If a friend told you that he was watching exercise TV shows each day before work, listening to healthy eating podcasts, and attending nutritional meetings at the local library; but he didn’t understand why he wasn’t seeing any changes in his weight, the way his clothes fit, or his body mass, you might think your friend was ludicrous. However, since he is a friend, you might ask him the following:
1) Is watching exercising shows, listening to podcasts, and attending meetings meaningful & relevant for you?
2) What goal did you set?
3) Were you actually doing the exercises and using the information to inform your diet and exercise?
4) What was working and not working? Are you making reasonable progress toward your goal?
5) Who are you sharing your progress with and are you receiving coaching and feedback on your progress?
Why would we think these questions make sense in this situation, but yet we aren’t using these same type of questions in our schools when determining if teachers are implementing the PD they receive?
As I read blog posts, journal articles, and tweets, I notice that there has been much discussion around the topic of Formal PD vs. Informal PD specifically related to EdCamps and Twitter. Due to characteristics that these alternative forms of learning provide such as flexibility, job-alike, relevancy, just-in time, the question that is often posed is whether Informal PD should replace Formal PD. Since I am a connected educator and a professional developer and have participated in both Informal PD and Formal PD, I have some thoughts about this idea. Whether it is teachers participating in Formal PD that is facilitated on site by internal folks or by an outside professional developer or whether it is a much more fluid approach where teachers participate in Edcamps or connect with others through social media platforms like blogs or twitter, five conditions remain constant for me.
In Shareski’s blog post, PD is not that complicated, he suggests to keep it simple: Learn something and share something. I agree with him; however, I would like to take it a step further and suggest that some type of action be taken along with reflection because I believe with these additional conditions, we would see an impact on teaching and learning. So the conditions that I believe should be present in either informal or formal PD settings would include:
1) meaningful and relevant content, 2) an expectation, 3) implementation (action), 4) sharing, and 5) reflection.
I believe in these components because I have seen them absent in both informal and formal settings and no results have occurred. As a participant of both types of PD, I can say that there are times when some or all of these conditions have been absent for me; thus no results occurred. I’ve also seen situations where these conditions were present and an impact on student learning happened.
How can educators create these conditions in either format so that the time, resources, and energy are used for a much bigger purpose than sharing and hoping change happens to intentionally having clear expectations for new behaviors and implementing the new behaviors. Isn’t this the purpose of teachers having individual professional learning plans just like educational experts say we need to have personalized learning for students?
Don’t we hear from educational experts that we need to personalize learning for students? Why wouldn’t this be something that we would want for the adults?
So a solution to this might include a teacher creating a PD proposal for his/her administrator that includes ways the teacher will show evidence of the aforementioned conditions all centered around the notion of improved student learning. In Iowa, teachers would use the Individual Professional Development Plans that is required to create the proposal. Expecting this level of accountability is what we also want for students which is to be self-directed in their learning. It is easier to be self-directed and build efficacy when learning is meaningful and relevant and a person is expected to make a change that he/she has identified as being needed. What do we have to lose by asking the questions above that could help move PD from just the what and so what to the now what (changes in teaching practices that improve student learning).