Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Professional learning, not development

Recently, I have had multiple discussions around the area of PD (Professional Development).
Teachers have been asking:
·         What is PD?
·         What is personal PD?
·         What is mandated PD?
The list goes on.
I believe we should be focusing on teacher learning and not about teacher professional development.   Some Canadian teachers only associate PD days with the term professional development, and therefore actually believe PD is an event, a workshop, or a program, rather than an ongoing daily part of a job.  Fullan, Hill, and Crevola, in their 2006 book Breakthrough wrote:
“We have deliberately selected the term professional learning over the more narrow conceptual terms of professional development or professional learning communities because Breakthrough means focused, ongoing learning for each and every teacher…
...How, then do we make deeper daily learning a reality for teachers?  Replacing the concept of professional development with professional learning is a good start; understanding that professional learning “in context” is the only learning that changes classroom instruction is a second step.”
PD is an ongoing, continuous, and never ending expectation of teachers.  It does not start and end with the times of a conference, or workshop.  Also, recent research shows that traditional methods of presenting classroom innovations to teachers in workshops does not generally result in either changed classroom practice or improved student learning.
The planners of PD need to avoid the “one size fits all” approach and remember different educators have different expectations.  At my school, during our PD times, teachers put on different sessions from engagement to technology integration.  Teachers can choose which session to attend, and thus become more responsible and motivated for their own learning. 
Mandated PD in top-down programs sometimes do not recognize the differences required by the teachers it is mandated to and thus can destroy the teachers “will to learn”.  Andy Hargreaves said, “most teacher development initiatives, even the most innovative ones, neglect the emotion of teaching.” We need to understand that classroom practices will improve, assessment will change, and more learning will occur if we motivate instead of mandate.  One teacher has said,
“I think you learn so much more just sitting down with your colleagues and just sharing ideas than you do sitting [in] an auditorium with 600 other teachers listening to some speaker from the States.  The trust that we are going to use these PD days to better ourselves is gone.  They feel like we might just sit and do nothing if we had a day that wasn’t filled for us.”
I believe that true professional learning could range from formal credentialed post-graduate courses to simply having a conversation with a colleague over a beverage.  Teachers, myself included, have learned many innovated educational ideas solely from “googling”.  From Beyond PD days:
“Guest speakers with PowerPoint presentations are the norm and informal learning time is viewed with suspicion.  Administrators with board or school improvement plans to implement may insist that PD opportunities meet the latest “edu-babble” criteria; (for example, does a certain activity count as “capacity building”, and is it “standards based”?)”
My district allows for personal professional development by having early dismissal on Mondays.  The majority of this time is truly personal.  Teachers can choose their route of professional learning by their own means.  If professional learning is truly personal then it cannot be mandated to a teacher by anyone.

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