As I was reading a thoughtful post by TCDSB VP Kevin Kerr this week, (read it here) I began to wonder about our professional development model. Kevin (and many others lately) have been arguing that the top-down (or “expert to novice” as Kevin terms it) model for delivering PD to educators is not an effective system. Even as I write the word ‘delivering’ the problem is clear. In most PD, I am no more an active participant in new learning than I am in the shipping of a product by receiving it at my front door. The focus is entirely on the product, with no thought to the people involved in the process. Why is that? What can we do about it?
It starts with respect. I know I need to be careful when I say that. I would never suggest that there’s been a lack of respect shown me by the educators who have delivered PD to me over the years. Overwhelmingly, they were talented individuals who were respectful of my thoughts, my time, and my needs. They were not, however, operating in a system that respected my ability to determine my own next steps as an educator. It was a system that assumed I had no idea what I needed to improve and little interest in seeking out that new learning. It was a system that looked at my school’s test scores and decided what I needed to do better (a ludicrous prospect that is rampantly being debunked in the United States: home of the standardized test) with no consideration of how I was actually teaching. There was no agency on my part, yet I was often asked to leave one PD session and drastically change some aspect of my teaching. There was no consideration that I might have very different talents and needs than the colleague sitting next to me. It’s no wonder that so many initiatives died a quick death after those PD sessions. It’s also no surprise that so many teachers came back to school engaged not by the content of the day, but by an idea they got from conversing with a colleague at another school.
The Project Next initiative that I was so fortunate to be part of was a step in another direction. I was introduced to a group of teachers who shared a general interest in technology and life-long learning but otherwise had very different backgrounds. We were encouraged to share, to be creative, and to learn. We shared our successful practices and improved those we weren’t crazy about. Given agency for our learning, we were and remain voracious consumers of new ideas and many of us have dramatically made-over our classrooms and teaching to incorporate 21st Century competencies. All because the board chose to respect us, to trust us, and provide a well-designed framework for our learning. As we try to change the way we teach our students to encourage greater responsibility, engagement, and improved learning for them, our system of professional development must adjust in a similar manner to ensure that new learning is meaningful to the teachers who will be carrying that learning deep into the 21st century.