I remember way back when I got angry at a professional learning event. It felt like administration had layered professional learning and a consultant on top of our already-full schedules without talking to us, asking us what we needed, and working with us. So when the consultant came and provided the professional learning, she also didn't know us, understand what we needed, or was able to work with us in the sensitive, responsive way I desired. I was angry as I felt voice-less, choice-less, and disrespected. It felt like the administrator chose this professional learning venue because it was much easier to make a phone call and hire the professional development provider than to make the time to talk with the many educators at school about what they needed to strengthen their practice.
I've seen situations like the one above play out many times in my tenure, and generally hiring outside consultants without any real time to connect with the staff about what they need and why they need it results in less long term gains than possible. This kind of professional learning seems disrespectful to educators who work with students everyday, and can anger teachers who continually work hard to hone their craft and do better. Instead, I believe, that administrators should work with educators to look deeply at what is going well and what is needed more.
The experience at top came full circle today, however, when I ordered a book written by the consultant who came to our school so many years ago. When she came, the professional learning seemed layered on by administrators without our voice or choice, yet when I ordered the book today, I knew the book would have answers to a question I am now asking to improve my practice, a question I am deeply interested in when it comes to empowering and engaging my young mathematicians in meaningful dialogue and learning. I also know that this consultant has had a wealth of experience and engaged in significant research on the topic so she is writing from a place of expertise. One could argue that the administrators who hired this consultant many years ago, opened the door for me to her practice, knowledge, and skill, but I hold that the experience would have been much more meaningful and beneficial if it started with the educators' questions, needs, and desires, not just with an administrator's ideas of what educators need.
I continue to be a fan of professional learning that is born out of the learning team's questions, observations, research, needs, and interests. Questions such as what are we doing well and what do we want to do better should lead us through analysis with a broad set of informal and formal data points and research too. Our analysis should result in team recommendations for what we need by way of professional learning, materials, and support to do better for all students. Rather than layering professional learning on top of what educators already do or need, this professional learning should be a result of educator-administrator-student-family-community discussions and decision making.
While there was some learning when the consultant first worked with us and that event did open my eyes to who this consultant was and what she could do, reading the book will serve me better as the book will directly respond to my current questions and research about how to embed the math practices better into the everyday math program. I am ready for this read to meet a primary teaching goal of mine which is to deepen the math learning in ways that help every child learn with engagement and success.
What are your learning needs, desires, questions, and goals?
What kind of professional learning will help you to be a better practitioner?
How can you impact the professional learning choices made for you and the learning teams you belong too? What vehicles exist for analysis, shared discussion, debate, and decision making?
Where I teach, much of this is in place. We have weekly PLCs and student service meetings with the larger team to discuss what's important and do some analysis of the work we do. We have parent and student meetings too. Further, sometimes we are asked about what's important to us related to professional learning, and there are dollars set aside to support attendance at conferences and courses to develop our craft.
I think there's room to develop the way we analyze what we do with greater depth, and I believe there is room for us to help one another more with our needs. To get to these new places, we have to build a more trusting, less hierarchical teaching/learning community, one where we coach each other with the collective goal of improving the teaching/learning for all students in collaborative, positive ways. I've written about a possible model for this kind of work--one we've yet to discuss or debate in earnest. In the meantime, I'm happy that our community is finding ways to elevate educator voice, choice, and collaboration. I'm also happy that there's been some efforts to build a more trusting, honest, authentic, and collaborative culture--one where educators' voices are honored, and debate, discussion, and greater analyses are embraced. As always there is room for growth and correction to errors made, but I believe that overall we are moving in the right direction in this regard.