Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Professional Development: The Newbie's Perspective Part 2

Yes! It turns out it could be better. On this particular day we had the commissioner of education kick off the morning with an inspiring address about where our state is in education and where we need to go. It was awesome! He appealed to something that I've felt all along, that there is clearly an URGENCY for change and improvement in education. Urgency for ourselves, our classrooms, our students, our schools and the system. He went on to say that we need to act deliberately and swiftly to improve this system, because unless you are in a coma or already dead, you can see it is not working as well as it could. He opened up our eyes to all the possibilities that are available to help us rework our outdated education system. He inspired us with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency and for the moment, no one had their media devices opened, and everyone wanted to help the push for change. For a moment.

That was the highlight of the day. The rest of it blurred into a mash of whole group "lectures" some small group silliness, and an aching butt. We sat in the cold cafeteria-gym-auditorium for hours, the length of a school day, as the fans droned overhead and the speaker's presentation droned ahead. We had breaks, lunch and a few moments to chat, but it was a really long day, and I left feeling really burnt out.

A group of highly motivated and educated professionals had all gathered together in this little school. We had usable classrooms and tons of resources available to us. But what did we do? We sat. We all sat and sat and listened and sat. Why didn't we break out into smaller groups. Why didn't we utilize the learning spaces before us. We interacted and shared ideas, but not on the level we were capable of. While the presenter was highly educated and knew her stuff, we were not allowed the opportunity to elevate eachother because the large group setting did not allow it I've come to the strong belief that unless you have paid a ton of money for a highly skilled speakers, the best professional development will never come in this format.

As far as I can tell, in education, we are each other's best source of professional development. Yes we need experts and guidance to challenge us and teach us. We need speakers to deliver messages to large groups, but without small group or one on one sharing, it is very difficult to take home and maintain any momentum. I think someone should really study the ratio of large group to small group to one on one time for optimal effectiveness. Or has it been done already?

I know it is easy for me to criticize something that I do not have to pay for and implement. It is expensive to continue to collaborate with and educate a group of professionals, so the fact that we get any P.D. at all is great. I realize that sharing one message with a large group of people would appear to be the most time and cost effective way of getting everyone on the same page. And this does work, to a certain degree. But, there is a fall off point, too. At the end of the day how many of us will walk away with that message intact and how many of those people will keep the message intact over a weekend? How many in the room will get an incomplete or incorrect message? How many of us could have taken the message further, personalized it and used it in their own instruction... but won't?

We are doing a great thing by continuing to learn and challenge ourselves. Educators are better than any group of people I've met at remaining committed to personal growth and learning best practices. So, true to my profession, I have found a way to turn those union wide P.D. days into a learning opportunity.

As I continue to reflect and compare different ways of doing P.D., whether it be workshops, PLC's or union days, I think of how this applies to my own classroom. How much am I asking my students to sit and listen? Am I responsive to their cues, that their butts are really starting to ache and my voice is droning on like an endless ceiling fan? Are my students talking and doing in class, or just me? If my memory serves me correctly, it looks like I need to tweak this a bit. I try to offer change during class, but I am not doing it enough. So, I must be thankful for those union wide P.D. days for at least helping me practice the most important teacher trait of all, reflection.

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