Tekapo Retreat: Day Two and Three / What makes effective PD?

We started day two with a bit of a review of day one and then moved straight into our second unconference. I was involved in a couple of interesting discussions around BYOD, tablets (follow up post coming on this) and developing a personal learning network (using rss feeds and twitter).  Once again it was great to see the hum around the room.  Many of these teachers are hungry to share and learn off others, which is what we need to develop in all our teachers, but is often so difficult to develop.

The afternoon session was led by Trevor and focused on how we will approach the development of communities of practice across the cluster and beyond. This discussion led into the last day as well, with some very interesting results. To give this a bit of background, last year we broadened the scope of the Regional cluster by funding events for leadership and supporting the development of communities of practice (COPs). We only really had four working COPSs by the end of the year and we used the project teachers (who are the focus of the retreat) to plan what they would do with the money if they were in our position. What came back, is maybe that isn’t the best way to use the money. As a result of this discussion we are likely to use groups of the project teachers to support professional development across all our schools. More to come that.

This leads into the issue of what makes good professional development. It certainly isn’t the whole school, one size fits all approach that has been prevalent for many years. Derek Wenmoth shared an interesting post on this recently which you can read here, but I have also quoted a section below

A recent paper from the McKinsey foundation reinforces the view that we need to break the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers. They studied a range of school systems at the national, state, and local levels, as well as other leading educational institutions and public- and private-sector organizations, highlighting five promising ideas that were identified from the studies:

  1. Base the PD program on a vision of effective teaching;
  2. Segment teachers and deliver PD strategically;
  3. Make coaching the centerpiece of PD;
  4. Move from “push” to “pull,” so that teachers get what they want, when they want it; and
  5. Only offer PD with demonstrated impact.

The paper itself is full of a very American view of education with plenty of reference to rubrics and measurement, but at the heart of these five points are very true.   What I would challenge is that PD doesn’t have to be entirely school focused.  What about a vision for professional learning that runs across schools?  And for me the absolutely best PD for teachers is to give them the opportunity to connect with other teachers in a sustainable and focused fashion.  Too often we bring so-called experts in to take teachers through very mechanical how to sessions, when the school (or cluster) already has the capacity to do this itself.  How about teachers adopting an action research approach where they take responsibility for their own learning – much as we encourage our students to really.  How much of professional learning is about developing a disposition to learn among our teachers (because some don’t you know)?  How do you develop this?  Well, certainly not through treating them as receivers of PD.

And just to finish up, have a watch of this TED talk that was shown at the retreat.  It’s good stuff.

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