Friday, June 8, 2012

Professional Development: One Size Does Not Fit All

For many of us, one of the busiest times of the year is upon us.Yes, it's summer, but for most educators that means a summer filled with a myriad of opportunities to learn and connect with others. I have colleagues who think I'm crazy to spend my summer travelling to speak at a host of conferences. I had one teacher say to me, "I'm professionally developed enough. I've been teaching for 22 years. I think I know what I'm doing." I didn't quite know how to respond to her comment in that moment, but as I've had time to reflect, I think she embodies the perception that many teachers have. They have been forced to go through some workshop or training regardless of whether they need it or not. They view it as something they have to suffer through so that they can get back to what they want to do with their students in the classrooms.

Perhaps the problem isn't these mandatory training sessions, but the fact that many have lost sight that each teacher is an individual with a different background of experiences, different interests, and different talents. These need to be taken into consideration when pursuing professional growth. Aren't these the qualities that we seek out in our students so that we can best meet their needs?

People seem surprised by how many sessions I attend at the conferences where I present. I'm often asked how I choose which sessions to attend when there are so many from which to choose. Here are some of the factors that I take into consideration when selecting professional development for myself.

In what area do I need to grow professionally? My natural inclination is to gravitate towards presentations that include technology, differentiated instruction, or literacy. However, those are the areas that I present on myself. Is that what I really need? Although I do attend some of these sessions, lately, I've been seeking out opportunities to learn about teacher leadership, math (because I've just started teaching it), innovation, and strategies for (further) promoting student-directed learning. Like our students, we all know the areas in which we don't feel as strong as educators. This is an opportunity to strengthen those areas and make connections with other educators.

Who is the presenter? How many of us have gotten into a session and been "sold" a program or tool for the hour long session? It's rotten because often we know our school doesn't have the money to purchase the program. One of the first things that I consider is whether this person is in the classroom like me. I don't want to hear theory about how something could work in a  classroom. I want to see how it's used. I want real examples from real students. I want a practitioner, not a theorist. Do they actually practice what they preach or are they just good a research? Once you start looking, I think you'll be amazed at how this narrows down which opportunities you pursue.

Is this worth my time? Not every session is for every person. Just because someone is a renowned speaker that everyone wants to attend, it doesn't mean that it's what you need. Sometimes in spite of narrowing down the choices of sessions for ourselves, we might still find ourselves in a session where the speaker isn't offering any content that we need. If you get into a session and the presentation isn't what was portrayed in the program, it's okay to move on to another session. If a presenter rolls out a "death by PowerPoint" and reads every word on all slides, it tells me that they didn't value my time enough to be prepared for their presentation. Here's a novel idea: Get up and leave. Your time is valuable. Find something else from which you can glean something.

Although most of my examples involve attending a large conference, the same principles hold true for other professional development whether you are building a PLN through Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Second Life or you are attending virtual discussions and webinars. Your learning is personal. You are in charge of your own growth. Take a few minutes to consider if this is the learning that YOU need because ultimately, your students will be the ones to reap the benefits.


  1. Julie,
    I think you make some great points about professional development. I look forward to summer because it gives me time to learn more about what I do. Twitter has raised the possibilities exponentially. Like you, I need to remind myself to work on areas that are more challenging for me. However, I also feel I need to continue to read and listen to other experts on literacy. Though it is a strength of mine, there is always more to learn. It is impossible to keep up with new research and changes in practice especially with the implementation of.the Common Core.

    I think colleague are more willing, and much more engaged, when they have choice in professional development.

    Lots to consider,

    1. Cathy,
      I agree that it's important to continue to participate in professional development even in the areas of our strength because in this fast paced world a strength could quickly become a weakness. By connecting with educators through Twitter, blogs, etc., staying informed on the most recent research and best practices is much more manageable. I appreciate the global scope that we have access to because of technology.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Now, that isn't to say that the manner in which states and districts are implementing the Common Core standards aligns with that intent. Many in fact do not.

    professional learning