Battling One-Size-Fits-All

We’ve all been there.

It’s the annual or semi-annual professional day for staff, and you are dreading it.  What will I have to sit through this year?

We know it’s the wrong thing to do, to have the entire staff go through the same “training,” yet inevitably it happens.  What we know is that sustained, job-embedded professional events work.  We know that working with colleagues whose opinions we trust and feedback we value has lasting effect on our practice as teachers and leaders.

The problem lies in the design.  Why just one day?  Why make it “destination” PD, like we’ve arrived at this time of the year and it follows that we should have one day for “training?”

We’ve just completed ours, so these thoughts are fresh in my mind, and I am trying to think about what I’ll do differently going forward.

These days are not without merit, I should say, in that various groups that don’t often get to plan together can.  For example, world language teachers from various levels can gather together to discuss their program, and we can arrange the day to include FedEx type events.

But what if we could do this whole system much differently?  What if we could do it so that days like this are days where we spend time celebrating the work we’ve been doing all year as professionals?  If we embrace the PLC idea and model, can we use days like this to share the findings and work that we’ve spent the past year creating and researching?

Today, I was in charge of planning the day for the district, and I attempted to do that in a small way.  I asked several of the staff to share things they were “experts” in.  Here’s the list of choices that staff had:

Each staff member that was not involved in a curriculum project could choose three sessions to attend in the morning, and they had the option for the afternoon of these two sessions:

The Holy Grail of Teaching

Regardless of where you turn, the topic of education and educational reform seems tobe there. People from all walks of life are typically not shy about sharing their feelings on this subject. Ideas range from class size, standardized testing, ability grouping, the number of computers in the classroom, homework and the home environment, just to name a few. Research has shown, however, that teacher effectiveness has, by far, the most powerful influence upon students and student learning.In this workshop, we will explore the very powerful effects that a teacher has upon his/her students. We will take a close look at some of the research compiled that clearly delineates what has the most dramatic influence upon student achievement.

or
Learn Like Our Students Do

Background:  Have you ever seen a kid taking a technology class or reading a manual for a new gadget?  Of course not.  They learn as kids these days do: on their own, “playing”, and if needed, asking a buddy for advice. When it comes to technology or learning how to use new tools, they generally don’t need an “expert” or a workshop to attend.

Most adults are a little different. We have always had a consultant (“expert”) come in or have an administrator lead a session for staff on an initiative, program, or curriculum. Adults listen, hopefully engage, and it is hoped that the skill is applied for student learning.  Does it work?  Sometimes.

As we have for the past three years, we are call it “Learn Like Our Students” day. Staff otherwise unassigned to the previously listed activities form themselves into groups of two or more of their choosing. At the conclusion of the day they will complete an outcomes review.

Educators often say that there is never enough time to learn or improve skills, ideas, or instructional strategies.  Here is an opportunity for over two hours to teach yourselves something new, improve a skill, or gain new knowledge in a collaborative way.

While I cannot take credit for either of the two session titles or content (one was my predecessor’s idea, and the other my colleagues’), I feel both begin to drive our staff towards the type of day I would envision for them going forward.
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