Playing to Our Strengths

Right now, I am watching my young daughter play with her grandmother and great-grandmother. Because we haven’t been around family much, I find myself offering suggestions to which they reply, “We have done this before.” This reminds me of a conversation that I had earlier this week with Patrick Larkin (@bhsprincipal).

We were discussing ways to change the model that we use in professional development. There is so much unrecognized talent and untapped potential in our schools. If you are reading this blog, there is more than a good chance that you are one of the leaders in your school in the area of instructional technology. However, none of us can lead in every area and, frankly, I wouldn’t want to. The area that has always been the most difficult for me is classroom management. I have improved, but it is still not my strongest area. A teacher came to my school from Georgia to teach freshman English having formerly been a special education teacher for 5 years. After all the English teachers brought their kids in for library orientation, I had her pegged as having the best management in the school just from the way her students behaved in the second or third week of school. I went to watch her teach and have learned several techniques that I now use; next year, I will be better equipped to start the year because of techniques I learned from another teacher. Sure enough, her talent was thankfully recognized and she was put in charge of a PLC group on classroom management. If I tried to give her advice on management or make her sit through an in-service of mine on management, that would be tantamount to telling my parents and grandparents how parent.

The unconference movement is nothing new; TeachMeet actually turned 5 recently. However, I have recently been exposed to so many talented teachers through these unconferences. I hosted TeachMeet Nashville in April and some PLN friends hosted EdCamp Philly in May. Both unconferences gave normal teachers an opportunity to share their knowledge, tips, techniques, and strategies with a large audience. Teachers often jump at the chance to share because they are often given such little opportunities to do so in their own buildings, at least in my experience.

I really feel that the hard work and expertise of many teachers goes unrecognized for years. At EdCampPhilly, teachers gave up their Saturday, some coming from several hours away, to learn. They did not even get any professional development credit from their districts even though most seemed to feel it was far superior to the in-district professional development that they have access to.

I bring up the unconference movement because I feel that we can easily adopt this model for in-district profressional development. Often times, faculty meetings are wasted. I really do not want to sit and listen for an hour when I can easily read the information in an email. A faculty meeting could be so spent so much better simply by allowing several teachers to lead groups on something that they have expertise in (content, techniques, pedagogy, technology, etc…) and allowing the other teachers to choose what they find interesting. The buy-in will increase because the teachers are in control of their own learning (sound familiar?) and the learning will most likely be much more meaningful. Since the teachers all draw students from the same pool, the ideas presented will likely be relevant within the given population.

This is not a panacea to professional learning, but I think that it can be a step in the right direction. What changes would you make to the way professional development is handled in your district?

  • Debra Ann Gottsleben

    Jason our district has moved to the teacher led model of PD. We are asked if we want to lead a class, sometimes some people are tapped to teach about something in particular. Then teachers can sign up for the classes that they want. My only complaint is that often I am teaching and there are classes that I’d like to take! I am also fortunate that my district will allow me to take outside PD. Some of it they pay for sometimes I have to pay my own way, but at least they allow me the time to get this outside training. I usually design the PD for the librarians in our district and come up with ideas that we all would like to learn about. I hope that more districts would do this because it has been very well received in our district.