Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Making the professional development (or growth) plan relevant

In my last post I rambled a bit about what we call professional development. I remember being in a meeting in one of my former corporate lives in which we discussed what we should call this work we were doing to help teachers improve their practice. We hedged and decided on "professional growth and development."

As Gertrude Stein wrote, "A rose is a rose is a rose." The fact is that it doesn't matter what we call it. We have to do a better job of executing.

Point 1: Not all teachers are in the same places in their careers.
Point 2: Not all teachers have the same teaching styles.
Point 3: Not all administrators have the same experience nor the same leadership styles.
Point 4: Some of our teachers need more coaching and mentoring than others.
Point 5: Ditto for administrators.
Point 6: Not all educators have the same learning styles.

The challenges for districts and schools? Time and money. And, in some cases (yes, I'll dare to say it), unions.

Our habit has become to have one or more days of so-called professional development at the start of the school year. That time when most teachers really just want to make sure their classrooms are organized, they have the materials they need for the beginning of school, and that their technology works. In other words, they are focused on getting ready for school.

Our habit has become to have several in-service days throughout the school year. These pockets of often random professional development to which someone has been invited to address the entirety of the school or to be one of several presenters during the day so teachers can choose the sessions they want to attend. In some cases administrators have surveyed teachers to find out what the teachers want to learn and in others the administrators have made choices based on some criteria. I've presented in the former and the latter. The latter tends to be much more effective and yet, even then, there are unhappy teachers because the session doesn't live up to its billing or the presenter wasn't very good or the content wasn't exactly what they were looking for. Well, yea, you're not going to please everyone but you can hope that most people attend at least one session they find useful.

Some schools still ask teachers to complete a professional development (or growth) plan. Good; maybe. What I've learned of these anecdotally is that too many teachers complete them slightly before or after the deadline, and work on them alone. Once they're turned in, the process becomes even murkier. In other words, the PDP (or PGP) may be an exercise only.

Time. I know it's the most critical concern of every educator. Most of the good ones are already working 12-hour days and weekends. In this case, maybe part of the problem is the inefficient use of the time. Maybe it would make sense for the assistant principal or the curriculum director or whoever is "in charge" of collecting and reviewing the professional development plans to meet with teachers at the beginning of the year, individually or in small groups, perhaps by grade level and/or content area. Talk about the rationale behind the PDP and how it's going to be used. Then schedule brief meetings with each classroom teacher throughout the year to find out how things are going, how they're doing on making notes for their professional development plan, etc. In other words, have periodic check-in meetings so that the professional development plan is a work in progress and in consultation who can help that teacher see his or her work more objectively.

Then when the PDP is finished, yes, more time, but then the assistant principal, curriculum director, department chair, or whoever then meets with each teacher to talk through the PDP. A lot of time on the part of the administrator, but time well spent if at the end of that time the administrator has a clearer sense of how his or her teachers see themselves AND, perhaps most importantly, the kind of professional development they believe they need and want.

Then the administrator could gather with his or her team can review the individual and collective information to make informed decisions about how to make sure their instructional team--those classroom teachers--get the kind of professional development they believe they need and want. And, because they can see the bigger picture and well as the individual portraits, they can make note of who is doing really well and might need a few more kudos (too often insufficiently offered by administrators) and who might need some focused coaching.

The end result? Opportunity for collective professional development that really does meet a need for the entire group as well as more individualized and personalized professional development.

The end result of that end result? Teachers who feel supported by their administration and who will be that much more effective in the classroom.

The end result of those end results? Better opportunities for student learning.

More on executing on the plans in the next post.

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