I would venture to say that the one thing that most educators would agree on is that most professional development activities are a waste of time. Boring presenters, along with irrelevant materials and topics are common complaints. I understand that planning and providing quality professional development is not an easy task. It’s a task I don’t want, which is not good since that’s part of my job. Anytime you get a room full of teachers together, you have a wide range of needs and interests – even if they all teach the same grade level or the same subject. There are the veteran teachers who want to learn something new, and there are the beginning teachers who are struggling to survive. It is truly rare to attend a professional development meeting or activity that is both practical and beneficial. Yet each year school districts require a certain number of PD days for teachers. Most teachers are still refining the skill of determining – prior to attending – which offerings will be applicable and interesting and which won’t.
Last Friday I attended a day of professional development that met the 4-part criteria of being challenging, helpful, applicable and engaging. It was our monthly meeting of the district’s reading specialists. There are about twenty of us in the group. At last month’s meeting, we each wrote a question that we needed answered in order to do a better job as reading specialists. After we shared our questions with each other, we put the similar questions together and came up with a total of four questions which were then written on the board.
Then we wrote our names beside the one question that we were most interested in – thus forming our “action research teams.” On Friday we spent the afternoon with our teams researching our questions. Our goal is to have answers to our questions and the research to back up our answers by the end of the school year. We will then share the information with the other teams.
It sounds simple. Maybe that’s why it worked so well. It was one of the most productive meetings I’ve ever attended, and here’s why:
(1) The questions were generated by the people involved.
(2) The questions (goals) were important to the people involved.
(3) Committee time was spent researching answers to the questions. We didn’t spend our time talking about how to find answers. We spent our time finding answers.
I actually enjoyed the afternoon when we met with our action groups and researched our question. My group met in the curriculum director’s office. She was out for the day and meeting there was her idea. There we had access to her computer for internet research, along with a wealth of books and journals for other research.
At the end of the day, I felt we were well on our way to a solid answer – one that was concrete and would be helpful not only for our group but for the other reading specialists as well.
Would the same plan work with other groups? It depends on the groups’ needs. It’s a good idea, though. Just imagine! Professional development that is challenging, helpful, applicable and engaging! Wow!