In the past few weeks, I have been working on a number of presentations coming up for NBOA, NAIS, CAIS, ASB: Unplugged, and NCGE, and have been “booked” to speak at a number of conferences and workshops for this spring and summer. Working on the presentations got me thinking again about a post that Alex Inman had on his blog about “Plunk” PD:
We’ve all seen this. An administrator or teacher of influence sees a great session at a conference and says to themselves, “That is exactly the message that our school needs to hear! We totally need to do [that] or move in [that] direction!” Now, when the administrator or teacher of influence is thinking that, he or she almost certainly has several specific people in mind. They know those teachers who just don’t “get it.” They just don’t move in their teaching the way they should. “That speaker was so articulate,” they think, “if they just heard this message, this way, from this speaker, we’d be on the fast track to success!” They book the speaker. Everyone gathers during a professional day and the person who brought in the speaker sits proudly in the back of the room waiting for the magical transformation to occur.
Alex goes on to talk about how that “magical transformation” does not normally occur, but instead often helps to retrench the teacher who the message was supposed to reach. Thus, by “plunking” the speaker in front of the faculty, the administrators who have brought the speaker in have perhaps moved the needle a bit in their favor, but also have not impacted meaningful and lasting change simply by having the speaker there. As Alex concludes:
We all know that professional growth is a process. We should treat it like a focused and thoughtful process. Our teacher’s time is precious. We should avoid “plunking” someone in front of them. Make all of your PD for teachers part of something larger. Make sure they understand that larger goal. Be certain that you are meeting your teachers where they are. If not, you are wasting money, but worse, you are wasting time.
I think that Alex has a number of great points about the power (and lack thereof) that speakers have in the professional development at our schools. It seems to me that he may be foreshadowing a change in professional development that we have been seeing in the classrooms (and that many who read this posting have been advocating for): the change from a “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” pedagogical approach.
As anyone who teaches in a “guide on the side” manner knows, there is always some need for expert opinions, data, and facts. If this model is used for professional development, the opinions, data, and facts will come from the speaker, the summer reading book, the podcast, or the webinar.
However, as the “guide on the side” teacher also knows, even more important is the time for reflection, discussion, practice, trial, failure, and success. This is where we often fall short in our professional development at independent schools, as Alex notes his his posting.
I think that this is why we have found success at OSG with our professional model, too. Each of our classes has two weeks to dive into the world of expert opinion, data, and facts, followed by time for reflection and discussion on the material presented. But then in the last two weeks, it is followed by insistence that the teachers put the theory and materials into practice and then critique their “classmates” on their work.
This approach has worked well. More than 95% of participants this past year rated the course highly. And, when there were criticisms of the course, most often they were from teachers who wished that the information was simply presented to them and that they didn’t have to interact as much with peers— sound familiar: “Can’t you just tell me what I need to know for the test?”
I also think that there are some questions that administrators at our independent schools can ask themselves if they want to move to their school’s professional development model from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” (modeling the type of teaching that we would like to see in our classrooms):
- How are your faculty meetings conducted? Is a lot of time spent giving information to faculty— the upcoming calendar, announcements, presentations, etc.? Or is more time spent talking about student and classroom successes and challenges, and problem solving, and learning from each other?
- How do you allocate professional development money and encourage professional development activity? Is most of your money going to “one-off” conferences, trips, or workshops, or is it going to more in-depth, hands-on, and reflective professional development?
- Is professional development at your school directed toward the school’s strategic initiatives? Have the goals for professional development been clearly articulated and the vision for an outcome of the development clearly presented?
In the end, I think it gets to a simple question: “Our classrooms are changing… shouldn’t our classrooms for our teachers change, too?”