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Better development

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

When reading over some comments made by teachers on the Notebook blog regarding the full day professional development offered this past Tuesday, I found that some pretty potent words were used. In fact, if the commentary on the November 3rd PD were a Twitter feed, in which teachers could give instantaneous feedback in 140 characters or less, it would read something like this:

"mind numbing"

"a waste of taxpayers’ dollars"

“a catastrophe”

While I have certainly had my share of frustrating PD experiences in the past (some teachers have even made the joke that professional development was neither professional nor development), my personal experience on the 3rd was quite positive.

That being said, I remained in my building and collaborated with my colleagues on some necessary planning and important discussions around student progress. As I understand it, other teachers participated in scripted sessions and some were presented with information they had already heard in previous meetings.

No doubt about it – teaching teachers has got to be a hard gig.

Just like doctors are the toughest patients, teachers can smell a poorly constructed lesson from a mile away. And although facilitating a group of adults is obviously very different from teaching young people, perhaps there are some lessons to be taken from teaching to help construct a positive PD.

#1: Create engaging lessons that are relevant

Students tend to disengage the most when they feel a lesson has no connection to them or their lives. It is important also to plan PD that reflects the immediate needs of the school community.

Each school in this district is different, with unique programs, and therefore each professional development opportunity should reflect the distinct vision of the school. One specific detail of District-wide PD that teachers take issue with is that transportation becomes difficult when teachers are asked to travel across the city, especially in light of SEPTA strikes.

Focusing on school-specific issues during PD days would not only create relevance for teachers then, but would also make it logistically more feasible for teachers to attend.

#2: Encourage dialogue and critical thinking

As a relatively new teacher, I treasure each and every opportunity to share information and ideas with teachers and to hear about what is going on in other classrooms. There are so few chances to talk with colleagues to begin with; we should make the most out of the time we do have to collaborate with our team. Also, working together to solve problems that are specific to one’s school makes teachers feel like valued members of the community and that they’re not “in it alone.” This type of collaborative professional development is invaluable not only to one’s practice, but also for morale.

#3: Provide opportunities for feedback and make changes according to needs

Offering engaging, collaborative professional development could transform the way teachers feel about PD days.

Rather than dreading the next early dismissal day, teachers could feel empowered about their ability to make changes in their classrooms and at their school. Just as we hope our students embody the critical thinking skills we practice and use them to create positive change, so too should we be advocates for ourselves and ask for opportunities to critically engage with our practice in the hopes of developing and improving upon the important work that we do.

What items would you add to this list? What did you find lacking, or particularly appreciate, in your PD this week?

For more information on collaborative professional development, I recommend the article “When Teachers Are the Experts: How Schools Can Improve Professional Development” By Ross Hunefeld in Education Week.