Debate Opinions

Raising the “bar” on professional development

It is probably safe to say that few teachers get excited over district-provided professional development. While PD is often pitched as an opportunity for educators to receive training on classroom teaching and management strategies, it rarely evolves into anything other than a long day of listening to a speaker share information that rarely influences or inspires change. Perhaps that is why some educational leaders are encouraging schools to adopt the “BarCamp” conference model, which forgoes planned agendas and relies on its attendees to present and facilitate discussions. The differences between both of these types of professional development couldn’t be more obvious.


The PD that teachers attended on November 1 was typical of what most school districts offer their employees. The day began with teachers gathering in our cold, dimly lit gymnasium. We were soon introduced to Maria Grant, an associate professor at California State University, who would speak about formative assessments, gradual release of student responsibility, and close reading strategies. Her presentation began with a PowerPoint slide that showed most teachers spend 47 percent of class time lecturing, rather than giving students more time to work together and engage in discussions.

Unfortunately, the point was lost as nearly 1 1/2 hours passed before our staff was asked to take part in its first small-group discussion. For the day, Grant spoke for 260 of the 390 total minutes of professional development. In other words, she lectured for 66 percent of the time. The problem wasn’t that the information she shared wasn’t important: after all, teachers should be formatively assessing their students, encouraging student responsibility, and teaching strategies to help students become better readers. The problem lied in the fact that most teachers weren’t engaged in the content (check out that doodle pictured above), because it wasn’t made relevant to their specific classes, and they were allowed little time to participate in the discussion (please leave any thoughts or opinions about staff professionalism–or lack thereof–in the comments).

edcamp-boardContrast this to EdCampGR, the Kent Intermediate School District’s third “unconference,” which was offered free to current and future teachers on November 2. The day began with a short meeting to explain the rules: all sessions would be suited to fit the needs of those in attendance, because we were the people responsible for choosing, presenting, and facilitating those sessions. If we had an idea for a session, we would fill out a note card and post it on a board that showed only available session times and meeting locations. We were also reminded of the most important rule of EdCamp: vote with your feet. If a session wasn’t pertinent to your needs, you should leave and attend another session.

From there, we strolled into the foyer to view the session board. After taking a look at the available sessions (and signing up for one that I would facilitate myself), I joined a group of educators to discuss how we can manage our online presence. From there, I facilitated a discussion about why students should be allowed to bring their personal electronic devices into the classroom. Following an EdCamp-provided lunch (props go out to our Tri County kitchen staff who provided far-superior grub), I attended sessions on InfuseLearning (a web site that allows teachers to create online assessments) and student blogging. I left each session excited and thinking about how I could apply that knowledge in my classes on Monday. It was obvious that most teachers felt similarly, as they gave a rousing ovation in our post-session wrap-up when asked if the KISD should host another EdCamp next year.

It would be unfair to label all district provided professional development as tedious and ineffective. In fact, our district has provided excellent training in Capturing Kids’ Hearts and Adaptive Schools. Perhaps it’s just that there is a greater opportunity for engagement and professional growth if teachers are allowed to choose the type of training that would benefit them most, something an EdCamp offers. In a profession where we often speak of the importance of differentiation, maybe administrators should consider how this might also benefit their teachers the next time they plan for professional development.

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