I Wanted To Blow Up PD

explosionExplosion | Flickr – Photo Sharing!Andrew Kuznetsov Attribution 2.0 Generic / CC BY 2.0

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***




I owe so much to the people I have connected with. I am sure you feel the same way. Whether face to face or virtually, I have been able to connect and work with brilliant people who have challenged me and opened my eyes up to so many possibilities and exciting ways to move my practice forward. I wonder sometimes just how different my career, and life for that matter, would have been if I wasn’t able to make those connections.

I have seen blog posts about why we should use twitter, or why we should blog, why we should join google communities or even why we should join/create a PLC. I am pretty sure they all share the same answer when we get down to the root of it – to make connections. I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. Connecting with other educators opens us up to new ideas and perspectives, it gives you a sounding board for your thoughts and often a cheerleader when you are nervous to take a risk.

So we know we should seek out beneficial connections and we know that there are tools to do so, but my question is how many school leaders are looking to facilitate this in their buildings? In their division? We show something is important to us when we dedicate time to it, so if you are in charge of PD for your staff and this is something you deem valuable, then you probably need to be dedicating time to make it happen. So working from your building out, why not take the following steps to help your staff make meaningful connections.

1. Connect in your building: In our building our teachers work on grade level teams and have time embedded into their schedules to work and plan together, but this doesn’t give them time to connect with others in the building and see or hear about all the wonderful work they are doing. So why not book a sub for a day and cover teachers to get them out and about, or maybe cover their class if you have the time. Another great activity we did was Speed Dating (Thanks to Scott Johnston) where we had groups on a PD day move around and connect with every other group in the building to share exciting lessons and activities with each other. Connecting in our own building is something we take for granted and can be a valuable resource.

2. Connect in your division: We have joked in our building about how we are so willing to spend thousands of dollars sending educators to conferences all over the world, but we don’t book a sub and send a teacher down the road to the other middle school. I am so lucky to work in Parkland School Division, there are so many people I have had the chance to learn from (George Couros, Travis McNaughton, Kelli Holden etc.) and with. These connections are key to me and my learning not only because they are brilliant people, but also because they work in the same area and understand our community and our kids better than someone would outside of our area. Being able to bounce ideas off someone who knows the demographic, the perspectives and attitudes in our community is invaluable. Find ways for your staff to get into other buildings in your area, and you will probably see projects and ideas grow between buildings and across the division.

3. Connect with the world: The tools for this are numerous (Twitter, Google +, Facebook), and in your building you have people who work well with these tools. We can talk about how important this is until we are blue in the face but until we model it’s use and provide time for people to learn how to use the tools, we really aren’t backing up our words. An afternoon of PD spent setting up teachers on Twitter or Google + and introducing them to Twitter lists or Google Communities/Hangouts shows that not only is this something we believe is important, but it is so important we will dedicate this time to get the ball rolling.

I am always bothered when we talk about something as “important” but the session to learn about it is after school. We encourage people to connect on their own time, but that makes connecting pretty much optional, or at least that might be how people take it. We want people to believe in the power of connections, and the best way to do this is to bend over backwards to help make it happen for them.

If it’s Good For Kids

Draft Week

At different times over the past three years, I have written posts, or started to write posts, and for some reason I haven’t been able to work some of them out. For one reason or another, the idea wasn’t finished or at least not at the level where I felt it was good enough to publish. I have recently had the desire to go back and finish some of those posts, so this week, I am going to finish 5 posts that have been sitting in my draft folder for a while, in some cases, over two years. I picked five that I wanted to finish, maybe not the best, but ones that I needed to work out and take the time to finish because they meant something to me. Today’s post was originally written on June 14th, 2013, and ventures into a topic I believe will become an area of interest for me, professional development. All week, whatever I had written will be in italics and then I will add to the post to finish it. Kathy Melton is joining me in this week long return to posts we never finished, her blog can be found here.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Penn State

We have been bouncing around a lot of ideas about change and innovation in education this year, and having great conversations about where we might go next. I find that there come times in conversations about education where we lose our steam and we come to a lull. I also find that the best way to invigorate the conversation, if you haven’t already done so, is to ask what would the students say about the topic? Sometimes we forget that what we are doing has a lot to do with our students, and considering their thoughts about what we are doing is vital.

As we plan for our Educator Innovation Day, I have been thinking about applying the same desire for change and innovation we have for our students education to our own learning. Collaboration, Choice and Flexibility are words that come up as we brainstorm ways to change education, maybe these are key to changing professional development as well. 

What can I say, it was June and I got busy. So this is where I will continue…

What I hope to see in professional development is that we practice what we preach. We need to help make the learning personally meaningful, connected to a wide and authentic audience, and flexible in its delivery and setting. We want to be supportive of risk taking, and motivators of active research from our staff. We should be modelling these aspects of learning and sharing in our own professional development as well.

