Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Do We Work at the Same Place?"

Bad PD = redundant
Good PD = oxymoron

While doing my spring classroom cleaning, I found these words scribbled in the margins of an info packet I received at a workshop during the spring semester of my first year as a teacher. Less than a year into my teaching career, I'd already experienced numerous sessions that prompted me to write off most professional development as a waste of time and money.

Five years later, I know that what I experienced in that first year was not professional development at all. Instead, a district employee acknowledged a general need, got a brochure from an outside consultant or company, and sent us off to two days of...not much. Someone was paid thousands of dollars to read us a PowerPoint. While I appreciate any system's desire to provide support for teachers, it's pretty clear that it's often a big thing done badly.

This week, teachers at my school were asked to complete a climate survey. I think that my choices reflect a pretty positive outlook regarding many things going on where I work. I love my school. It's far from perfect, but there are a number of positives and many moves in the right direction. In a discussion about the survey, however, I heard, "Do we work at the same place?"

It then occurred to me that, because of my participation on a variety of committees and in real professional development, I get to discuss with my school's leaders the big problems and how to solve them. I get to see classroom teachers take on leadership roles that demonstrate their commitment to our school's improvement and our kids' success. And this makes me hopeful, boosts my morale, and increases my own commitment to do my job the best I can.

I can only imagine, however, that faculty members who aren't privy to those conversations and only receive "PD" like I got as a first-year could very easily feel like they work in a completely different place - one in which they have little to no voice and one in which lifelong learning sounds like a nice idea but an impossible reality.

This week's early #edchat (archive here) addressed the effect that professional development can have on education reform. My experience has taught me that true professional development - on-going, teacher-led, and specifically geared to personal interests and needs - empowers teachers and increases their job satisfaction. It's the way to get teacher buy-in for trying new things, and the more committed teachers we have who show up to play, the greater our chances for real change.

I'm left with questions, though. How much responsibility should be placed on teachers to seek out meaningful PD on their own? What can a school's professional development committee, department chairs, and other leaders do to change the perceptions regarding PD and to transform frustrated, burnt-out teachers into lifelong learners?

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