Teacher-Directed PD — #EdChat Summary: 3/6/12

Topic: With the need to leave comfort zones for relevant professional development to take effect, should teachers continue to control their own learning for PD?

This week’s #edchat was the third in recent memory about effective professional development in the education sphere. This seems to be a topic that teachers, administrators, and technology specialists alike are really fired up about. And I can understand why.

#Edchat is a special group. Those who participate in #edchat are the exception, not the norm. They are the stand-outs; the connected (and highly-motivated) leaders in their schools – even if they don’t know it. And they want to help the rest of their colleagues become exceptional too.

I realize that might sound elitist, but the truth is that some teachers are leaps and bounds better than others. In some cases, that’s simply a question of experience. In others, it’s burn-out or stress. Good PD can help with both, because good PD both teaches and energizes. I know that’s why a lot of #edchat participants come back each and every week.

Realistically, though, #edchat is not for everyone. Neither are conventions. Nor are online webinars. Different lessons, presented in different ways, will appeal to different people. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

The question is: how much autonomy can and should we allow teachers in directing, choosing, and pursuing their own professional development? What’s the optimal mix of empowerment and guidance?

While I will freely admit that I don’t have any hands-on experience with this, I think there are two things that we should be working on implementing in schools right now. They are…

1) A teacher PD “curriculum,” with requirements placed on subjects that all teachers must explore, but options left open for how they learn about them. This should be developed by representative teachers, administrators, and tech specialists for each district. I am hesitant to go any broader than that, because we know how disjointed decision-making becomes the higher it goes.

2) Teacher authorities in every niche of professional development that can mentor teachers learning specifically about that subject. Example: there can be a resident social media guru to help guide teachers towards better use/implementation of social media into their classroom practices. Or a wiki-building specialist to help other teachers start using wikis with their students. The bottom line is that we need some other “go-tos” in schools. Dozens of teachers, one or two tech specialists, and a single principal just doesn’t work. It takes too long for change to be made in a system like that.

But those are just my own hare-brained ideas. I would love to hear yours!


If you’re interested in reading summaries of the previous two discussions, here’s a link to the more recent one about providing relevant PD in schools/districts and here’s a link to the one from last November about EdCamps and TeachMeets. Enjoy!

Main themes from the discussion:

  • Again: traditional PD is often either non-existent or totally ineffective. What discussion of PD would be complete without a healthy dose of complaints about how bad the current offerings are? Common complaints: it’s boring, it’s irrelevant, there’s no follow-up, it’s completely rigid and inflexible, and it’s been cut from the budget. The teachers that are pursuing their own PD often aren’t recognized and in some cases may even be penalized for it. Meanwhile, those that just go through the system seem to be rewarded. Clearly, we are placing our emphasis on the wrong things. And that needs to change if we want education to change.
  • We don’t seem to apply the same lessons of education to teaching teachers. This has two very important implications.
    • Implication number one: We seem to forget that crowding a whole bunch of people into a room and talking at them for a couple hours isn’t the best way to get your point across. I guess we assume that, since they’re teachers, they’ll fill in the gaps on their own. But most don’t because they’re tired and overworked as it is. David Wees rightly wonders: what does it say about an education system when the teachers are too burnt-out to learn?
    • Implication number two: We are not following up with teachers the way we follow up with students. In fact, it seems like we’re often just winging the entire process. When teaching students, we first lay out a broad plan of what we want them to learn. Then we make lesson plans for how they’re going to learn it. Then we teach it to them, often reinforcing the lesson with homework. Finally, we test them on it to make sure it all stuck. Do we do any of that with the stuff we want teachers to learn?
  • We need to simultaneously broaden what we accept as PD and narrow the focus of the PD that some teachers pursue. I find it amazing that #edchat isn’t considered viable PD in every school district around the world. I’m not even a teacher, but I learn so much from #edchat that I’m actually considering becoming one just so I can use some of these ideas! If that’s not good PD then I don’t know what is. But, lest we forget: “Different strokes for different folks.” Not everyone is going to be an #edchat type, and that’s okay. The point is, we need to help all teachers find the way they learn best and encourage/challenge them to push the boundaries. This means tightening certain requirements that have allowed teachers to not really do anything (but still technically satisfy the requirements) while simultaneously recognizing some “unofficial” but nonetheless valuable PD channels.

My favorite tweets from the discussion:

tomwhitby Teachers selecting to choose a path of PD that isn’t relevant to education is always a problem. Too many things are considered PD.

juliawilson89 Teachers should design and run their PD and  schools should fully support them. Lack of school support is preventing the best PD.

CTuckerEnglish Those educators using social media like Twitter should be recognized for seeking out learning opportunities. Often social media is not recognized PD.

cybraryman1 Yes, PD is important but it does not have to be expensive as there is so much available from webinars etc. for free

tomwhitby Admin comfort zones may be even more of an obstacle to reform in Education. Many admins view PD for teachers only!

cybraryman1 How many times have you left a mandated PD session and could not use anything you heard with your students?

teacherdebra Has anyone ever asked where the districts get their topics for PD? Do they come from mandates, their needs, or what they perceive as teacher needs?

rickarcher1959 The biggest problems with PD, in my opinion, is the lack of time to follow-up and lack of funding.

sanmccarron Admin should look at PD as “what will help our students?” rather than “what is the latest edtech thingy?”.

cdsmeaton People would rather do the wrong thing competently than the right thing incompetently. Remember that when asking for change.

tomwhitby Teachers must be supported with PD and not bludgeoned with it. But there must be a path or a plan from the leadership.

RabbiRoss We still need some quality control on teacher-led workshops. Presenting is a skill as well!

vpigreenie  Big fan of the train-the trainer model: train a few, they then become the experts in house to support and model the best practices.

jlubinsky We are finding that with our budget cuts, using a cohort of motivated learners has helped to bridge the gap.

tomwhitby Teachers need some direction for PD if we are planning relevant development to coincide with where we want schools to go.

A couple resources tweeted during the discussion:

NikkiDRobertson I use Coffee Chats to lure teachers into my new tech PD lair..donuts, coffee, and light friendly conversation. My teachers love it! Example: http://t.co/ekKobN8E

mbteach Here is my obligatory @EdcampBoard tweet for this afternoon’s #edchat: http://t.co/vrnjdWpc

cybraryman1 Please listen to recording of the Connected Superintendents webinar:  http://t.co/CCnfx35Y We need more leaders like these.


To follow the complete discussion, look for the full archive here.  They’re usually posted up by the end of the week.

Looking to discuss #edtech in depth? Check out the LinkedIn group: Edutech Trends, Visions, Passions.

New to #EdChat?

If you have never participated in an #Edchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Tuesday on Twitter.  Over 400 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #edchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out these posts:

More Edchat


If you’re new to hashtag discussions, then just show up on Twitter on any Tuesday and add just a few tweets on the topic with the hashtag #edchat.

What do you think? Leave a comment! We would love to hear from you.

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