Redesigning your professional development to be effective, meaningful, and powerful.
What is the problem with PD?
Imagine plopping down into a seat at 3:30 pm. You look up at the clock and pray that this professional development session goes by quickly. You pull a snack out of your bag or perhaps you begin to sip your second cup of coffee as your brain shifts to thinking about the stack of papers you have to grade and the lesson you need to finish preparing for tomorrow. Your principal emailed details about today’s training, but it didn’t spark your interest and you’re not sure how it will relate to your teaching.
Ever been there? Surveys show that very few teachers (29%) are highly satisfied with current professional development offerings (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014). A study was done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2014) also revealed that a large majority of teachers do not believe “that professional development is helping them prepare for the changing nature of their jobs, including using technology and digital learning tools, analyzing student data to differentiate instruction, and implementing the Common Core State Standards and other standards” (p. 3). And unfortunately, many teachers surveyed shared that they viewed professional development (PD) more as a compliance exercise than a learning activity- and one over which they had limited, if any, choice (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014, p. 10).
What do teachers want?
- Relevant – teachers want PD that is personalized to their needs and classroom
- Interactive – teachers want to be able to participate and do “hands-on” learning activities
- Teacher-Led – teachers want to learn from their peers
- Sustained Over Time – teachers want time to put what they learned into practice over the course of a semester or a school year
- Professional – teachers want to be treated like adults, rather than children
1. Individualized PD
Carla Meyrink, founder and director of The Community of Learning in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, bravely moved her teachers to an individualized professional development approach back in 2016. Through past PD experiences, the leadership team had learned that teachers wanted to be in charge of their own learning – choosing when to learn and what to learn. Meyrink (2016) shared, “We constantly tried to model good teaching techniques for our educators, but we were failing miserably when it came to individualizing. How could we ask our teachers to differentiate and meet the needs of their students, if we couldn’t find a way to do it for them?” So they set off determined to develop individualized PD for their staff. Soon they realized that it would be helpful to have a framework for teachers to use when setting their own learning paths.
The Framework for Individualized Professional Development:
- Setting Learning Targets
First, they shared with the teachers the leadership’s desired learning outcomes for all staff (i.e. I can check for understanding and use the information to improve my teaching and individualize instruction). At the first PD session of the year, the staff brainstormed smaller objectives for each large learning target. It was a great way to discuss different ways a teacher could be meeting that large learning target in their classroom. From that discussion, a self-evaluation was created that listed the large learning targets with smaller objectives underneath and asked teachers to self assess themselves with B (beginning), D (developing), or S (secure) on each of the targets (see picture below).
- Courses in Google Classroom
After teachers had evaluated themselves, they chose two areas they’d like to focus on. The leadership team took that information and started to design mini-courses for each of the targets teachers wanted to do. They posted the course work in Google Classroom. However, they also wanted to empower teachers during PD so at the beginning of each Friday session, a different teacher presented on one of their strengths from their self-evaluation. After the teacher presentation, teachers choose a course to take from Google Classroom, and either worked independently or collaboratively. At the end of the PD time, teachers were asked to reflect on their growth and add it to a portfolio.
- Portfolio Documentation
To help facilitate reflection, teachers were asked to provide documentation for those learning targets they identified they were “secure” in. They could choose to do a digital or paper portfolio and collected samples of:
- pictures of students working
- lesson plans
- videos of their teaching
- feedback from their coordinators
- quotes from students
- examples of student work
- Depending on their preference, teachers could work independently at their own pace or collaboratively.
- This PD format also showcased different teachers and their areas of expertise, removing the top-down approach to professional development.
- Individualized PD allowed teachers from different grades and subject areas to connect. Cross-curricular projects were being developed as teachers learned from each other.
- Teachers could pursue a goal that matched their interests, ability level, and classroom needs. That way leadership could support new teachers as they developed their craft, while also challenging veteran teachers.
- Teachers were more engaged as they had a say in what they learned and could do “hands-on” self-paced work.
- It was easier to incorporate small group book studies around professional books that interested teachers.
- This form of PD could work for large school districts since Google Classroom courses can be easily shared with large groups of people.
- Teacher portfolios are a good way to assess if the PD was successful
- The amount of time it would take for school leadership to design courses for each of the learning objectives, especially if the topics changed yearly.
- Another concern I have about this PD format is time. The Community of Learning met every Friday from 12:30-2:30 pm, but a lot of schools do not have a dedicated time each week for PD. What if your school only has PD one whole day every couple of months?
2. Inquiry-Based PD
Wouldn’t it be awesome if teachers could pursue their own interests and questions during professional development time? That is exactly what Inquiry-Based PD does. After doing Individualized PD with her staff for a handful of years, Carla Meyrink wanted to try another approach.
In 2020 The Community of Learning had two growth goals for the year: student engagement and differentiation. However, the teachers’ interests varied within those two topics and the school’s leadership team wanted to give teachers choice (Meyrink, 2020). Therefore, they decided to try out an Inquiry-Based PD system. “Teachers would have the opportunity to focus on their own inquiry by coming up with questions that interest them, researching ideas and strategies, trying them out in their classes, reflecting on the effectiveness, and beginning the cycle over again” (Meyrink, 2020). They also thought it would be good for teachers to experience inquiry-based learning first hand since they wanted teachers to use it in their classrooms.
