Professional Development Done Better


Here’s a confession, I’ve been responsible for some pretty horrible professional development (PD). When I think about the faculty meetings I ran when I was a new principal, I am embarrassed. Often, my faculty meetings were the Don Gately Show. I like to think it’s a pretty good show (my wife’s not complaining). I tried to sprinkle in the occasional joke or amusing anecdote, but my approach was deeply flawed. Teachers had little choice in participating; they were required, by contract, to be there. If the topic was not meeting their needs, they had to wait until I was done to complain about me in the parking lot. I surely was never the smartest person in the room; the smartest people in the room didn’t get a chance to share their expertise because I didn’t create a structure for them to do so.

And, oh the PowerPoints, I ‘loved me some PowerPoints’. I relied on this magical Microsoft tool like a crutch. As an assistant principal, I was an early adopter so I remember a time when I could dazzle my faculty with animations and wiggly text. The principal would sometimes ask me, “Don, can you do that PowerPoint thing for the faculty meeting?” I’d beam with pride! But like the hack magician sawing the lady in half, it took a while for me to let go of that thrilling trick. There are teachers out there with handouts I foisted upon them at faculty meetings, three slides to a page (so they could take notes?!), 107 slides in all. If I am ever considered for appointment as education commissioner, some journalist will dig these handouts up and my career will come to a screeching halt.

Fortunately, due to a combination of factors, I’ve gotten better at faculty meetings. Through experience, research, learning from others, better principals and maybe just because I got sick of listening to MYSELF, my faculty meetings have become improved settings for learning, at least I hope so.

I’ve done some bad PD, but so have many of my colleagues, both in the administrative AND the teaching ranks! It’s staff development like this that has created the need for EdCamp. Above I described a formula for “How NOT to contribute to teachers’ learning.” EdCamp upends all of these approaches.

At EdCamp, participants choose the sessions they are going to join; in fact, attendees decide the topics to facilitate on the day of the event, there are no preset subjects or scheduled workshops. At EdCamp, you’re not stuck in a room. Governed by the law of two feet, if the session you decided to attend is not meeting your needs, feel free to get up and go someplace else. EdCamp is free. Breakfast and lunch is provided by sponsors who care about education and want to contribute to innovative professional learning models that improve learning for kids as their teachers share and bring ideas back to the classroom. EdCamp’s eschew the “sit and git” model of PD, relying more on conversation than presentation; ‘sorry Don, leave your Power Point and handouts at home’ (sniff sniff). Everyone has a voice and so we get to hear from the smartest people in the room – commonly referred to as the room itself. They take place on Saturdays so everyone who attends an EdCamp WANTS to be there. Participants are committed to learning, sharing and connecting with others who share their passion for getting better!

EdCamps support learning all over country… find one and join the movement to reinvent professional development!

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