If it’s good for kids, it’s good for us, because learning is learning. I believe that when we get together as professionals to talk about where education should go, we should always consider what students would say about it. I also believe that when we come across a great learning experience that our students are participating in we should also ask how we could apply that to our professional learning. Is this a valid point? Can we apply the way our students learn best to our own learning? What are your thoughts?

These Are Not Optional

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Enokson

Maybe its the fact I have had the misfortune of contracting shingles during the busiest month of school, or maybe its the fact it has forced me to cancel a trip home to see my family or maybe its just because I am grumpy, but this post is almost writing itself.

I worry that because you are reading this, a blog, and you probably found the link from Twitter, that I am preaching to the converted so do me a favor and share this with someone NOT connected.

I feel inspired to do a little venting about areas of our profession that I feel are simply no longer optional. Whether at the school, district or provincial/state level, I feel we are not doing enough to push that these are now a mandatory part of our jobs, not because an act, law or contract deems them to be, but because we are professionals that are supposed to do what’s right for our students.

1. Change

We live in a world that is changing at such a rapid pace, predicting what next year will look like  is starting to get very difficult, let alone 12 years into the future of our eager little Gr. 1 students. The world is changing, and we are supposed to be preparing students for their world. So, if the world is changing, so should our practices of preparation for this world and thus our teaching. Constantly. For the rest of our careers, or until the world stops changing – don’t hold your breath.

2. Learn

Maybe there was a time that the school of thought was that you go to school to learn all you need to teach in four years, then you spend 35 years spewing that knowledge until you jump on the pension pony and ride off into the sunset. Being the expert on a topic is becoming less and less prevalent, and our system is now in need of professional learners. Educators who model learning, inspire learning, embrace learning and challenge students to learn. And it doesn’t have to be learning about science if you are a science teacher, our students just need to see a successful adult show them that learning is exciting, engaging and empowering. Are you learning the guitar? SHARE that with your science students. Learning how to mountain bike? TALK to your students about the experience, especially the parts you found tough and the failures you had to deal with and overcome. “What are you learning about now?” – that is a question every teacher should have an answer to.

3. Connect

This one really gets to me. There are leaders of education who dismiss this idea very quickly. Then there are those that make excuses for those who are not connecting – “not everyone is tech savvy…” and “lots of people don’t have the time…”. Take Twitter or even the words “Social Media” out of the sentence and replace it with “resource”.

There is a RESOURCE that will allow our educators to connect with other educators all over the globe, share best practices, learning experiences, connect their classrooms and move the profession forward. It will allow great ideas to spread and allow us to take control of our own professional development without having to travel anywhere, it can all occur from our couches.

What excuse is there for not using this “resource”. Aren’t we supposed to be engaging in professional learning throughout the year? Dedicating time to ensuring our practice stays effective and current? I am having trouble seeing much in the way of a counter-argument on this one. You should get connected, be connected and stay connected. You should learn from and share with educators in your own schools, of course, but you should also learn from other educators outside your building, district, state/province and country. We want our students to have a better understanding of their world by learning about the world beyond their cities and towns, shouldn’t we as educators learn from and share with educators from outside as well?

4. Relax 

No one is paying you to herd cattle, or to scare or intimidate your students, even if they think they are. Those days are long gone, and now we know that we need a student who feels safe, secure, comfortable, engaged and challenged if we are going to do our best work and see those students do theirs’. If your classroom management plan requires you to tower over and yell at your students to induce fear-based compliance, then you probably aren’t going to see the best in your kids. You don’t need to overpower and really you don’t even have to control, you just have to protect – you have to protect the environment to create a place all students can learn. I have the pleasure of walking around our school most days and see this in action, and what I don’t hear anymore (I haven’t heard it in years) is yelling, belittling, or the recognizable language of the classic “power trip”. The great teachers, at least the ones I get to see on a regular basis, are able to get everything they want out of their classroom with simple tricks like 1-on-1 conversations, humour and care.


While my previous post was about what I wanted to tell graduating education students about to enter our profession, I would say this post is written as a tool for professional check-up. For me, these are non-negotiable’s, badges we should already have earned that we showcase on a daily basis. If you don’t feel these describe you, ask yourself if they are important to you the way they are to me. If they are, make them goals to strive towards, if they aren’t, develop your own list of non-optional traits you believe should embody your teaching and use those as a check-up.

If we are to move forward then we need to be checking in on how we are doing with that progress,  individually and as a group. Find whatever measurement you want for your own teaching and then periodically take stock on how you are doing. I have no doubt that the simple act of reflection will go a long ways to ensure you keep moving your practice in the right direction.