Asking the Hard Questions
The more I work with educators, the more important certain questions begin to become.
What is Professional Development, actually?
What is the point of it? What is it suppose to do?
What is our attitude toward it? Is it a form of correction (You’re doing this all wrong, wrong, wrong) or of deepening practice? Is it a chance to plan? Is it about the doodads and the sparkly parts of teaching?
What is the substance of PD? What do we want teachers to walk away with?
Think to the last PD you led or attended. What did you take away from it? What parts were transferrable? What parts seemed too gimmicky?
Ask – Why?
Teachers, we are so much more than what the title, teacher, suggests.
Teachers are learners, practitioners, researchers, specialists, coaches…
Great teachers often step back and reflect- how am I doing in my practice?
Day to day, my role as staff developer has allowed me to be a part of this process in a very intimate way. I’ve come to see PD in three big areas or layers.
In one basic form, PD is ‘Watch Kids’. Watch kids in their work, take their work and study it, analyze it, look at data, watch kids, look at kids, talk about kids, problem solve about kids. Yes, these are all necessary, but not nearly enough. We, as teachers also need to watch more than that.
Another basic level of professional development is ‘Watch the Curriculum’. Read it, take it, study and analyze it, explain it, problem solve it, the ‘let’s sit together and plan it’ kind. The ‘Here are the charts you need- here’s the book you can use’ kind of PD. Though tools, charts, books, and even curriculum are the ‘fun’ and glamorous parts of teaching, this type of PD can leave you feeling empty and stuck pretty quickly. Teaching is not just curriculum and children. We know there’s an art to it. In our PD, there needs to be more- so much more.
This is where it can get uncomfortable and new and sticky and messy.
A deeper level PD, a more ground breaking level, is the ‘Watch us’. Watch our teaching, watch my teaching, look at our work (lessons, plans, artifacts), study it and analyze it, look at our own data, look at each others’ teaching practices and moves, talk about our teaching, problem solve about our teaching, watch kids in response to our teaching.
True confession- I’ve led PDs that only included the more surface of these layers- we only talked curriculum or students. It’s easy to stay superficial. This is a ‘safe space’. However, my most fulfilling and effective PDs have hit all three layers, with teaching methods and practices at the forefront.
It’s not you, it’s me
Some things we can control in our teaching. Most of the time, we cannot control our students or the curriculum. How empowering to know we can shift our practices to reach our students no matter what level they are on.
How can we make sure that our Professional Development goes deeper? How can we get teachers to push beyond talk of their students and the curriculum to reflect on themselves?
Here are some tips-
- Model how to make it about YOU (and your teaching practices):
I’ve started reflecting so much more in classrooms with teachers. I’ve started modeling the type of questions and thoughts that run through my mind when I’m working with children. Here are some of my favorite lines:
- “What do you think I could do differently here?”
- “I’m noticing that this student needs a couple of different things, let’s prioritize and chose one together. Help me out. How might we teach this?”
- “In my teaching, I’m working on getting the students to do more, say more. Please watch for that, and then imagine how this could go even deeper.”
- Ask teachers to talk about their Practices:
Find models of Teachers as Practitioners. Ask them to share their lessons- not just as exemplary lessons, but as artifacts to study. Ask them to unpack their thinking behind their planning and share possible revisions for future lessons.
- Give it time:
Pay attention to the direction your PD sessions go. Be aware of lingering on the surface layers for too long. Also, have teachers set and reflect on goals often. Help them to stay away from ones that are not worthy (too wimpy or too impractical). Encourage them to share their own next steps with a teacher partner. You may pose questions like:
- “What does the information from today’s PD make you think?” “Why?”
- “What are you trying on in your teaching?”
- “What are you going to try next?”
- “What parts seem easy? What parts seem tricky?”
In our last post, Christy highlighted one way to pop out the teaching practice during your PD. Our biggest message to you is this- Talk to teachers more- especially in front of their kids and in front of your teaching. Show, not tell, your teaching.
How’s your PD going for you, coaches? Please share your successes and struggles, actually!