3 min read

Make PD work for us. All of us.

This evening I read Derek Wenmoth's latest blog post, which highlights the McKinsey report titled:

Breaking the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers

I've not had the chance to read the report in full, and it's only 12 pages long, so I will get around to reading it. But in summary, the report identifies these promising ideas:

  • Base the PD program on a vision of effective teaching;
  1. Segment teachers and deliver PD strategically;
  2. Make coaching the centerpiece of PD;
  3. Move from “push” to “pull,” so that teachers get what they want, when they want it; and
  4. Only offer PD with demonstrated impact.

As said, I've not read the report in full, but here are my initial reactions/thoughts to this summary. At first glance it seems to see teachers as working in isolation - professionals that can upgraded and who then maintain those skills indefinitely by virtue of having a patch applied. It seems to ignore the collaborative and highly personal nature of the profession.

Point 1 - Duh.

When we spend years developing a curriculum, and designing learning experiences for students - why does most teacher PD merely become an afterthought, or something you attend some courses on a couple of times a year. What I've seen is teachers cherry picking PD courses that meet a specific need, often in response to a particular student in their class that year. Personal and professional development needs to be based on a broad understanding of effective teaching, be it personal or school-wide.

If you don't have a coherent, applicable vision of effective teaching for your school or yourself, sort that first.

Point 2 - Are we now streaming teachers?

Why would we segment the teachers, and treat their professional development as isolated cases? That model currently exists in NZ. Sift through the piles of flyers attached to staff room walls and you'll see numerous examples of PD that teachers can attend. 99 times out of 100 - that PD benefits those individuals - but very few others. Why treat the PD in isolation? Surely the the point of professional development is to lift the profession.

No teacher works in isolation. PD isn't a smart missile. You don't deliver "development" - you encourage, sustain and foster it.

Point 3 - This is semantics. And arguably pointless.

We split hairs about defining what's coaching and what's teaching - for the sake of redefining what we already know, and repackaging what we've already got. The worst example of this was the individual who told me that teachers couldn't be learners, because the word 'learner' wasn't in the word 'teacher'.

Simply put - effective learners model, discuss, cajole, listen, demand, reflect, refine, exhort, engage, lead, plan, consider, celebrate and deliver.

Good coaches do this.
Good teachers do this.
Good learners do this.

Make learning the centrepiece of PD.

Point 4 - Why push or pull - how about "share"?

So that as a profession, we can all see what's needed and how we can address it together. This is a challenge for an education system based on a competitive model. We compete between schools, and we compete within schools. One of the great weaknesses of teaching is that it is innately personal, and yet we see ourselves as professionals. We struggle to take professional criticism because our practice is personal - it's how we operate. By criticising the professional, often we're seen as criticising the person.

Why set up a PD environment that encourages teachers to look out for themselves - to take only what they want.

The PD environment should be one that allows trust and honesty to develop within the participants. Participants within schools and between schools. This is about being open to being part of a reciprocal ethos. You know - a profession of  sharing. 

Point 5 - Who says what why when?

And does it matter? This sounds like only "trusting" PD that an expert armed with a bulleted powerpoint can provide.

The best PD I've ever had has been the result of a serendipitous conversation with a bloke I met at a conference. It didn't start off as PD - it was a grumble about what the hell were all these people doing here, and why had they paid so much to surf the internet. But over a coffee it turned into an exchange of ideas, a recognition of shared experiences, a challenge to my classroom practice and a real energising of my thinking around effective teaching.

If we treat PD as only that which offers demonstrable impact - we discount many excellently reflective moments of development inspired by being open to hearing from and engaging with our fellow professionals. I'd be so bold as to say that if we don't pay attention to the professional development opportunities in our own classrooms, we're being negligent. You learn a hell of a lot about effective classroom practice by getting out of the way of your students and learning from them.

My 2 suggestions for what will break the cycle of ineffective professional development for educators.

  1. Conversation.
    We need to talk, listen and share more.
  2. Process.
    We need to reflect, consider and engage more.
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