The more I have the opportunity the attend professional development workshops outside of my district, the more I reflect on my evolving definition of meaningful professional development. I have always been fascinated by the facilitators of PD who don’t seem to take adult learning needs into account. You know the ones- the sage on the stage, who talks (or reads off a slide) for hours on end, with little regard for our need to stop and reflect or collaborate. There are still people in our field who need to plan more effective ways to engage adults in meaningful learning and reflection. But what is more troubling to me now is the lack of social media and web-based references in PD.
When someone presents information for an hour, a few hours, a full day, or even longer, without ever acknowledging that there are other resources available, it makes me question their motive or purpose. Who can truly work in isolation these days? Who can claim to be the lone expert in any area of education? Shouldn’t we be encouraging each other to seek out and share additional resources that help our work? There are still many presenters, whether part of public or private organizations, who seem to approach professional development with the belief that they hold the important information and we, the audience, are lucky they are willing to tell us some of it.
I have had two recent experiences (that shall remain unnamed!) that led me to leave the day more frustrated than exhilarated about my learning. In both cases, I sat through an entire full day of keynote speeches and breakout sessions around various topics of current interest to me and my district colleagues. Neither “conference” made a single reference to Twitter, though I tried to do a search for relevant hashtags and to follow the presenters, often without any luck. In no presentation were we given any references for web-based resources, whether it be blogs, professional organizations, other districts doing the work, etc. In some cases, I literally sat for an hour while someone read to me information that was on a power point presentation in front of me, that was taken directly off of a public website or a published book.
This is neither an exaggeration nor a joke. These conferences actually cost my district money, with the intention that I gain new knowledge/insights/resources to bring back to support the work we are doing to enhance teaching and learning for all of our students. I know how to always find something positive in a situation, and I do admit that I picked up a few tidbits of useful information in each conference. However, when I look at these experiences as a facilitator of professional development it makes me realize that we need to redefine professional development in the modern age of education.
Here are what I am now coming to realize are my non-negotiables for quality, effective professional development for adult learners:
- Dynamic, engaging presentations of information in short, meaningful chunks
- Time for participants to reflect and engage with one another about the content
- References to social media and web-based resources
- Acknowledgment that collectively we all know more than we know in isolation; tap into the participants’ knowledge/ background/ experiences (consider a pre-assessment of your audience)
- Time for participants to plan/brainstorm/discuss ways to apply new learning to current work
- Potential for follow-up with colleagues outside of the conference (Twitter back channels or hashtags, google docs, edmodo, etc.)
The more I read about #edcamps, the more I want to both experience one and facilitate one within my own district. For those of you unfamiliar with edcamps, these are “unconferences” where people come together for free, where the participants are also the presenters. We are surrounded by smart, educated people with years of combined experience in the field. We need to tap into our own expertise and share the learning AND the leadership!
It does not escape my notice that this reflection comes at the beginning of August- Connected Educator Month. As I realize the value in connecting, especially through twitter and my ever-expanding PLN (thank you all!), I want my colleagues to find value in connecting as well! We need to come together to share resources, ask questions, brainstorm solutions, and examine both successes and struggles. We need to realize that our professional development can and should take place every day, through a variety of networks and opportunities, and that the one-stop, lecture-style approach to presentations should be a way of our past, not our future.
How are you redefining processional development for yourself, your school and your district? How are you engaging the unconnected?