In my current course, Developing Effective Professional Learning, we have been asked to read and reflect on case studies that have a common denominator regarding professional development. This common denominator among each report suggests that current and past practices in professional development were at best, ineffective and at their worse, not worth the time or money spent. The TNTP Mirage Report (2015) suggests that most districts overspend and underachieve in professional development. The money spent does not reflect met expectations.
What is the intention for professional development? Why do we require teachers to participate? A few responses may be “to enhance instructional practices, develop innovative techniques, and implement new strategies to engage all students in learning.” However, much of what we experience today does not help teachers effectively execute these strategies in the classroom due to the widely known “sit and get” approach of professional development versus professional learning that is differentiated, relevant, and ongoing. The goal of professional learning should be to help give teachers new and relevant tools to create authentic learning opportunities for their students to take ownership and maintain engagement.
Unfortunately, much of professional development takes place outside of the classroom such as meetings discussing endless data, one day workshops or conferences, and in-service days. This leaves little time for teachers to discern the information overload and set realistic goals to achieve. Even if teachers went to every meeting, workshop, and conference available, research shows that it has little to no effect on better teaching practices from year to year. This is because much of this “development” that takes place in these meetings does not meet expectations or requirements of true professional learning. It is as though these professional development opportunities are the districts’ way of checking off boxes to maintain a “good standing” if they were audited, and somehow justify the extensive amounts of money spent on “developing” their employees. We could compare using a metaphor in which today’s professional development is equivalent to fast food. It leaves us lethargic, bored, and guilty. We know there’s more, but we are so tired from the “whirlwind” it is difficult to do more if we are required to eat one “happy meal” after another. The ongoing, focused, disciplined professional learning is equivalent to eating a balanced diet and exercise. Which of these two scenarios takes more effort but sets us up to achieve our goals long term? We not only begin to think clearly, but we gain trust in ourselves, our organizations, and hope for a better future. Much of what we see in our society today is cheap, quick, disposable, and in many cases lacks integrity. Let’s not just reform professional learning, let’s create a revolution to transform it completely. Writing for the Center for Public Education, Allison Gulamhussein (2013) describes key principles for effective development. The essentials for professional learning include ongoing training, teacher support, active and engaged learning, modeling and coaching, and differentiated content.
Learning is a life-long process, not a destination. Therefore, learning should be ongoing. We cannot expect one-day workshops or several one-hour sessions will create teacher buy-in and magically produce effective teaching practices. These principles must be adopted fully. We cannot merely “talk the talk,” we must “walk the walk.” We must implement these practices through ongoing modeling, coaching, and support throughout every stage of the learning process. Passive learning is not enough, teachers must be actively engaged to promote ownership of one’s own development. Content must be differentiated so teachers will see the relevance for their classes, and clarify how new strategies will be beneficial to them.
True professional learning is the catalyst that will transform the future of education. Education is about learning, not school. Learning is cultivated by a driving curiosity and enthusiasm. If teachers are unable to see relevance in what is being delivered, it is likely they will not put forth the time and effort to learn it. We must design professional learning with the teacher’s unique needs in mind. It will create a ripple effect in which teachers will begin modeling what they have experienced in their classrooms. Passionate, enthusiastic teachers leads to passionate, enthusiastic students. Professional learning should model directly what we wish our teachers to do in the classrooms. If modeling is successfully executed, teachers will be able to see the benefit in trying new strategies despite the awkward or failing first attempts initially.
Creative, meaningful, and relevant professional learning will shift the focus back to learning not just for students, but for all staff members involved. My goal is to implement professional learning that encourages my colleagues to share their expertise, seek innovative strategies, and collaborate with one another with relevant content. I hope to create an environment where it is safe to ask questions, develop a mentorship team dedicated to helping teachers throughout the entire process, and celebrate each others’ success and attempts. When community is built through professional learning, I believe it will have a direct impact on building an effective classroom community.
