Professional Development for Teachers

Way back when, when I was a ‘young-un’, and taking courses for professional development, and yes, to move up in QECO, I took, among many courses, an Adult Education course. I really loved it. It really spoke to how I learned as an adult, and it made me reflect on my own experiences as a student in high school. I believe that adopting some adult education principles while I was teaching in a high school, helped me help students I might not have helped without the ideas.

Now, as I spend bits and pieces of my days reading insightful educational ideas on Twitter (now, if you told me two years ago, I would have written those words, I would have laughed, heartily!) I am seeing the explosion of ideas that help us all to meet student needs better. No longer is “DI” just an afterthought, but classrooms across North America are adopting ideas and strategies that really do better meet our students’ needs. Yes, we have so far to go. Teaching is a craft and a science and an art, but it is dealing with the most complex material possible, the human mind, the human condition, with all of its variables, both genetic and environmental. The fact that we ever think we “have it right” is a thought that has to be eradicated from our thinking. However, my thoughts around how we better tailor our schools and classrooms for learning have lead me to start thinking about, how, as a principal, and as a member of a board team, we deliver curriculum to our staff members? I have read some interesting tidbits on Twitter but have begun to think a little more about it.

An example I want to point to, is a conversation I was having a few weeks ago, about student transition to high school. Often a grade 9 class looks and operates much differently than a grade 8 classroom, yet the kids we are teaching are only two months older. Does that much change happen between June 29th and September 3rd in an adolescent brain, that we can justify, in some cases, a pretty significant change in how we do business? If how we are setting up our grade 8 classrooms is good, aligned with research and being reflected on, then how is it that the environment in grade 9, which is often different, is the right thing to do?

I am not suggesting that the change in grade 9 is better or worse than the grade 8 experience, but it is significantly different, and I am not sure we talk enough about it. Does the grade 9 class need to be more similar to the grade 8, or perhaps vice-versa? I am not sure. But that is not what I want to get to here, though, I am just using it as an example. Although, I suspect that examining this further may make for an interesting blog post down the road.

What I am getting at is this: We are gaining ground in realizing school systems need to make some changes to engage students in their learning. We are shedding the “one-size-fits-all” model all over the place and are replacing it with DI, choice, student voice and many other things, and the evidence of its success is slowly building.  I ask then, if we are recognizing that this is what is good for our kids, within the framework of curriculum which has been given to us, and one of the main arguments is the increase in engagement, then why are still at a “one-size-fits-all” model for PD? Why do we have a really top down system of PD?

The question is somewhat rhetorical, because I know we have to have some degree and it needs to come from the ministry, and then through the boards. I understand the need for structure, just as I get that in a Canadian History course, we need to follow curriculum, and cannot frame the entire course around the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs (as inspiring as that would be), but if we are so hell bent on engaging our students by listening more to them, why are we not doing the same with our staff? Is their learning less important? Have they now moved to a place in their development where choice and personal needs no longer affect their engagement in learning? I can only speak for myself, but I find as I age (with grace, of course) I am even more dependent upon engagement to keep me learning. I used to be able to force stuff through my brain, but now, if I am not engaged in the material, I am done. And conversely, if I am engaged, I am even more engaged than I ever was as a teen, or a learner in my mid-twenties.

So, I leave you all with the thoughts that are swirling in my head around PD for teachers. How can meet ministry dictates, board initiatives, yet also speak to teacher engagement in their own learning, through their voices? I would suggest that teacher learning is crucial to student learning, and if we want to continue to move forward as a system, this is something we could be looking at as another way to increase learning in schools!

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2 thoughts on “Professional Development for Teachers

  1. Hey David,

    This is exactly why we held an EdCamp in the Sault last weekend. Teacher professional learning is so rich when it’s what we need and are interested in learning about. EdCamp was mostly a chance for people who don’t usually get a chance to talk to each other to be in the same room. There was some structure, but mostly it was about facilitating a learning opportunity without dictating the content.

    For me, Twitter and WordPress are unparalleled learning spaces. I choose what to read and how to interact. I’m waiting for a flat tire to be repaired right now; it’s well past “quittin’ time” but I *want* to read your blog post, so the learning continues.

    Let’s continue to find ways to empower our learners, at any age, and to value the expertise and skills they develop in all its forms (i.e. not just from workshops and AQ courses).

    Thanks for posting. Keep it up!

    • Hi Brandon… a bit late on the response, I am! It seems to me that we are so accustomed now to immediate communication, we feel guilty if a day or two go by and we cannot get to answering someone. Imagine when letters back and forth to Europe and Asia took months! I love the idea of the Edcamps, I was so happy to see one in the Sault. It is a chance for people to take some control of their learning, which is still such a foreign idea, even in universities. With the exception of seminar courses in fourth year, even most undergraduate programs are specific and controlled. However, I understand that too. It should be all about balance. However, in dealing with professionals like teachers, who have already sifted through the “required” learning in our faculties of education, and then learned through the fire of a classroom that they have more learning to do, a chance to go where they want to go is crucial. I can see totally self-directed PD in schools still as an issue, b\c I do understand that as a system, we need to focus in particular areas, however I always come back to the engagement idea (I have sworn off using the word “piece” unless it involves pizza, as in the “engagement piece”…drives me nuts!), and I point to the large workshops we go to, such as OTRK12 and OAME. “We” choose our workshops, then sit in a chair close to the door so we can leave if not engaged. It is the perfect mix of structured workshops with choice. So, if there is any push going forward with PD at the board level, I hope it revolves around choice, but with some structure. I think we will find our staff even more engaged, versus those who do their marking, whilst principals go through power points that we received from someone….Sunny day in Hornepayne today! I see a bike ride in my future! Have a great weekend!

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