The Educator's PLN

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Matthew Miles described professional development as it existed 1995 when he wrote the foreword for Thomas Guskey and Michael Huberman’s book, Professional Development:

"A good deal of what passes for 'professional development' in schools is a joke-one we would laugh at if we were not trying to keep from crying.  It is everything that a learning program shouldn’t be: radically under resourced, brief, not sustained, designed for 'one size fits all,' imposed rather than owned, lacking any intellectual coherence, treated as a special add-on event rather than part of a natural process, and trapped in the constraints of a bureaucratic system we have come to call 'school' (p. vii).

What do you think?  Is Professional Development in 2015 still a joke?

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I can not speak for today.  I am semi-retired from teaching.   It was about 1994-5 when I was president of the local ed ass'n, and I was supposed to have a monthly meeting with the superintendent.   There are several reasons I declined.  One, I insisted, if the superintendent wanted, needed to talk with the president of the Ed Assn', he could request a meeting. Too many of the previous such encounters became administrative edicts to change the terms and conditions of the teaching contract without negotiations.

Another reason, soon after the school year began and we had completed all the beginning in-service meetings--new directions, new, new - we had the October ? in-service, I understood the speaker was paid $6,000.00; was acquainted with the superintendent as a result of "professional" meetings.   Her presentation was about creating educational "accountability" with and for students.   I asked the superintendent to meet regarding another matter.   I brought up the subject of the in-service and while we were embarking on the issue of student educational accountability, the speaker's presentation seemed to counter the direction we were undertaking?  His reply was, "I have no idea of what was presented, I was not there.  We were just required to have an in-service."   WHAT??

I try to have an open mind and take what I can from PD.  You reap what you sow!

I think on-line Personal Learning Networks can be a significant and relevant component of professional development resources for educators.  They answer an individual's need, but also link to collaborative learning.  The challenge, for some, is accessing and using the technology.  

Though I am not a practicing teacher (yet!), I also believe that internet PLNs are extremely useful! From what I have heard, Professional Development days in public schools are not always used in the best manner. Looking at Professional Learning Networks online and communicating with people on those forums (like this one) is a very useful tool for expanding what we know about education!

I think it really depends on the professional development.  If it is self-selected and self-driven, then it can be very effective.  Most of the PD mandated by my school and district is not as helpful.  It generally feels like a chance to throw around a few new buzzwords.  What is beneficial is the chance to speak with other educators, especially at district PDs where everyone comes from different schools and works in different contents.  As a developing teacher, I tend to find any chance to interact with more experienced teachers to be the best form of PD. 

Your words "any chance to interact with more experienced teachers" are very relevant, I think, to all levels of education and professional development.  Self-selected and self-driven are important too, but sometimes we need the "second opinion" to nudge us or help us on our journeys. That is where the experienced teachers can be so motivating. My question is: How can we help experienced teachers grow in their teaching and learning development?

At the school level, I think teachers need to set the agenda for PD.  Most often it is district mandated or admin-selected.  If teachers could choose the content, or arrange for different options, I think that would really help invest teachers in their own development much in the way that incorporating choice helps engage our students. Teachers are always in a state of constant reflection, what worked, what didn't, ect., and are (ideally) receiving feedback regularly.  Just like our students, we all have our own unique needs for support, and choice could help better accommodate those specific needs. Teachers that need a nudge could at least choose a PD topic they find interesting, and let that interest drive their development. 

Thank you for your feedback and comments.  They are very helpful.  

That's right.  PD's need to be teacher chosen not admin chosen.  For me they are not understandable and not worth attending; however, attendance is mandatory.

Would you see the value of a 50/50 relationship when choosing PD topics or events? Organizations have responsibilities to provide PD, but there would be space for individual choice too. In your teaching/learning environment, are you given any choice? 

I work for a small school and, due to such small staff numbers (4 full time), our PD sessions can be really focused toward the current needs of the staff.  So far all but one of the PD sessions I have attended have been very relevant and very helpful.  The one that wasn't was at a regional conference and turned out to be a marketing opportunity for the person running it.

I can't speak for larger schools, though.

I worked in the '80s for an educational service agency that sells professional development programs to school districts. My observation was that most of the PD programs failed to meet teachers' perceived needs for one or more reasons:

  • Teachers were required to attend a program on particular professional development day regardless of whether any offering that day met their needs.
  • A typical program was an introduced a topic or program but didn't give enough depth that the teachers could use it without a great deal of work on their own.
  • Programs that focused on information teachers could use immediately tended to be supplemental activities rather than the core competencies that teachers must teach well.

A conversation I recently overhead between two teachers who had attended a professional development day program the week before suggests there have been no significant changes since the 1980s.

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