Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications
August 6th, 2012 by Luann

How Not To Do Professional “Development”

Several years ago, I was introduced to a process designed to help students learn. grimreaper The plan involved my colleagues and I doing some simple things in our classrooms, with our students, and then discussing the results of our work together and planning how to make learning even better. It’s no longer being used, and I’m sad.  I have a few ideas about why it fell by the wayside.

Soon after arriving in Washington, I was invited to a roundtable for NBCTs. Marilyn Simpson introduced to a pretty cool project of hers, called Planning in Action (occasionally referred to as PIA, but I digress….). Based on peer-reviewed research, it looked to us like the accomplished teaching we’d had to demonstrate to achieve our National Board certification.  Marilyn asked us to pilot the idea in our schools. I participated in the pilot as a classroom teacher and as a trainer-in-training.

It was pretty simple.  Students learned to reflect on their learning and figure out how to make it more meaningful, how to get better at learning. Teachers met in groups of 4 every few weeks for 30 minutes. During that time, all 4 teachers shared student progress, reported in student voice. We gathered feedback from one another, and modified the lessons shared for next time.  We made decisions on where to take our students next based on the data we’d gathered.

I liked the response I got from my students.  They were more engaged than I’d ever seen them. Perhaps coincidentally, their scores went up on standardized tests across the board (I worked in a small school and populations were not necessarily uniform from year to year.) I convinced my school board and principal to let me offer the 21 hours of collaborative work to my colleagues in our PLCs. Being as how it was voluntary, open across the district, and carried clock hours, I got quite a few takers. Again, student engagement increased for those who implemented this with fidelity. Scores increased again.

Past year participants wanted to bring the program building-wide.  One non-participant came to me and said, “I guess I’m in.  Joe said he’d learn health much more easily if we did learning targets and had to assess ourselves like we do in your class so we learn about the best fitness exercises and supplements as kratom.” We made a decision as a staff to use this program for our mandated staff development the next year.

Enter a new principal, with new ideas about “developing her staff.” We convinced her to allow the program to continue into the next year, and again, scores increased. More importantly, student engagement increased. Happy students, happy parents, happy teachers. Only the principal wasn’t happy. She sat in on our work, pretended to already know all about what we were doing, engaged in her own, much more important work. The plan, slated to become standard for teacher collaboration in teacher education programs and in the professional certification program in our state, was scrapped with a simple statement, “We aren’t doing THAT anymore.”

Perhaps coincidentally, we got a new state superintendent of education, who chose to change things up a bit.

We stopped sharing our students’ work with one another.  We stopped listening to students reacting to their progress. Sadly, students stopped sharing and reflecting, too.

Most importantly, no one was getting rich from this practice. No one was even making any money, unless it was a few trainers working outside their home districts.  Marilyn Simpson probably got a small stipend for her work. No one was selling computers, or tablets, or other student devices. Students were in classrooms, working with their peers and human teachers; there were no badges to be earned. There was no money to be made by selling this to districts as online training. In short, the only people to profit were students.

Would you have guessed as much?


One Response to “How Not To Do Professional “Development””
  1. Sad that something that showed such promise was cast aside as a casualty of ‘the way we’re going to do things now.’ I would be interested in more detail of the program, if only to try to incorporate some of its attributes in my own classes. I’m a big believer in allowing students some control of their learning in order to get some buy-in. Seems to work for the most part.

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