Step 1: Teacher Survey
They began by sending out a survey at the beginning of December 2019 asking teachers to let them know their needs and interests in the areas of engagement or differentiation. The leadership team then gathered their answers and grouped their ideas into 8 categories (4 on engagement and 4 on differentiation). They then gathered books, podcasts, blog posts, webinars, articles, videos, etc. for each category that teachers could use when researching their inquiry question.
Step 2: Give Teachers Choice
For the first PD session in 2020 they set up 8 tables. On each table they placed the resources they found for that category. They took the time to print quotes, graphics, and QR codes to help spark interest and get teachers quick access to more information. Teachers then browsed and chose an area they would like to study and formed a team with other people with similar interests.
Step 3: Driving Questions
During the 2nd PD session, they introduced the teachers to the idea of inquiry. In small groups they decided on a question to pursue.
Step 4: Start the Inquiry Cycle
- Do research about their question(s).
- Decide on a plan of action to try out in their classroom.
- Reflect on how it went.
- Tweak and make changes if necessary.
- Begin the whole cycle over again with a new question.
Step 5: Research and Discussion
Three sessions in a row were dedicated to research time. Teachers kept adding their findings to the group Wakelet page that helped curate artifacts and then they discussed what they discovered. Teachers then devised their own action plans.
Step 6: Experimentation and Reflection
Teachers put their action plans to work and reflected on whether or not they had been successful. If they weren’t successful they would tweak things or drop it and try something else. As a group, they shared their experiences, supported one another, and learned together.
- Teacher-directed learning. PD is personalized for each individual teacher giving them voice and choice in their learning.
- Promotes curiosity, critical thinking, and inquiry.
- Gives teachers a dedicated time for research and discussion on bettering their craft.
- Reflection time is built-in and an important part of the process.
- A great way to focus on district or leadership’s goals, but also allows teachers to choose topics that are interesting, relevant, and applicable to their classes and also match where they are in regards to their own professional learning journey.
- The inquiry-based model allows teachers to work collaboratively and learn from each other.
- Once again, you need built-in work time regularly for teachers to work together. If you do not have weekly PD sessions, how could you still use this inquiry-based model but not lose momentum between the meetings?
- Another concern is that teachers come up with a plan to try in their classroom but never follow through. There needs to be accountability built into the inquiry-based format. Perhaps this would be a great place for coaches to come alongside teachers one-on-one and support them during implementation and help teachers reflect on how it went.
3. EdCamp PD
A third way you can shake up your PD sessions is by trying out an EdCamp. Edcamps are free informal professional development sessions that are focused on learning from other teachers. There are no predetermined topics or presenters, no sage on the stage. Just a group of educators sharing experiences and ideas (Meyrink, 2016). Teachers come the morning of and offer suggestions on topics they would like to discuss. This is usually done by attendees writing questions or topics on sticky notes and posting them on a blank schedule. Teachers then choose which sessions they would like to attend. I love this model because it empowers teachers to be the learners and experts, and places significance on collaboration and being a community.
- Individualized PD for teachers
- A great way for teachers to collaborate with other educators outside of their building or district
- Free “unconference” model makes it more accessible for people to attend
Well, I hope these ideas have started turning the gears in your brain. Research clearly shows that there is a disconnect between what school leadership intends for PD and what teachers actually experience. PD can be more powerful if we can personalize it for individual teachers and provide them relevant, interactive, peer-led training, and the opportunity to reflect on their craft.
I’d love to hear about your favorite PD experiences. What was the format and what made it a meaningful experience for you?
Check out my Wakelet on new ideas for professional development. Wakelet is a collaborative curation tool that allows you to save pdfs, websites, videos, tweets, FlipGrid videos, etc.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0SUlzb19fX0lpaXM/view
Edcamp Foundation. (2018, December 2). Edcamp: Empowering Educators Worldwide [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=31&v=rgIqaduELP0&feature=emb_logo
Meyrink, C. (2016, August 8). Common Professional Development Challenges. The Teaching Experiment. http://teachingexperiment.com/2016/08/2017/
Meyrink, C. (2020, February 15). How To Set Up Inquiry-Based Professional Development For Teachers. The Teaching Experiment. http://teachingexperiment.com/2020/02/how-to-set-up-inquiry-based-professional-development-for-teachers/
Meyrink, C. (2016, April 10). EdCamp For Professional Development. The Teaching Experiment. http://teachingexperiment.com/2016/04/1900edcamp/
Meyrink, C. (2016, August 15). Individualized Professional Development. The Teaching Experiment. http://teachingexperiment.com/2016/08/individualized-professional-development/
Professional Development for Teachers by Teachers. (n.d.). Edcamp Community by Digital Promise. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.edcamp.org/
Swanson, K. (2013, April 23). Why Edcamp? Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-edcamp-kristen-swanson