Saturday, February 22, 2014

Personal Professional Development vs Prescribed Professional Development

I think it's time that we (teachers, administrators, district officials...) completely reevaluate and overhaul our current approach to professional development. Unless my district is the exception to the rule our current professional development model is a mostly out-dated approach to teaching teachers based on what Sir Ken Robinson describes the "Factory Style" of education in general. Just as he laments that schools are killing creativity and that our entire educational system is not equipped for the challenges of the 21st Century I would contend that the same critiques could be levied against the way we currently teach and develop experienced teachers.

Currently my district's approach to professional development is largely top-down and prescribed. A set of district and building goals are developed, and then throughout the year various speakers, meetings, and workshops are carried out to help all teachers meet those goals. Very mass produced, very impersonal, very ineffective. Now, I must clarify for a moment - I do think it's important that districts set out goals that are important to meeting the needs and challenges of their students. However, the manner in which those goals cannot be tackled with a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach. Just as our students have unique abilities and needs, so to do our teachers.

With nearly limitless resources and tools readily available for teachers to access and utilize to meet their needs, why are we still taking this top-down prescribed approach to improving our teachers? Twitter and various blogs are obvious sources for professional growth - but at times those can be intimidating and overwhelming. However, there are also focused sites dedicated to professional development - TeachingChannel, YouPD,  and PD 360 to name a few. I can't vouch for all of these, or is it a tacit endorsement (TeachingChannel and YouPD, however, are free)...what I can say, with confidence, is that there is no need to approach our professional development in such a standardized way.

We know that students learn best when motivated and engaged in curriculum that captures their interest and that they find relevant. The same can be said for us as educators. Do I need to sit through yet another workshop on how to incorporate Google Docs or utilize technology in my lessons? Hardly. Am I an expert? Of course not, but I'm definitely more than capable in this realm and my time could be better served learning about something that I can improve in my teaching. We as teachers know our weaknesses, and if we don't we need to be surrounded by leaders that will help us isolate those weaknesses...but even more than that we need to be surrounded by leaders and peers that will help us improve on those weaknesses and improve our craft.

Our current model of professional development is standardized throughout our districts or our buildings. Not because it's best practice, but because it's neat, easy, and efficient. If we want out teachers to tackle the challenges of teaching learners who are not standard and who demand something more from their education, then we need to develop our teachers in a way that moves beyond the norm, beyond the standard. We need to innovate and change our professional development if we ever hope to have teachers who themselves will innovate and change their teaching.

An Air Horn and an Attitude Adjustment

As teachers we are all, to one extent or another, leaders with the opportunity to positively impact the lives of those around us. If you're like me, chances are you've always felt yourself to be a capable leader with a positive outlook on life. When you find yourself in a rut or down, you have the skills and abilities to change your perspective and get out of the funk you're mired in. Also, if you're like me, you sometimes find that you ignore all the skills you've learned over the years and keep trudging along surrounded by negativity, ignoring the voice in your head telling you to "snap out of it, change your perspective, and get back on track." 

The past few weeks I have found myself ignoring the voice telling me all the right things I needed to do and instead focusing on the negative. As far as negative complaints that teachers have, you name it and I was dwelling on it. It all came to a head last Tuesday when I had reached my breaking point. I typically try to avoid venting at lunch, but last Tuesday I made an exception and just vented/complained/whined/*******. With about seven minutes of our coveted 26 minute lunch remaining I found myself alone in the staff lounge. Everyone else left. Was my negativity so awful that I had driven my peers away - not wanting to eat lunch with a cantankerous companion? I started reflecting as I walked back to my class thinking that maybe I owed my peers an apology.

However, even more than a few minutes of reflection and contemplation about an apology, what changed my perspective was the eye-opening experience that I had when I returned to my classroom...take a moment and watch the video below...

After I gathered myself and realized that life as I knew it was in fact not coming to a swift demise I could do nothing but laugh...and watch myself and laugh some more. And share the video with family and friends...and laugh some more. Jody, the prankster in this video, is a good friend and a teacher that I greatly respect and admire...and occasionally prank myself. Once the feelings of sheer and utter terror waned I found myself just laughing. The laughter began to bring myself back and to shake the funk that I was in.

The next morning as I was working with the 8th grade WEB Leaders we began prepping them on a lesson that they would be teaching to 5th graders the following week. The title of the lesson? Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude. As I modeled the lesson to the students, everything that I was doing and saying resonated with me more and more. 

At the end of the day I was still confronted with concerns about students, parents, and much more. The factors contributing to the funk and stress that I was feeling hadn't changed, but my approach and feelings about them certainly had. The issues and concerns that were frustrating me to no end were now viewed as opportunities to have a positive impact, and not a burden. Not a single thing had changed, except for my approach and the lens through which I was viewing the world. As it turns out, all I really needed was an air horn scaring the bejesus out of me and a bit of laughter to bring back the positivity. It was the perfect reminder that my attitude and perspective is in my control, and that the way I view my challenges will greatly determine how I handle them.