Here is a PD model that informs the way we have chosen to spend out time on PD days:
Professional Development (PD) has changed in the last 15 years. Before pervasive email, a comprehensive internet, and widespread social media, PD happened in trickles throughout the year and with singular emphasis on designated days. These PD days were one of the few times when teachers “received” PD in the form of a workshop, presentation, or group conversation. They tended to be “high-stakes” in the sense that there were few other formal opportunities for teachers to orient themselves to the new ideas that circulated in the education world. Now, for better or worse, we are saturated in educational ideas, competing paradigms, “must-read” professional articles, layers of jargon (each one “scaffolding” the next) and cures for what ails us in education — professional learning materials, ideas, and networks are available 24/7
Much of the buzz has been facilitated by technology and the mobile devices that few of us are far from. A brief foray into educational hashtags on Twitter reveals a river of PD that teachers can draw from sparingly or jump in with both feet. Thousands of BC educators contribute daily; it is hard not to be humbled by the sheer volume of earnest inquiry. In many of our schools we have built in collaborative time or similar structures and release grants to continue the learning that used to take place in hallways been class. The last few years has also seen the rise of EdCamps, Open Space, and Unconferencing — all of which are recognition that teachers want to compare notes and challenge or support each other far more than they want to be passive recipients of expert conclusions, no matter how brilliant. These trends also speak to the power of informal learning. There is also growing reluctance to spend our PD time alone — we get enough isolation from adults in our daily teaching, and social media leaves us craving something more embodied.
As we adjust to the ubiquitous nature of PD, it becomes more important that official PD days offer these opportunities to unpack or take stock of recent learning, to mull over and reflect on what this means for coming months, and to fuse or synthesize the ideas in the room into something useful or inspirational. For those whom professional learning is a life-long habit, particularly the ones who have made the digital PD leap and are rarely unconnected from other educators, there is an awareness that formal PD time isn’t about taking in new information or having PD “done to you.” Whether our five PD days each school year are spent as individual teacher inquiry or a co-creative process among colleagues, the customs are undergoing a significant shift and our administrative leaders, our teacher leaders and associations, need to change the way we frame, organize, and seek accountability for out PD time. PD days are the teachers’ assessment time for the professional learning that happens all year — a chance to unpack, to mull, and to fuse.