Classroom Teachers’ Rights and Responsiblities: PD Possibilities
How do you grow as a professional? How do you develop? If you are a classroom teacher like me, you have probably been on the receiving end of Professional Development (PD). As I prepared to write this post, I asked trusted friends and colleagues their opinions on PD that has worked for them…and PD that hasn’t. I also wrote a post on my blog, Courage Doesn’t Always Roar, asking for teacher feedback on professional development experiences. Jennifer Laffin wrote a fantastic post in response, detailing the type of PD that she finds most valuable.
By and large, the feeling has been that PD is most meaningful and effective when it is self-selected and facilitated by other teachers. It is least effective when it is a “one and done” type workshop, in an area that might not interest the teacher.
As a classroom teacher, most of the time I am a participant in PD, not the facilitator. I want to learn, to be inspired, to leave a PD session one step closer to being the teacher I dream to be. I believe that teachers have rights when it comes to Professional Development. With rights comes responsibilities, and teachers have those, too as we consider PD.
Choice: As teachers, we try to provide our students with many choices throughout the day because we know choice builds buy-in and ownership over the learning. Wherever possible, teachers should have some choice in their professional development. One Superintendent’s Conference Day in my district, administrators, instructional coaches, and some teachers offered workshops. The teachers were able to select the workshop they wanted to attend from a menu of options. Teachers were able to pick the most meaningful workshops for what they personally needed to learn.
Voice: Teachers have a wealth of experience and sometimes that is not tapped into during PD. Wherever possible, allow teachers opportunities to share the great work they are doing and take the lead in facilitating workshops. Offer ways for teachers to share their learning during and after PD, such as posting their thinking on sites like Today’s Meet or tweeting new understandings.
Timing: One teacher shared how her district always seemed to have PD sessions right before a holiday break or at other inopportune times. Wherever possible, PD should be scheduled when teachers can focus and aren’t preoccupied with pressing issues like parent conferences, report cards, or the start of standardized testing.
Collaboration: Learning is social and teachers need the chance to talk through ideas and questions. PD should allow time for conversation and questions.
Movement: Dr. Jean Feldman says, “You learn on your feet, not in your seat!” No one wants to sit for long periods of time without the opportunity to move around. PD should provide the chance for teachers to be active participants and should aim to provide some movement, just as we work to integrate brain breaks for the children we teach. It can be small things like walking to another spot in the room, placing a post-it on a chart to show your current level of understanding, or switching seats to talk with someone you haven’t spoken with yet.
Resources: If the topic of PD is important (and if there is PD on it, I’m guessing it is), then it should not be a one-time workshop where the topic is never revisited. Provide plenty of resources for teachers to continue their learning independently around this topic. Book lists, websites, apps, videos, and more can and should be shared so that teachers can go deeper with their understanding of that day’s PD session. Ideally, have follow-up PD sessions on this topic.
Passion & Preparedness: Let’s face it- after a long, exhausting day of teaching, PD can be less than thrilling. It’s especially less than thrilling if the facilitator treats it that way. Teachers have the right to a dynamic, passionate, experienced facilitator/presenter who inspires. The person leading the PD should passionately believe in what is being shared and find ways to help the teacher catch that excitement. A quote that comes to mind is, “To be enthusiastic, you must act enthusiastic.” There is nothing worse than PD being led by someone clearly phoning it in, looking at her watch, or acting as if this is something we all have to just muddle through miserably. A close second in the “worse department” is when the facilitator hasn’t really taken the time to prepare much, when it’s clear that very little thought has been put into the meeting. This is disrespectful to the teachers attending and pretty much a waste of everyone’s time. Teachers have the right to be led by a prepared and passionate facilitator.
Professionalism: It is the teacher’s responsibility to come on time, come prepared, and handle himself/herself as a professional. Texting and surfing Facebook during the PD are not professional actions. Chatting with a colleague about off-topic conversations are also unprofessional and distracting. (I was once in a course where a teacher actually pulled out a large newspaper and was reading it during the class, noisily turning the pages. I was horrified.)
Open Mind: Teachers should approach PD with an open mind and an expectation that there is something to be learned. As my friend Susan Dee, an amazing literacy coach from Maine, suggested, “None of us have arrived.” There is always more to learn when you are a teacher, so you should go into the PD session with an open mind and heart, ready to learn.
Participation: If the facilitator asks you to write, you should write. If you are asked to read, you should read. If you are asked to discuss a question, then you should do that, too. It is the responsibility of the teacher to engage in the workshop and honestly participate in the activities planned. My Grandy used to say that if something is boring, it’s because you haven’t tried to be interested in it. Teachers should participate fully to get the most out of the session.
Set Goals /Make a Plan: I have Susan Dee to thank (again) for this idea. She said that teachers should leave a PD session with a plan for something they will try to do or implement as a result of that training. Maybe it will be to continue reading about the topic through articles or a professional book, perhaps it will be trying a new strategy for conferring. This was a new idea for me and I am going to do this, going forward, with all the PD sessions I attend.
The sad truth is that most of the passionate and curious teachers I know find ways to learn outside of their school’s PD sessions. They go to conferences and EDcamps, they participate in Twitter chats, they read and write blogs, they read professional texts and articles, they experiment with technology, they talk with colleagues through Voxer, they participate in Summer Institutes through local sites of the National Writing Project., they join professional book clubs. How can schools find ways to make PD more meaningful for teachers and replicate the passion and ownership that comes from PD experiences like Edcamps and Summer Institutes? PD that gives teachers choice and voice and honors their needs, interests, and experiences will create meaningful ways for teachers to grow. Just as our students are not all at the same level and need different things at different times, teachers vary in their experience and understanding. Might PD be differentiated or planned so that it best meets the needs of the participants?
Teachers have rights when it comes to receiving quality PD, but they also have responsibilities. They should look for opportunities to share their knowledge with their colleagues. When teachers are participants in PD, an open mind and heart are essential. Believing there is always more to learn and setting a goal to apply their learning to their classroom practice makes the time spent in PD worthwhile.
What other rights and responsibilities would you name when it comes to teachers and PD?