Ending Professional Development

I'm excited about an event that I'll be participating in this July with ten amazing educators from throughout the country. Just as the edcamp movement changed the way that learning happening, I think that the "Write Now" process of bringing together educator/writers to share their best ideas, concepts, and thoughts so as to release trapped wisdom about topics in the field could do the same. I can see weekend "Write Now" projects happening everywhere that innovative educators are gathering.

Our event this July is a three day retreat called Education Write Now with the goal of writing a book during our time together. In this book, we will focus on important issues facing educators right now. If all goes as planned, we will continue working on it after our retreat with a target print date of December 2017. We could not host this education forum without the support of our sponsor, Routledge who will ultimately publish the collected writings of the team in a single volume.

The idea that I'll be bringing to the table based on hundred of conversations around the country is how do we END professional development as we know it. It is a dead model, and in most cases, not something in which we can be proud. I'll also be sharing the following story about how I've worked to shift this work in the district where I serve. 

Throughout last school year, I've been working to shift thinking around professional learning. The district had built a robust learning delivery model based on face-to-face moments between the "experts" and the learners. The learners were waiting for information, ideas, and resources because it was with what they received that they would forge a new learning path for their students. 

This was a broken model both on the simple level, waiting to be taught what is essential isn't a natural human model and on a deep level, the need to redefine the concept of experts, resources, and ideas is clearly upon us. 

As a way to keep from perpetuating the traditional professional development model, we crafted a new set of learning guidelines and norms.

  • We know that being an expert on a topic is relative and passing in nature. 
  • We know that learning only when it is scheduled on the calendar isn't robust in nature.
  • We know most of the answers are already in the field in some form.
  • We know that experiencing and doing are good adult learning.
  • We know that most meetings for learning lack the nuance that we need for excellence. 
  • We know that modern learning is a dynamic, network-based activity.

These ideas led to the end of technology professional development. They led to no days being scheduled on how to use devices, tools, and resources. They led to no meetings. They also led to discomfort and some confusion which would eventually be a good thing as well.

Shifts and emotions like those described above are rarely possible when we are trying to fix a system, but all of these things are possible when we are ending the system as we know it. Old systems are difficult to massage into new results. 

Instead of the old model, we started some new things for us. (Certainly, these things are happening in other places, but we have our flavor of these concepts.)

  • Build partners with experts that already have a loads of learning content. (Atomic Learning, Bloomboard, Capella University)
  • Release trapped wisdom into the system. We encouraged additional sharing of resources and ideas in job alike groups on Google Classroom.
  • Meet when needed for as short as possible as close to the time of the idea or issue. 
  • Connect technology tools and instructional design every time.
  • Encourage teachers to visit (at least virtually) others already doing the work.
  • Flood the learning spaces with ideas, resources, and supports.

This work has broken a cycle of dependence. It allows the best information to get to the innovative moments in real time. It has created new energy for passion-based, real-time learning. 

For next year, we are exploring a model that allows any teacher to get as much professional learning as they request based on the norms above and the new model described. Professionals take advantage of learning, but they don't take advantage of a system that truly supports what they need.