Saturday, October 5, 2013

Passion, Relevancy & Value: Rethinking Staff PD

Passion, Relevancy & Value:  Rethinking Staff PD #SAVMP

Recently I heard an interesting story that relates:  A new man joined a woodcutting team.  On his first day he cut down 18 trees.  The boss was ecstatic about the man’s progress.  Interestingly each day he cut fewer trees.  The boss noticed the woodcutter becoming fatigued and sad.  When he asked if the woodcutter had stopped to sharpen his axe, the reply was “I love cutting trees.  I’m working as hard as I can and can’t take the time to stop and sharpen my axe because I will fall farther behind.” Sometimes our teachers are like the woodcutter.  They are so caught up in meeting the needs of their students and the requirements of the job that they miss out on sharpening the axe.   As the leader in a school it is important to create meaningful professional development opportunities that staff will actively participate in.

During this past week I have been bombarded with questions and comments about Professional Development: “Do we have to go the to sessions provided by the union?”  “I can’t afford to spend $100 on sessions that don’t interest me.”  “Can I go to this great session?”  “If no one else wants to go I would love to be considered for that training session.” 

The ensuing discussions have left me with some comments to make about our professional learning that mesh nicely with this week’s #savmp topic:  Rethinking Staff PD.

Here are several illustrations to consider:

This past July I was able to participate in some really great session at the National Principal Leadership Institute (@NPLINYC) held in New York City.  I was inspired by the stories shared by Consuelo Kickbush (@consueloEAS); motivated by Cobb County Superintendent Michael Hinojosa; and educated by the Michael Fullan (@MichaelFullan1).  This Institute took ten of my precious summer holidays – not something that I part with easily!

Non-teaching employees in my current school have agreed to arrange their mandatory non-contact workdays to enable a critical mass of participants for me to arrange PD presentations for them.

This fall teachers in Manitoba have a province wide day of professional development (sorry to say the next line MTS friends) that no one appears greatly interested in…we are supporting the day by participating regardless.

The other day I caught a team of teachers on film…they were spending their lunch hour learning about new library software – on a Friday yet!

What drives us to want to attend PD?  What makes PD impactful?  Based on my experiences I think that there are several key factors at play:

1.     Passion drives us all.  When the topic or the presenter is one that is in sync with the staff member it doesn’t matter what the parameters are – they want to be there and will be engaged!  As the school administrator/PD planner a good practice is to enable as much staff choice as possible.  Canvas the team for their needs – their interests.  Stay away from random one off sessions; let staff deepen their understanding by having conversations, implementing new information in their classes and then reflecting together.    Watch as the team becomes more engaged and the professional development runs deep.

2.     Relevancy of the topic or presenter creates conditions for staff teams to willingly participate.  I have encountered staff members at PD sessions actually reading the newspaper (a paper copy at that) while the speaker was standing at the front of the room!  Not only is poor participation not courteous, it is unprofessional. The issue with that particular session was that many staff felt that they were ‘voluntold’ to be there.  They were not invested in the topic and felt that it was not going to add to their toolbox.  Professional development topics need to assist staff members ‘today’ with take-aways that they can use in their classrooms.  Avoid having PD for the sake of having PD or telling staff that they need a topic because it is the new thing.  Avoid bandwagons.  Put PD plans in place that address the goals and mission of the team as well as those of the school division.

3.     Value – If the staff has the time to give and the price is right, they are far more likely to buy in and participate in a PD session.  What are the costs that are associated with the PD?  Does it involve losing prep time?  Is there a financial cost to the session?  Will it happen during the school day, evening or weekend?  I know many dedicated teachers who feel that missing a day of instruction may be challenging for their students.  Sometimes the teacher may not recognize the benefit that taking a course/participating in a session brings to their classroom.  Have you explored implementing a PLC model for the school?  Are there built in systems for same grade discussions as well as vertical team dialogue?  By scheduling these types of PD sessions into the time table the school administrator is showing that they are important and that there is an inherent value placed on them. 

Finding the intersection of these three characteristics is an important task, although not always an easy one.     Listening to the team is the most important first step.

At Brooklands School, we have agreed as a team to work together on one main Professional Development topic: strengthening our students’ writing and reading.  Classroom teachers from K-5 are studying Regie Routman’s (@regieroutman) Transforming Our Teaching Through Writing for Audience and Purpose.  Teachers watch video clips on line and read assigned texts.  During the next 6 day cycle, they meet in their grade level PLCs to share and compare on their implementation. We then discuss together in our vertical team during a portion of the monthly staff meeting time.    

By working together to make this important professional development happen, teachers have offered to do some work on their own and I have provided time for them to discuss and reflect.  We have minimized administrative topics on staff meeting agendas using email to discuss and disseminate information.  This commitment and change in practice reflects relevancy and value to our teachers who are passionate about the growth and success of their students.


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