The Best (and Worst) PD of my Career

Last week, fellow teacher and blogger Sara got me thinking about all of the professional development I’ve attended over the past two decades. I’ve unironically been shown Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk about how schools kill creativity right before being asked to dig into state testing data, I’ve made a pinewood derby-type car out of vegetables that we rolled down a parking garage ramp, and I’ve helped build a raft made of only cardboard and duct tape. There have been skits and small group breakouts and truth lines and many deaths by Powerpoint. Every year, there’s a little something different and a lot of the same.

Today on the blog, let’s talk about the very worst and the very best of our PD experiences. If you’re a school administrator, take note. If you’re a teacher with seniority, send this link to your favorite administrator. If you’re a new teacher or just a big scaredy pants, print a copy and anonymously tuck it in your principal’s mailbox.

First, the worst:
Dr. X (a pseudonym) was an expert from an education college brought in to help us identify our poorest performing groups on our state’s standardized tests and give them the support they needed to increase their skills and scores. Sounded like a good idea, right? The problem was that Dr. X hadn’t ever taught in a 6-12 classroom and, as the morning wore on, she slowly revealed a surprising disdain for us. Micro-aggressions turned into barbs about teachers who dared to sometimes drink coffee or rest on a stool while they led class (the nerve!) turned into open hostility toward us by the end of the three-hour lecture. It was b-r-u-t-a-l.

Here’s a lesson I learned that day: You have to like the people that you’re trying to help. (By the way, this is true for us, too. If we want to be effective teachers, we have to actually like our students. And I mean really like them, not that fake-pretend-to-like-them-so-they’ll-cooperate thing. A lot of classroom management problems disappear when kids know that you genuinely like and respect them.) To Dr. X., teachers were the problem, the obstacle to work around.

As you can imagine, the lunch conversation with my friends was heated (what a way to start the year, right?) and someone asked how much the district had paid this woman. The answer, we were later told by a colleague who dug through the school board’s budget meeting notes, was $12,000, which included several more lectures and mid-year follow-ups the elementary folks were forced to endure.

The real shame is that a few of Dr. X’s ideas were actually pretty good. If we could have taken her work and been given the time to mould the materials to fit our kids, classroom culture, and teaching personalities, there could have been more growth for our underperforming kids. As it was, most of her handouts were discarded as teachers headed to their cars.

Now, the best:
I actually have two, if you’ll indulge me. First, without question, the greatest professional growth of my career has come from running this blog and offering materials at TeachersPayTeachers.com. If you want to grow, put your work online. The Jury of the Internet will quickly tell you what is good and what is not. Warning: You will get your feelings hurt, yet growth can come from that pain. After five years, I now realize that my critics are my allies because they’re (usually) raising valid issues; while their tone might be harsh, there’s probably a nugget of truth in their criticism that I need to hear.

On a practical level, the blog forces me to read, research, and reflect because if I’m going to post something, I better know what I’m talking about. And because of this, I’m much more willing to try new things, such as 20Time and Quarter Trios, two programs that have become cornerstones of my classroom.

My second PD win is something all schools can replicate nearly for free – EdCamp. Why spend the money to have a Dr. X sneer at us from an ivory tower when so many experts are sitting right there in the audience? EdCamp is a teacher-driven approach where we determine what we’ll learn or what problems we’ll solve that day. This earlier post describes my amazing experience at an EdCamp and you can learn more at EdCamp’s website. Basically, the staff decides the topics of the day and people choose whichever group is most appealing. Veteran teachers have experience and newer teachers have fresh eyes. If given the time, we could learn a lot from each other.

Click here for a video from Tracy Rosen explaining a bit more about how EdCamp works (the video’s less than a minute). And here’s my latest YouTube video with the same info. from this blog post:

Click here for last week’s post on fractured English dept. advice mentioned in the video.

What do you think? Am I just a dreamer or could teachers and staff be the ones to create the best professional development ever? Leave a comment below with your best and/or worst professional development experience. Let’s figure out what works!

Teach on, everyone.

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Sarah Ross-Koves
Sarah Ross-Koves
6 years ago

Spot on, Laura! This pretty sums up PD the schools makes us attend vs what I pick out for myself. It is such a shame that what is good for students isn’t good enough for teachers.

Laura Randazzo
6 years ago

Indeed, Sarah!

6 years ago

Yes! Our principals organized an edcamp this summer that was only open to our district. It was a huge hit! On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been talked at by not-so-well-meaning hired speakers as well and wasn’t impressed. Maybe they should let us pick our pd in the future. Just like with students, we’re much more engaged when we have a choice.

Laura Randazzo
6 years ago
Reply to  Krisanna

Amen, Krisanna! Sounds like you have an administrative team that gets it. Lucky, lucky! 🙂

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