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I posed an #Edchat Topic recently based on a number of studies I have been reading about that are claiming millions of dollars are being spent, or wasted, on professional development, while very few teachers are benefitting from it. Again the age-old story of doing things the same old way but expecting different results defeats us as a profession. The method of doing professional development for educators has largely not changed over the decades. It may be time to re-examine a few things.

 

Pedagogy vs. Andragogy

I have addressed this in several earlier posts, but it needs to be re-stated until people finally begin to understand that there are differences in how adults effectively learn, andragogy, compared to the motivations in learning by children, which is pedagogy. Pedagogy is what most educators are familiar with because it was taught to them to enable them to teach kids. It is how kids learn best. The natural thing for an educator to do when he or she is teaching a professional development course however is to go with what he or she knows. The result is that professional development is taught to adults as if they were children learners. How effective is that result going to be?

 

Collaboration vs. Lecture

Key factors in adult learning, or the intrinsic motivations for adults to learn are ownership of the learning to meet personal needs and being able to use tomorrow what’s learned today. As a whole adults are better with collaborative learning since it gives them control to direct the learning to what they need to know. It also exposes them to things they may not be aware of through the experiences of others. Conversation is often the best way for them to learn. As an adult, think about your own experiences with how you have most recently learned things successfully. Do not use your childhood experiences of learning.

 

Conferences vs. Unconferences

Most professional development today is often based on Power Point Presentations. These are nothing more than elaborate lectures. It is a lecture enhanced with visual aids, bells and whistles. If done properly, and not a victim of a death by power point delivery (having every word on every slide read to the audience by the presenter) these presentations are sometimes interesting. The question is, how much was retained by the audience? How many will take action on that lecture the next day in class with their students?

These presentation sessions are the mainstay of most education conferences that are counted on for professional development in the United States. All of these sessions are scheduled in elaborate form so that this menu of sessions can be presented to the attendees in a printed form. The only choice for events are those on the menu which for the most part were arranged through RFP’s almost a year prior to the conference. This holds true in local, state, regional and national conferences of most education organizations.

The Unconference or the Edcamp Model is completely different. It does not rely on Power Point Presentation sessions. It relies on conversational, collaborative sessions led by those who are either familiar with a topic, or by those who are interested in learning about the topic. The attendees decide upon the entire Edcamp schedule of sessions on the morning of the conference. It is designed to meet the needs of their interests. They have control of their own learning, which is a key factor of andragogy.

 

One way for everyone vs. Individualized instruction

 Gathering up all of the staff and forcing them all into sessions in order to check off a box stating that PD was delivered is no way to professionally develop a staff with knowledge, tools, or a mindset that is relevant to their needs. We need to take some time to determine a few things. What it is that the school must provide to reach its goal? What it is that the teachers and administrators have that will help get to that goal? What is the gap that each teacher or administrator must fill between what they know and practice and what they need to achieve the school’s goals? It will obviously be a range of things that will need to be individualized. There may be some common threads that may be presented to groups with similar needs, but a baseline for every individual needs to be established. Technology is often the area of most needed concern. It is the area that continually evolves and requires frequent visitations in order for users in this case teachers to maintain their relevance. Assessments are not done once and finished. They need to be done periodically to accommodate the changes that occur.

Here is a needs assessment form that was used in some North Carolina schools as an example:

School Technology Needs Assessment

Conclusion

 Professional Development over the last decades has not worked in education. If it were working we would not be spending all of the time and money on trying to reform the system. As a profession we deal in information and content. We are both consumers and creators. We also impart those methods of consuming and creating to kids. Everything that we rely on to consume and create however is changing at a rate never before experienced. This is all a result of living in a technology-driven society.Technology will continue to evolve and change and this will be a constant. Educators will need to be, to use a tech term, upgraded from time to time. Our problem right now is that we have not yet done it properly, so teachers and administrators are all over the map with experience. We need to account for where each is and get each to where they should be and update accordingly from there.

It is a waste and morally irresponsible to throw money at professional development without considering how it should be done. If it is not working and we know that from our assessment, then we need to change what we are doing. We are educators and we should know how to do this. One poor teacher makes all teachers look bad. Many poor teachers make things far worse. Perhaps the reality is that we have fewer poor teachers, but a number who simply need upgrading. To better educate our kids, we first need to better educate their educators.

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Comment by Sandro Cuzzetto on November 26, 2015 at 7:24pm

This is fantastic. As a new Principal at a school, and one whose Master's thesis was based specifically on the difference between how adults and students use technology, this article speaks volumes to me. I love the idea of determining the goals of the school and then doing Pro-d based on those; this is what our school has done. My question would be this: how do you then envision a standard Pro-D day to look like? Small group discussions only on a variety of topics? Department meetings? 

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