Sometimes I get a little too big for my britches. I get excited about an idea, and I think everyone should be as excited as I am. I am glad that I have people in my life that are there to help me see the big picture and can bring me back to reality quickly.
Ever since we ran Educator Innovation Day this past August, I have been excited about the idea of trying different ways to change how we engage in Professional Development. Previous experiences in Ed Camp models and conversation-driven conferences like ConnectEd Canada have really opened my eyes to PD that is more self directed and participant driven. I held a firm belief that this was the future of Professional Development and I wondered why we weren’t overhauling everything.
My principal, Carolyn Cameron (follow her on twitter and read her blog), is someone who helps me dream big but also reminds me to keep my feet on the ground. As principal of Greystone Centennial Middle School, she plays a key role in the planning and facilitating of professional development activities for our staff. When I joined Greystone, I was quickly amazed at how different PD days were there. The day was filled with conversations and activities rooted in the school vision but always pushing practice and improving the education of our students. I was used to heavy sighs and occasional apathy on PD days, but I found myself engaged in deep and meaningful conversations with my co-workers and leaving each PD day feeling like we made the most of the time spent together. Carolyn, along with her school design team (That’s a whole other post), have found a way to maximize the effectiveness of PD days, and within the traditional timing and framework, they make it work, and work well. This made her the perfect person to discuss the idea of blowing up PD with.
My belief is that with the self-directed models of Professional Development, we push educators into a place of risk taking and engaged learning. Teachers will need to venture beyond their comfort zones to develop their skills and abilities, but will be doing so in areas they are passionate about. They can develop solutions to problems that exist in their daily practice, and in doing so address the needs of their students, the ones they know best. Big ideas can turn into innovative new practices with action research and collaboration with colleagues when educators are given the freedom to explore.
When I asked Carolyn about PD, she reminded me of a key idea that my thinking was missing. Carolyn talked about how they had experimented with more self directed PD activities in the past but that they hadn’t always worked as well as they had hoped. The big component that was missing was the idea of accountability. When we sit in a room now with our whole staff, our PD activities are always connected to our school’s vision, we work together with our teaching teams and the work we do is always meant to impact our practice in our building with our students as soon as the next school day. Carolyn agreed that there was great potential in self directed professional development, but that it needed accountability built in to it.
As so often is the case when I get rolling and excited, I had missed a very important component. Accountability. Not in the sense that we need there to be “homework checks”, but that there needs to be accountability to follow through, and when you work together with your colleagues there usually is. When I sat and thought about our Educator Innovation Day, I realized I hadn’t done anything to try and help push for follow through. No check in months later, no twitter hashtag to keep the conversation going, not even an email to see how people were doing. How could I not have seen that?
When it came to my own project for Educator Innovation Day, I had all the follow through measures in place. I had developed an option class about Entrepreneurship with my good friend Travis McNaughton and implemented it in November. Because we would be implementing the course in his school and my school, and our students would connect and share with each other, we had every reason to make sure we made the course a reality. When Carolyn and I talked about the day, she was willing to admit that there hadn’t been a lot of follow through on her project. This of course just confirmed for me that she was right.
Now this doesn’t mean we should scrap self-directed professional development, of course not. Ed Camps and Educator Innovation Days still have amazing value. Even if a project or activity doesn’t go beyond that day, directing your own learning, taking risks and confronting traditional practices are all important exercises. We need to practice thinking of education in different ways, and challenging our assumptions to make sure we are always doing the best we can for our students. But I do believe, with a little bit of purposeful planning and support, these PD models can have all the benefit and the accountability they need to push our development further.
I wanted to blow up PD, but I needed to be reminded that you don’t have to blow something up to improve it. Carolyn has shown me that the way we have done PD can push practice and help create a great education for our students when done correctly. She has also shown me that no matter what the model is, it needs to have the chance to take root and to live inside our classrooms and schools. So rather than blow anything up, I think I’ll just try to spin it another way, no explosions necessary.
***Stay tuned for our next Educator Innovation Day, which will take place this May***