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Being Professional About PD

by Julie Scullen
 | Mar 15, 2017

This is too long to sit.

When will I ever use this in real life?
Can you just hurry up and give us the information so we can leave? All this "turn and talk" is annoying.
I have to be here TWO HOURS?
Just so you know, I have permission to leave a few minutes early.
Can I just have a copy of the PowerPoint? I'll read it later.

These sound like comments someone might expect to hear from students about to earn a detention. Unfortunately, these are all statements made by teachers during professional development sessions.

Teachers are often frustrated by these trainings, and sometimes understandably so, but they are no more frustrated than those trying to provide practical and engaging professional development for all attendees.

TeachersProviding professional development is darn tough. Challenging. If you think differentiating for a class of 35 students is tough, put 150 adults in a room and try to meet their needs. No matter the topic, no matter who determined it was necessary, no matter how it is presented, a large number of attendees will be unhappy.

Planning of professional development is similar to planning for classroom lessons: It seems like the more information there is to provide, the shorter the span of time allotted, and the less effective the time spent enmeshed in the learning becomes.

The reality is that, just like students, teachers need time to process and to discuss new learning and information. They need the opportunity to collaborate and to discuss ways to incorporate the new learning into the framework of the old. In these days of shrinking professional development budgets, time to process and to collaborate becomes a tough sell. Time is money, after all.

Honestly, those assigned to provide professional development in your school or district do not sit for weeks beforehand planning ways for their session to be unengaging and useless. Much of the time, the professional development they provide has been requested by particular teachers themselves and arduously planned. It's just really tough to do it well.

We all must occasionally engage in professional development that is tedious but legally required. Sometimes the intended messages are designed to protect those in the room. Sometimes they represent new research or information that will be helpful to those teaching content. Sometimes they are required for relicensure.

Providing the right professional development at the right time is difficult when teachers constantly have so much to learn. Things are changing quickly. As soon as you really understand how your computer system works, someone will come in with a new operating system. As soon as you've perfected the ability to ask high-level questions, someone will tell you to incorporate inquiry groups. Or book clubs. Or Socratic seminars.

All these are great professional development opportunities, but they take time to learn to use effectively. Successful implementation of these wonderful ideas can't take place after a 30-minute seminar.

My response is to put yourself out there. If you don't like the PD provided, start lobbying for choice. Start asking to help prioritize the list of needs teachers have. Ask about the long-term plan for professional development. Talk to teacher leaders in your building. It may mean having to admit there are things you don't know.

Most important, if you have some good ideas, share them with colleagues. Teachers need teachers to support them, and there is no one better than you to do it.

Julie ScullenJulie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors and also served as president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.

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