I managed to participate in ten minutes of #edchat before going to teach this morning. When I am able to participate, I always find the conversation stimulating and thought provoking. This time the topic was best practice in teacher professional development.
My best PD in the past year has undoubtedly been through my online PLN (professional learning network). This includes writing my own blog, reading and commenting on other blogs and the worldwide teachers’ lounge that is Twitter. At any time of day, I can go in and engage with other educators, learn from them, be exposed to new ideas and tools, seek help, follow interesting links or be inspired by quotes. I have made global connections with people who think the way I do and poeople who think differently than I do and people who push my thinking further. This is ongoing professional development at its best.
As far as ‘offline’ PD is concerned, here’s my thinking:
The least effective PD is the sort involving whole school, compulsory, one off sessions, with no follow-up. For PD to be effective, I think it works best in smallish groups, when people attend voluntarily with a common focus and it’s ongoing.
A few years ago at my school, we started a small voluntary group meeting every few weeks for an hour before school. We discussed readings about current trends and best practice, thought together about what and how to implement the things we had read, tried things out in our classes and came back to share our experiences. At the start, we had outside facilitators who recommended readings and guided the sessions. The initial focus was on questioning… how to improve our own questioning and how to get students to ask better questions. Later we moved on to creating a culture of thinking. Then effective feedback and assessment. After a while,we didn’t need outside facilitators any longer. Little by little, we integrated all the parts into our whole understanding of how learning works best. Gradually other teachers wanted to join in too.
About a year ago, we started a second group introducing web 2.0 tools. At first the 2 groups alternated but after a while we realised that looking at the technology separately isn’t meaningful. The two groups have now merged. Sometimes we discuss the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ sometimes we play around with the tools. Teachers who participate in other PD share their learning in this forum too. The focus is always on the learning, our own and that of our students.
Teachers who regularly participate in this group constantly reflect on their practice. We’re open to new thinking and ready to learn from each other. We share ideas and discuss what works and what doesn’t. We have built up trust and we support each other. Our head attends nearly every session. I know I am incredibly lucky to be part of this community of learners.