PD in a Box

I was at Womad last weekend in Taranaki ,and the range of different people, all ages, all walks of life, was phenomenal. They were all there because of a common passion – music. Conferences also bring together lots of different people. Their passion? Learning. Because they want to interact with like-minded people, they want to learn, they want to share their passion and their learning.  Just like music festivals all conference goers are the ‘converted’; most have chosen to be there and they have often given up a Saturday or a holiday to be there.

An outside concert in a park with lots of attendees. Inset are other photos or different types of people attending, a middle aged couple, children, three men holding hands
photo credit: Anne Robertson 2018 CC-BY 2.0

Professional Development (PD) in school is different – people don’t usually choose to be there. For many, it’s a ‘must do’ as part of their professional standards, it is another thing on top of a very busy workload. And just like National Standards and NCEA credits, doing something because you have to, leads to ‘ticking the box’, compliance, low level thinking and no improvement to pedagogy and learner outcomes.

So, how do we make the PD pill palatable? Even more, how do we make the PD pill into an exciting and mouth watering feast? OK, maybe I’m getting carried away….

I am fortunate to work as a facilitator for PD and feel privileged to be invited into schools  to ‘deliver’ their PD either for a one off session or on an ongoing basis over 6 months, 12 months or longer. With that privilege goes a huge responsibility.

Some schools want their ‘PD in a Box’. ‘What sort of package can you deliver?’ they ask. ‘We have an hour every Monday morning. That’s our slot. What do you have that fits in there?’ they say. And what do they do with the PD in a box? Unwrap it, enjoy it for an hour or so, then put it on the shelf and forget about it. Box ticked!

As facilitators, we need to support schools to align the differing PD initiatives – Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L), Digital Technologies, Change Leadership, Culturally Sustainable Pedagogy, Health and Wellbeing, and so on… so that teachers can see the connections, workload is not massively impacted and that they build sustainability and it leads to improved pedagogy and happy, successful teachers and learners..

I have asked myself more than once why schools have a “PD in a box” approach?
Is it because they don’t have a big picture vision?
Is it because they don’t have a plan?
Is it because of a lack of SLT engagement? – e.g. one DP given the PLD portfolio and the rest just checking out?
Is it because SLT have different portfolios and they don’t work as a team to align them? – each initiative is separate and piled on top rather than overlapping and enhancing?
Is it because of failing relationships, high staff turnover, unstable rolls?
Is it because they don’t get the WHY?

I think it is some of all of those things and maybe many more as well. But let’s take the last one. I think lots of schools do get the WHY, what they lack is the ability to fit the WHAT into the HOW given all the other constraints and competing imperatives they have. It’s very difficult to see the wood from the trees when you are lost in the forest.

Maybe we should help them to shift thinking from the PD Box to the “The PD Puzzle”.
They have the picture on the box lid – their vision, so now how do they go about fitting all the puzzle pieces of PD to make it?

wooden puzzle showing stages of development - jumbled, almost complete, complete
Photo Credit: Anne Robertson CC-BY 2.0
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EducampBOP – a challenge to secondary school teachers!

winter landscape with rainbow.Well, today was my first “Educamp“. I have thought about going to several over the years but have never quite made one. Mainly because they are on Saturdays and my boys have always had some sort of sports fixture. But also because there are very few, if any, secondary school teachers at them. They are not aimed solely at primary and intermediate schools but IMHO they tend to be the teachers who are most inclined to share. It is a shame because there are so many secondary teachers out there who do such great things in the classroom that are worth sharing. The “unconference” style means that everyone has a voice, everyone’s ideas are valued, there are no “experts” there are just learners and colleagues (and, of course, friends). However, today, I was there to learn and to meet people.  In my new role as Connected Learning Advisor I am keen to meet as many teachers as possible from all sectors and BOP and Waikato are the regions for which I am responsible.

I would love to see if we could gain some traction for a similar sort of event for secondary teachers. I am unsure if it is because secondary school teachers are too locked into their subject specialties or because there is too much competition with regard to exam results to want to share too much?  I know that each subject area has their own “conference”; languages have “Langsems” all over the country when teachers share what they have been doing, but these cost a significant amount of money and not all teachers go because of confernece costs and the relief costs on top of that.  What if secondary teachers just got together and shared their pedagogy, how they integrate technology, the tools they use?  So many approaches can be used and adapted across subject areas and as junior programmes are re-organised to be more open, task-based, cross-curricular and student-centred, there is a need to share practice and learn from each other.

Tweeting is normal at such events and the power of the “tweet” is being realised by more and more teachers.  Powerful learning not just for adults but for students too.  I wonder what the breakdown of users is between primary/intermediate and secondary teachers in NZ? My bet is that primary beat us hands down!