When Professional Development Really Works

Last night, I was thinking about the open minds we bring to professional development of our own choosing and the skepticism or even hostility with which we often greet mandated professional development imposed on us by administrators.

I was thinking about how different Twitter feels from a faculty meeting. How different the NCTE Annual Convention feels from an in-service. How much I learn in one space. How little I learn in another. How much engagement I bring to one space. How much grousing I bring to the other.

Perhaps a learning agenda imposed by someone else never meets us where we are.  It doesn’t address our needs or concerns; it may not even align with our beliefs. It may be something we’ve known for a long time and don’t need to learn now. It may be something we’re simply not ready to learn yet. In either case, it wastes our time because it’s not the “just-in-time” learning we need. 

What would happen if administrators asked teachers what they wanted to learn this year? What would happen if teachers asked students what they wanted to learn?

But then again, I also wonder if part of my lack of learning in compulsory learning situations stems from my own attitude. Even if I were attending a session on something I might find useful, would I be open to learning? All too often, I’m already feeling hostile and close-minded before the poor trainer or speaker even begins to talk. I–and most of the other teachers sitting around me–have settled into our adversarial mindsets: here’s just another thing forced onto our already-too-full plates by the administrators, and we aren’t having any of it.

Perhaps the real problem is that we don’t feel included in the decisions that are being made.

Tony Keefer recently wrote about the question he wanted to pose to his fourth-graders on the first day of school:  “What do we want to accomplish this year?

I always want to quickly establish the norm that ‘we’ is a more powerful force than ‘I’ in the learning community that I hope to guide.  So I think that this year, I will open our first class conversation with the question, “What do WE want to accomplish this year?”

Perhaps what’s missing in most of the compulsory professional development I’ve participated in is exactly what’s present for me on Twitter or at the professional conferences I choose to attend: a sense of a learning community.

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