Over the past few months, a few administrators I hold in high regard have talked/tweeted/blogged/bragged about the endless options their teachers have for professional development. In some instances, their entire district’s professional learning plan focuses entirely on teacher choice (in an effort to create something like a wide-scale Genius Hour).
This is an approach with which I strongly disagree.
As I have previously tweeted…“We need to balance choice with vision. If your school PD options are all over the place [much like a Cheesecake Factory menu], strong chance there is a lack of direction.”
Don’t promote Cheesecake Factory Professional Development...which can be defined as: A district doesn’t know what it wants to be, so everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at teachers in an effort to mask indecisiveness and/or lack of direction.
Douglas Reeves shares the same sentiment when he writes, “The clear imperative for educational leadership is focus. Unfortunately, the typical response of leaders at every level is diffusion, often in the guise of strategic plans” (p. 32). Reeves goes on to state, “Large-scale improvement is most likely to occur when a few school improvement initiatives are implemented deeply, not when a laundry list of initiatives is implemented in a scattershot manner” (p. 40).
The solutions are focus and discipline.
As Jim Collins writes, we must “create a ‘stop doing list’ and systematically unplug anything extraneous” (p. 124). In other words, if you are someone who plans school/district professional development, choose a distinct direction and stick with it (while providing room for some teacher choice). Resist the urge to continuously schedule “learning detours” by jumping at the latest and greatest, or whatever topic may appear to be urgent. Trust me, it can wait. You do not want to detract from time that could be spent on your primary focus.
Currently in my district, the focal point of professional development at the elementary level is Writing Workshop. On this topic, we have conducted two three-hour sessions, with a third one of the same length coming up in a few weeks, and then a six-hour session is scheduled for March (and possibly even more beyond that). Furthermore, in an effort to promote continuous learning, all materials related to this professional development can be found on a Google Site. And, of course, my district’s two Reading Specialists helped to make this all possible.
Just like any other professional development I have facilitated/co-facilitated, some parts “clicked,” while others I would modify if it had to be done again. (And, based on the anonymous feedback forms that are distributed after each learning experience, those in attendance would agree.) Nonetheless, I refuse to jump to another topic, and from conversing with teachers there is no doubt in my mind they appreciate the less is more approach. After all, they have an entire school year to toy around and familiarize themselves with Writing Workshop before anything mandatory is put into place by the district. (I shudder at the word mandatory.)
In the End
The goal of professional development should be to create sustainable change. I’ll say that again…sustainable change. When you walk through classrooms, student learning experiences should look noticeably different (and better) than they had prior to the professional learning. (Yet, how often do countless classrooms look almost entirely the same, year after year, despite teachers constantly “completing their hours?”)
School/District leaders should think about what they can do to continuously move teachers (and themselves) forward. From my experiences, more often than not, this shift requires having the focus and discipline to promote this less is more approach to professional learning…Cheesecake Factories need not apply.
How do you learn best? What professional development models have made a difference in your school/district? Can you relate to Cheesecake Factory Professional Development?