By Fran McVeigh
As the pandemic continues, stress, time and the health of staff continue to be major concerns. And yet, what if professional development was reconfigured? What if district professional development was redesigned to include personal development? What if teachers were allowed to dream about professional learning that met their personal needs?
What should professional development consist of?
Lists, lists, and more lists abound of the most important characteristics of professional development. District leaders may choose a “research-based” list without a deep study of the specifics of the research. Influences on choices may include the authors, publishers or other messages from similar topics. In a literature review, three favorites stand out because of their specificity but also because of their overlapping nature.
Linda Darling-Hammond is synonymous with professional development and decades of research in the field of PD for educators. Darling-Hammond and associates at the Learning Policy Institute (2017) identified seven characteristics of effective professional development (PD).
Regie Routman has decades of research in effective literacy teaching and she takes a little different view of PD in her blog post titled, “What You Need to Know about Professional Learning: 10 Essentials for Becoming a More Effective Teacher.” Regie shifted the focus to the effectiveness of the teacher. These attributes could be measured and quantified with a bit of planning (or not).
Richard DuFour in ASCD’s “What is a ‘Professional Learning Community’? focuses on the principles of a professional learning community. It may be “assumed” that teachers and administrators are part of a professional learning community, but is that really true? And are the right people included? Or are they “going through the motions and checking it off a list”? His list for learning communities includes the following principles.
As I thought about this blog post, I scrolled back and forth among these characteristics so much that I finally had to put them side by side to study them. If I were in charge, how would I proceed?
How much do these three lists overlap?
My first question of study required a way to organize the data in the three columns. I considered a Venn Diagram, but I quickly rejected it as I find the disorganization of a Venn Diagram to be confusing when trying to explain relationships that have previously been prioritized. Many of these had the exact same word “collaboration” for example but the reasons for the collaboration may have varied. Through this process the original 22 items became 15. Someone else completing the same activity may mark items differently and that’s okay because the point is the conversation that occurs when the same items occur again and again: content focused, supports collaboration, prioritizes PD and develops shared beliefs and common language. If these are already in place in your district, building, grade level, it might be time for a quick check of how you onboard new staff to increase their understanding.
A leadership team could read these three pieces and engage in this activity as they develop or review their action plan and determine goals for Professional Development. Don’t neglect any items with one “X” if it matches current instructional expectations like “incorporates active learning”.
Time is one of the most valuable resources a district has at its disposal. District PD time is not the place for a continued stranglehold on teacher attendance for all staff to view Zoomed in experts while the pandemic continues. This district-mandated PD should be half or less of the district’s PD in terms of time and expenses. Let me repeat that, this PD should be half or less of the allocated time for district PD in terms of time and expenses.
PERSONAL LEARNING MUST BECOME A PART OF DISTRICT PD PLANS
And this part of the PD is the dreaming part. Half or more of the district PD time and expenses should be allocated for personal learning. What if teacher teams developed their own action research? What if teachers had their own book studies? What if teachers visited via Zoom with teachers working on similar goals in another state or country? What if teachers developed their own Twitter chats to engage in conversations with teachers around the world. What if teachers had CHOICE in their learning in terms of the questions they want to explore and the time and location for those explorations?
Of course there would be some accountability measures in terms of approval processes, timelines, goals, etc. because the ultimate goal is to increase the effectiveness of all teachers. But what if we dared to dream? And if the district helped provide the resources?
Books, articles, videos and experts. What if these could be accessed when teachers have time to relax and think? Not necessarily during the early dismissal every Wednesday afternoon. How could teachers be empowered through a commitment to provide resources that will improve their knowledge and skills and the desire to promote differentiation and collaborative opportunities to best meet the individual personal goals of each and every teacher.
Let’s make personal learning personal. Where do I go for personal learning? I firmly believe that learning is my responsibility. When I have a question or need help, I can ask about it on Twitter or an email. The results are often almost immediate. What other sources exist?
Twitter is often my first choice. So many hashtags to check on in Tweetdeck. #NCTE. #ILA. #CuriosityCrew. #TextTalkTea. #G2Great. #TheEdCollab. #TCRWP.
Twice a year #TheEdCollab sponsors a day of free workshops and their sessions remain available until the next meeting day. There are multiple choices on hot topics all day long. Access: https://gathering.theeducatorcollaborative.com/
Twice a year #TCRWP offers a Saturday Reunion of free workshops. Their sessions are not videotaped but twitter often has a steady stream and “watch parties” offer participants many opportunities to share their sessions. Access on Saturday, October 21, 2021: https://readingandwritingproject.org/events/october-2021-saturday-reunion
Blogs are a great source of information. Typically the “About” headings provide background about the authors in order to determine the perspective behind the writing. Affirming? Disrupting? Challenging your beliefs? These may be different lists. What are some examples of blogs I read and reread? When I want reading and writing information I turn to Two Writing Teachers and many of the individuals who are daily bloggers as “March Slicers.” For poetry, I go to Amy Ludwig VanDeerwater’s “Poetry Farm”. To study information writing and reading I go to Melissa Stewart. To study leadership I turn to Matt Renwick. Some publishers like Heinemann also have blogs that fill my learning heart and brain. Again, these are just a few of my examples to give teachers a starting point for their own passions and creativity.
A learning community: I’m fortunate to be in several groups where information, articles, resources, are shared on a daily basis. Then it’s my choice on whether they become a MUST READ NOW or the link or title goes on a resource page for perusal at a more leisurely pace.
Memberships in groups including state and national organizations like ILA and NCTE. These have annual conferences, published research and webinars throughout the year.
#BookLove Book Club – The summer 2021 calendar of speakers plus the elementary and secondary book studies connected over 1,000 teachers who discussed books, reading, writing, author’s craft, translanguaging and actually listened to authors talk about their books. And participants can access those videos throughout the school year so students can also personally hear from authors.
What if districts paid for these memberships? Or for professional journals? Or the books? What if there was a professional stipend allocated for each teacher?
THE NEW DREAM
Before “Normal” returns, we can and MUST re-envision professional learning, not professional development. Normal PD wasn’t working before the pandemic or now if it resembles the all district cattle calls. It must lose its top down, district-driven mandates in order to bring back personal learning and joy for teachers. Many teachers currently do seek out their own learning opportunities, but what if it were to become a valued opportunity for districts to respect teachers’ choice of optimal learning times, modes and topics? There is a reason that Regie Routman has these as her top two elements: “Prioritize professional learning” and “Make time for professional reading”. Ensuring that teachers have the time, energy, and resources for learning and reading are the new professional rights of teachers. Districts need to loosen their grip on time spent on whole district PD and encourage collaboration and differentiation that supports the needs of all their learners: students AND teachers. Now is the time to dream of the possibilities and make necessary changes!
Dufour, Richard. (2004) What is a Professional Learning Community? ASCD
Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. This report can be found online at https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-prof-dev.
Fran McVeigh is an Academic Coordinator for Morningside University, Sioux City, Iowa, as well as a Literacy Consultant. Previously she has been an elementary teacher, a special education teacher, principal, district curriculum and professional development coordinator and a regional literacy consultant for multiple school districts. Fran is also a co-moderator of the #G2Great chat, can be found on twitter @franmcveigh and on her blog “Resource-Full”.