ongoing collaboration between professionals. It’s time for professional development to get with the times.
Incoherent, Ineffective PD Left Behind
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. In this case, if you continue to engage in the same pattern of large-group, one-shot, paper-and-pencil PD taught absent a culture of professional collaboration, follow-up and team accountability, and without making use of 21st century tools, how will you ever realize growth? It’s already the third decade of the twenty-first century, and there is a better way. Seize it!
What PD strategies will you implement this year? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology