Monday, October 25, 2010

When the model for the delivery of Professional Development gets in the way...

Over this last week, I had the opportunity to be a part of three consecutive Professional Development Days. Each one was very different from the other...

Day 1: Presenter: Ruth Sutton - Best Teaching Practices, 4 Schools and approx. 300+ teachers in Heritage Woods Secondary Gymnasium.
Pros - Expert in the Field, Engaging, 3-4 good points about how to help students assess their own work
Cons - Huge group of people with varying levels of interest and background in the subject area, no differentiation of learning, barrage of information with little or no time for process.

Day 2: Presenter: Jeremy Brown (me) - Streamlining Online Involvement using Twitter and Google Reader #risdeprod. 13 people in a small room at Riverside Secondary.
Pros - Small group, great collaboration, chunked learning, lots of play time
Cons - Small group, how do you get more people involved? How do you keep that collaboration going?

Day 3: Presenter (multiple including Chris Kennedy) - TedxUBC - Fast Forward Education approx 100 people at UBC on Robson. 
Pros - short talks (20 minutes), high level presenters who are experts in a field, collaboration among physical and virtual participants 
Cons - Overload of information, no time to question or plan, little time to process that much information, only decaf coffee left after first break! 

Somewhere mixed in among these three days is the power behind Professional Development. Each of these days has a piece of the puzzle –pre-learning, experts leading, small targeted groups, collaboration & clearly defined, attainable goals. 

How I would Fix a Pro-D day for everyone:

1.       Prep it up – You need to get your staff together on the same page. Start a study group! Every Wednesday morning before school, bring donuts and coffee, order some books and talk about what you just read! Try The Big Picture by Dennis Littky, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell or Something from Fullen/Hargraves or DeFour.

2.       Experts - We still need experts in the field to teach/lead us. What we don't need, is an expert talking at us for 5 hours. We need the background, research and then some guidance where to go next or how to apply it to practice. Don't talk longer than 1 1/2 hours...MAX! If you are speaking longer than that you have lost a majority of your audience. Would you ever lecture a class for that long? Experts/Presenters need to start leading by example.

3.       Small Targeted Groups (this is the big one) - We all know that we can get lost in a crowd. There is little or no accountability and it is way too easy to get off task. When you have a small, targeted group, you have a group of individuals who are at the same level of interest/ability level. When I am teaching Chemistry and a group of students are struggling with a concept, I bring them up to the board as a group. I don't understand why we don't do this type of targeted instruction with teachers. Michelle Ciolfitto, from Heritage Woods Secondary, does this amazing activity with highlighters. As she walks by a student, she will use one of three highlighters to mark a student’s work. 

a.       If they have mastered the concept that they are working on, they get a yellow tag (happy).
b.      If they almost have the concept they get a pink mark (I think [pink] I got it) and continue to work on it with others until they have mastery.
c.       If they really don't get it, they get a blue mark and they can work in a small group with her.

Simple, good instructional techniques that work with adults and kids. Group people by ability and interest and you can focus your resources where they are needed.

4.       Collaboration “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford.  Every principal will tell you, after a staff meeting, that teachers the worst audience in the world (well almost… a group of principals is even worse). We yearn to collaborate but so rarely get the chance.  During a Pro-D day, have your teachers tweet about their experiences, thoughts, and impressions as it happens. Have a twitter search tag like #rsideprod and collaborate. Bring those discussions to your next staff meeting or study group.

5.       Defined and Attainable Goals for the day: Write some “I can” or “I understand” statements. For my day, I did “I can tweet, use hashtags and create a PLN”. I had 3 others, and by the end of the day, it gave some structure to the day and clarified the goals. I think the pictures say it all.

Even though this post has nothing to do with the content of the Pro-D, I find that is seldom the problem. The structure in which we deliver it needs to be reformed and changed because it is getting in the way of good instruction. These are my thoughts…what are yours?


  1. Jeremy,
    Thanks for sharing an honest assessment of your experiences over a few days last week.

    For me, the best professional learning has been a combination of your #3 and #4 in the form of learning teams. Small group, meeting over time has been the most valuable IMHO.


  2. Jeremy - I agree with James comment. My experiences in conferences, full day courses, and learning teams have varied. But small regular engaged groups learn faster and deeper. I personally like conferences with sessions and a good full day course as they work for me in terms of big picture, vision, possibility thinking - stuff I need. But to actually learn something, I like small groups. I find twitter and people's blogs are very helpful supplements or sometimes the actually learning experience.

  3. This is a very interesting post indeed. It really made me think about how we offer PD at my school. At the moment, three facets: whole days a bit like yours (ie not differentiated enough, though we keep trying), coaching in small groups and pairs, weekly sessions which are attended by volunteers. I like the study group idea. Thanks!