Building Teacher Professional Development – What to Avoid and What to Include

Building Teacher Professional Development – What to Avoid and What to IncludeGeorge Couros recently wrote a piece at his blog The Principal of Change titled – 3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development. It was an informative article and touched on a number of things that we’ve blogged about around Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs) that help shape successful teacher professional development.

The three things George suggests avoiding:

1. Creating a detailed agenda. As George says… ‘Listing objectives for the day is one thing, but saying when they will be achieved throughout the day is another.’ Two of the core elements to TLCs are choice and flexibility. A loose agenda of any given TLC gathering gives teachers the ability to set their own personal priorities within the given framework and the flexibility to adjust it based on what works best in their particular classroom environment.

2. Scheduling back-to-back-to-back-to-back learning. His suggestion here is based on the conference format of teacher professional development, where there is session after session of ‘development’ that teachers are running to. One thing that our TLCs are founded on is the belief that sound teacher professional development takes time. It shouldn’t be one conference, but rather monthly or bi-monthly teacher gatherings spread out over two years or more, where there is collegial dialogue and support.

3. Thinking that collaboration with others is the only way we learn. George suggests that actually reflecting on experience versus just collaboration, is a great way to ‘process and make connection’ for a particular learning. Reflecting on what colleagues bring to the table is a must. In fact, in a TLC not only is there reflection but there is actual hands-on experiential reflection. In a TLC, teachers discuss what formative assessment strategies they’ve applied in their classroom, what works for them and why. This gives teachers not only the time to reflect on their learning, but actually trying it out in their classrooms.

This is actually alluded to in the first comment: ‘I’d oppose Dewey and say, that reflecting on experience needs experience and reflection is experience. And making connections are the strongest learning-experiences one can have.’

George’s three things to avoid I think are spot-on. While avoiding these three elements, one should consider the five principles that make up sound teacher professional development.  Our five principles – 1) choice, 2) flexibility, 3) small steps, 4) support and 5) accountability – are designed for putting embedded teacher professional development on solid footing and geared for success.

What other steps or elements do you think need to be part of a successful teacher professional development program and what elements need to be avoided?