My favorite way to learn as a professional is to find opportunities for my colleagues and I to have the time and structure for the conversations we aren't having at school. When at school educators are limited by scheduling, the defined boundaries of titles and roles, and cultural norms or routines for "how things are done" day to day. This is why you'll often find me at regional or national conferences with my colleagues. Sometimes we are co-presenting, but more often we are eager to talk with other teachers, curriculum and technology coaches, and administrators so that we can learn from them and bring inspiring ideas back to our teachers and students.
I realized this is the most effective form of professional learning for me because I was asked to intentionally think about it today.
This week I had the opportunity to work with a team of teachers and administrators from my school at the Future Ready Summit in Boston. We worked together as a team, and also learned from leadership teams from schools and districts throughout Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Jersey.
In one activity we analyzed the best and worst of our own professional learning experiences. These are some common examples I heard from participants on my team and on other district teams:
What was your worst professional learning experience?
- The presenter did a data dump without carving out an opportunity for my colleagues and I to reflect on that data or use it to develop a plan.
- I was forced to have conversations that required vulnerability with people I'd never met as part of "turn and talk" activities throughout the day.
- There wasn't enough time to process the information before moving on to another topic.
What was your most effective professional learning experience?
- The organization/trainer took the time to learn about our school, develop data, and then create an experience that was customized to the needs of our school and our students.
- Expectations were set from the beginning to allow for us to make mistakes, iterate, and then learn from that experience.
- We were able to work in small groups to apply the information we had just learned to concrete situations and real-life classroom scenarios. Then we could take it all with us and use it the very next day.
- The school encouraged peer observations and I saw colleagues from across content areas applying pedagogical practices I'd never considered. It changed the way I think of using classroom space, balancing noise and quiet, and handing over learning ownership to students.
Without even referencing the research, the educators in the room had identified some of the key elements from Linda Darling-Hammond's work as they discussed effective PD:
- genuinely collaborative
- concretely connected to student interactions and student work
- customized and ongoing, not one-and-done
So, what's next? Well, the education leaders in the room had to face reality and consider the professional learning experiences of their district's teachers in the past year or two. If asked to rate them, would teachers classify those experiences closer to worst or closer to most effective? What changes could be made to provide more effective professional learning for teachers in the future?
The activity concluded with more detailed discussions in district teams and some groups developed plans. Many shared their existing personalized professional learning models in this document so that everyone could benefit.
Here's the point of this post: Have you asked yourself these questions recently? Which professional learning experiences were the worst for you? Which were the most effective? What kinds of experiences are you creating for your colleagues? Have you asked your colleagues for their feedback on those experiences?
If we are going to make real positive progress in our schools, we have to have real honest conversations with our colleagues and with ourselves. These two questions are one place to start.