Hate professional development days?
Then you’ll love this—research suggests that most PD has no lasting effect on classroom instruction or student achievement. But you already knew that from experience, didn’t you?
The shocking truth is that most teachers come to PD with a book or a computer or a grocery list—anything to occupy their time while they listen to boring, irrelevant information they’ll never apply in their classrooms.
In fact, teachers typically find more value in “common sense, intuition, word of mouth, personal experience, ideologically laden ideas about progressive or traditional instruction, the guidance of mentors, and folk wisdom” than they do in traditional PD programs—regardless of the fact that districts spend millions of dollars on PD each year.
No doubt this explains the phenomenal success of events like EdCamp. These informal, peer-driven “unconferences” cut through the nonsense and give teachers opportunities to share and connect in a rich, meaningful way. Teachers learn from each other, rather than a single presenter, and discuss the questions that interest them.
Many PD programs fail for the same reason traditional education often fails—neither one takes into consideration the way our brains naturally learn.
Think about it: What is PD if not another classroom environment? And what are educators attending PD if not learners? PD programs need to model the principles of good teaching, yet so often the presentation hinders learning rather than opening minds to new possibilities.
The brain has a natural craving to learn. However, emotions such as boredom, stress, and fear can easily cloud the brain, making it difficult to grasp and retain new information. The role of educators then—whether they are presenting to teachers or to students—is to support the brain so that it is able to do its job.
In this sense, the brain is like a climbing vine. The vine has an innate and tenacious drive to grow vertically, but it needs to be planted near the right kind of support in order to capitalize on that desire.
Teaching to the Brain’s Natural Learning Systems
To make PD more effective and less tedious, we need to teach to the brain’s natural learning systems, just as we would with students. Teachers, like all students, learn best when they are respected as learners and when their social, reflective, cognitive, physical, and emotional learning systems are attended to.
- Instead of lecturing at teachers, engage them in meaningful conversations with the facilitator and one another.
- Ask teachers to think deeply about their classroom experiences. What are they already doing well? Where could they improve?
- Explore the neuroscience behind learning to help teachers understand how to orchestrate a dynamic classroom experience.
- Give teachers the opportunity to stretch and move around the room at various points in the day.
- Encourage feedback and questions after each segment.
- Prepare the room with motivational posters similar to those you would use in your classroom—whatever will affirm teachers’ value and radiate positive energy.
Most importantly, find PD programs that take the expertise and systematic approach of traditional PD and combine it with the dynamic, participation-based approach of programs like EdCamp.
We want teachers to leave PD renewed and energized, with concrete takeaways they can apply in their classrooms—or even schoolwide—right away. PD programs should make a significant difference in the lives of students and teachers and continue to shape the learning experience long after the PD has ended.