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Virginia Journal of Education


Time Well Spent


Creating teacher-led professional development.


By Jozette Martinez

We rush through another Tuesday, with a modified schedule, where students are released at 1:30 p.m. and teachers prepare for the next “tool” to add to the proverbial “tool belt,” and already I have a headache.

I should be happy. At least professional development is being held during the school day this year. We aren’t getting cancellation notices on Outlook every other week. Oh no! We meet, whether we need to or not, because if we don’t, “it would be a disservice to the parents who accommodate for the early release of their children.” 

Administrators means well. They get pressure from above to “carve out the time and hold those teachers accountable to attend.” Our administrators believe that PD time is important. Here’s the problem: we have a mixed group of seasoned and brand-new teachers. Some of them were born to teach, while others stay for the time off in the summer. Some join everything, take on coaching positions, set up student clubs. Others enjoy getting a chance to leave work before it gets dark. There are varying degrees of commitment and skill. 

I do believe teachers are born and not made.

Just like our classrooms, where the needs of our students vary greatly from student to student, so do the needs of teachers. We are expected to differentiate our instruction when teaching. So, then, it is only fitting and necessary to differentiate the needs of our teachers when it comes to professional development. 

I’ve never been a fan of one-size-fits-all. I’m not even a fan of one-size-fits-most. Without differentiation, professional learning starts looking more like mandated compliance than true development. Seasoned teachers often sit in PD that covers the most basic teaching strategy. I’ve found myself on more than one occasion wanting to scream at the top of my lungs “Hey! I’ve had that tool in my tool belt for, like, ever! Why am I here?”

I’ve voiced my concerns, only to be answered with, “Now, now, even if we learn one new thing, it’s worth it.” I wonder how well that would go over if I said that to the parents of my students who are ahead?
Something has to change. I’m talking about something drastic...

How about the “new and improved Many-Sizes-Accommodate-All Method?” In collaboration with several other seasoned teachers, a few colleagues and I took our own time after working hours to develop a PD system that could actually work. It started with the essential question, “What could teacher PD look like if it were differentiated and led by teachers who were experts in that content area?” It would take a simple glance at the teachers’ observations to see where they stood out, and then they would be given time to create PD around that content. 

For example, one colleague is exceptional at providing effective Content Language Objectives, something that, as a district, we have to post daily. She writes them so students can understand what we are going to do today, what we are going to do it to, and what supports we will use to do it.  This format might look something like this:

What are we going to do today? We are going to practice keyboarding without the monitor turned on, to practice not looking at our hands and focus on our text copy.

We are going to do that to the text on page 117, “The Formal Business Letter.”

And our supports will be Word 2013, the computers, the textbook, teacher and student collaboration.

Many teachers struggle with the format, Bloom’s taxonomy and the function of this process, but my colleague is very effective in explaining it, and at the end of a brief time one-on-one with her, she can get you to write amazing CLOs. She should teach a session of that in PD! It would sure beat her having to take time out of her planning to teach others one-on-one.

If PD looked more like a summer conference, where teachers were given a menu ahead of time, even including pre-reading, and break-out sessions, they could choose which areas they would wish to focus on and which PD sessions to attend.

I liken it to an independent walk through Home Depot, where we intentionally fill our own tool belts with tools that fit, ensuring we are armed with the right tool for the right job, and no one is walking around with two identical hammers.

We must also recognize that not every tool belt needs to be exactly the same, either. I am an electives teacher, and I have sat through so much PD geared only to math and English teachers. I get the things I need specific to my content when I get the chance to meet with other singletons in district meetings—which happens very infrequently. I also attend conventions and seminars specific to my content. It would be silly to ask teachers outside my content area to sit in on my summer conventions, much like it is silly to ask the same of me.

In thinking about professional development, we need to address the way it is delivered, given that there is very little evidence to support that it is effective in its current form. This paradigm shift needs to challenge the status quo that PD should be delivered by administrators (who have been out of the classroom for how long?), thus putting an end to top-down instruction, and must be built from within.

Teachers know what teachers need, and we have already seen the benefits of peer mentoring and instruction. The best thing administrators can do for teachers is trust them to attend professional development, stop micro-managing the ways it “should” be developed, and give the seasoned teachers who show mastery over different areas the time and stage to develop other teachers. Here are some questions to consider:

1. Who in your building seems to be an “expert” teacher that most all go to for help?

2. What technique, process, program, etc. do you feel you have an excellent grasp on and how would you deliver that to others?

3. How can we maximize the time we set aside for PD to really have it mean something and in what ways can we measure its lasting effects?

Martinez is a technology and career and technical education teacher in Colorado. Reprinted with permission from the Center for Teaching Quality (www.teachingquality.org), home of the Collaboratory, a virtual community of individuals who value teacher leadership.



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