Wednesday, April 24, 2013

If I ran PD

We are all born as learners. As children, we want to hide in closets, climb trees, follow paths through the woods, and generally get into mischief. If we are fortunate, we have teachers who nurture these desires in us. They make us ask questions. They make us look for answers. A good answer will lead to a new question. Good teachers make us wonder.

When I read Ben Beaton's quote from #slide2learn a few days ago, a lot of recent ideas about learning coalesced. You see, I recently had a discussion with my principal about what our teachers do with technology in their classroom. We briefly discussed PD at the school. It's pretty normal in schools for teachers to diss PD, right? But do we ever offer solutions other than, "Let's meet less often?"

What if we redesigned PD so that it was a model for our students? What if instead of trying so hard to teach teachers how to personalize learning, we personalized learning for our teachers? What would that look like?

Such professional development would

  1. Be relevant
  2. Give teachers choice about what to learn
  3. Allow teachers to set their own goals
  4. Encourage collaborative learning
  5. Engage the broader educational community
  6. Be inquiry based
  7. Give permission for teachers to learn how they learn best
  8. Be self-sustaining in that it would not require external "instructors" or significant planning by administration
  9. Allow teachers to follow their passions as learners

Now, we may not be able to take all these ideas and implement them quickly or in large scale in our classrooms. But, could we do this for professional development at a medium-sized international school? If so, what would it look like?

Given that it's unlikely that the powers that be would give up each week's 90 minutes of PD time, let's assume that this New PD Model would take place once per month. I imagine something like the following:

During the first session, teachers brainstorm together in a giant room about what they want to learn. 

They share ideas about their passions and their needs in the classroom. Some things teachers might want to study could include things like reaching ELLs, PBL, using twitter for PD, what unique needs students from name the place have, teaching science using examples you find in the movies, cross-disciplinary projects, etc... You name it. Nothing would be off the table at first.

The community would corporately decide on a variety of topics to study. Each teacher would be able to chose the learning community they wanted to partner with.
Each learning community would meet to discuss their own goals. Each individual in each community need not have the same goals. Rather, each community member should be willing to share his own goals with the group and frame the goals in a way that will contribute to the larger learning community.

If people really are pursuing their own interests in the way that suits their learning style best, learning might look very different for each person. Let's imagine we have a four person learning community studying strategies to use with English Language Learners. One teacher/learner might love TED talks. She might decide she's going to approach her inquiry by watching one or two TED talks a week about language acquisition, differences in languages, or brain based learning. Anything remotely connected to ELLs would be fair game. A second teacher/learner might have a book about ELLs that he has meant to read for months but hasn't found time. His investigation would take the form of finally reading that book. A third teacher/learner might decide to participate in weekly twitter chats about ELLs for the duration of the project. And the fourth ELL might decide to study the data the school keeps on ELLs to look for new insights. 

Each group member would conduct their inquiry. Members would meet monthly to share ideas and discuss their progress. Each member would be responsible for reporting back to the group on their progress. Members might bring something tangible to the table while reporting their inquiry such as a prezi or a keynote. Or they might bring discussion questions and lead the others in a Socratic dialogue. The point is, the learning does not look the same for each learner. Each learner is pursuing what is relevant to their needs and interests.

In fact, let's dream big. The learning communities might not even meet during the regular weekly PD time. We are all educational professionals. If we decide to use our Learning Community PD time for student meetings, grading or even to catch up on sleep, then we will be responsible for meeting at a different time, perhaps at a coffee shop, to share our findings.

This learning would
be about what matters to us as professionals
give us choice about what to learn
allow us to set our own goals
encourage collaboration
engage the broader community
lead to more questions
let us learn how we learn best
not be a burden for those planning PD
allow teachers to follow their passions as learners
Now wouldn't that be more productive, and perhaps actually easier, than having one person talk at us for PD? And what a powerful statement about the value of inquiry such a model would give. It would expose teachers who have only met a traditional model to a more personalized inquiry-based approach. It would build community and learning would be fun!

Here is a sample of a school that let's its students learn how I've just proposed PD to be.


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