Friday, February 12, 2010

PD Genie

D. C. public school teachers braved the unshoveled sidewalks and snow-piled roads today to attend our 9th of 10 job-embedded Professional Development sessions.

Positives: Engaging activities, ok to good content, well-organized presenters, and lots of smart, thoughtful, driven colleagues. So, if I had a magic PD genie to grant me 3 wishes, what would they be?

#1: More time for application. We know that after kids learn a new skill, they need lots of guided practice time to try it with the teacher, make mistakes, get feedback, try again, and then plenty of independent practice time to internalize it, preferably in an authentic context. Adults learn different things than kids, but we go through a very similar process. Why then, has almost every PD I have ever attended (charter school, public school, teacher training organization) left little to no time for teacher independent practice? In my ideal PD, if teachers are learning/reviewing ways to check for student understanding during lessons (for example,) we would hear a pretty brief summary of classroom strategies, practice on a few examples together, and then use a good chunk of time to actually plan new checks for understanding into lessons we will teach next week. This last step is almost always missing. Doing the authentic planning in the context of PD rather than on our own ensures that 1) we get feedback from colleagues on a new structure, 2) we intellectually transfer the new information to our own practice, 3) we logistically transfer the new information to our own practice.

We often DON'T try out the new skills from PD because teachers have so little time to do the vast amounts of planning, grading, material creating, and communicating required to teach kids effectively. Most teachers I know don't have enough time to do the things we already know how to do -- let alone get good at new skills. If skills are important enough to teach/review in PD (which they usually are,) they are important enough to implement. More time could be left at the end of PD sessions to apply the principle to our own practice -- or our schools could get better at using existing planning meetings to apply focus skills from PD. My school and others have taken exciting steps towards this second choice (see an example in this post,) but until all our systems are firmly in place, I think implementation time within PD sessions is our best bet.

My other 2 PD wishes? I'll get back to you. :-)

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