I created a video to help illustrate the bigger picture professional learning will have on the future of education and within my organization. It will help open communication to the need for a new perspective that suggests schools could be the learning ground for both students and teachers. I chose to use mysimpleshow.com as my platform because it is a creative yet simple outlet that I believe will help my audience relate. The keys to designing a video that will capture an audience are the following: it must be relevant, visually entertaining, and clutter-free. My simple show does a great job helping users be as extensive or as minimal with images, however the script must be under 2000 characters. I found this to be the most difficult aspect because it meant I had to revisit and concise my writing to the main points instead of using “floral language.” It forces users to really consider the message, and helps us emphasize words from the script through clip-art images. The designer has complete control on what images are used (being on the image is available). The personal version is $5.99 a month, which can be a bit limited for those who are well versed in videography or fancy effects, but perfect for beginners who desire to simply connect with their audience. It is a non-threatening platform that allows users of all expertise to dabble in creating an overall professional presentation.
The process overall is simple. I personally wrote my script on a google document first, and then copied and pasted the script into a blank presentation. The character limit was the only draw-back because I had to decide what I wanted to keep in the video, and what could be further explained in my reflection above. There is an option to either use a voice that is pre-recorded, but these voices sound too robotic for me, so I chose to record my own voice-over. I believe it adds more authenticity, and allows the audience to hear the intention in your message. Fortunately, my husband and I already have recording equipment in our home-studio for recording music, so I used our fancy microphone instead of what most people have access to such as headphones with built in microphones, or the microphones via the laptop. The following screencast shows an overview of the process:
Professional development/learning has been an interesting topic to visit and reflect upon because I have often found myself wondering if I happened to be the only one that felt as though it did not impact my teaching enough, inspire me to change, or manage my whirlwind. I would often leave with a packet of printed information, and unfortunately that information resembled a print out of the slide-show presentation I was just required to sit through. There was no way I was willing to go back through and reread pages of information, nor was I ready to implement these tasks alone in my classroom full of children. Like many teachers, professional development created the opposite feeling than I think was intended. I felt alone instead of supported, and that after each session, I felt more responsible for information I did not know how to implement effectively. I believe the most impactful professional learning I have participated in has been through working in an alternative school the past three years in which students and their families come to live to escape abuse. The school was housed within the shelter, so I learned more in those three years as a teacher than I believe every professional learning experience combined. It was a sink or swim situation, so I remember making a commitment to be all in or all out when it came to seeking new ways of managing a classroom and my own sanity. I chose to be all in. I signed up to be in a yoga teacher training program to seek strategies for a calmer classroom environment, and approach this population with a new set of skills to help manage their trauma and secondary trauma that impacted the teachers working with these students. My main goal when I graduate from the Digital Learning and Leading program is to create professional learning opportunities for teachers to engage in trauma-informed practices, strategies to manage stress both for themselves and their learners, and develop teams of teachers who’s main jobs are to support, coach, and model these practices for other teachers. I desire to develop social emotional programs within schools, and even run for office so that all districts are required to hire a team of professionals to help teachers, students, and families learn strategies for managing their day to day lives.
I want to change the world one learner at a time. Learning is and will always be the goal. It sets us free, and challenges the status quo. The main takeaway from this project reflecting on professional learning is we shouldn’t expect our students to be engaged in learning if our teachers aren’t. Let’s create a revolution in learning. This starts with authentic professional learning.
Gulamhussien, A. (2013). Teaching the teachers: Effective professional development in an era of high stakes accountability. Center for Public Education. Retrieved from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/system/files/2013-176_ProfessionalDevelopment.pdf
My Simple Show. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.mysimpleshow.com
Robinson, K. (2015). Bring on the learning revolution. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFMZrEABdw4&t=261s
TNTP. (2015, August 4). The mirage: Confronting the hard truth about our quest for teacher development. TNTP Reimagine Teaching. Retrieved from https://tntp.org/publications/view/evaluation-and-development/the-mirage-confronting-the-truth-about-our-quest-for-teacher-development
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