We have all been to our fair share of professional development that has felt like a total waste of time. Yes, even a PD junkie like me who finds the sunshine in everything can admit that. But boring PD doesn’t have to be that way, and admin needs to know this. This summer, I had the pleasure of both presenting and attending one particularly groundbreaking event: the Keeping the Wonder Workshop. This full-day workshop is leading the charge as an example of how PD for English teachers can be invigorating, inspiring, and infectious.
If you don’t have time to read through this entire article, here’s the biggest takeaway: professional development FOR teachers is best when it’s ORGANIZED BY teachers. When consultants from the newest program or speakers with no classroom experience stand in front of teachers, admin, you can pretty much bet the takeaways will be minimal. It’s not that the information isn’t valuable - it’s that teachers are a really complicated breed of human being. We like intimacy, but not always the spotlight. We want to be creative, but we also want to be resourceful. We want to push every student to their absolute academic potential, but we also want to make sure to provide for their mental and social health. Simply put, the format of one speaker to one giant audience of teachers is a formula bound for struggle. Teachers need (and want!) smaller, more frequent, more personalized PD. How do you do that for us? Find the expert teachers in our school or even in the education social media sphere to work with staff.
Keeping the Wonder (or KTW) proved the need for smaller, personalized PD on so many levels. I’ve narrowed it down here to a few lessons to be learned from how Ashley Bible, Jenna Copper, Abby Gross, and Staci Lamb (the KTW team) ran their workshop.
Here are four ways that Keeping the Wonder can change the future of teacher PD.
1. Worry Less About Research and More About Authenticity:
Yes. Researched based strategies like CRISS and UbD are critical components of continuing teacher education, but be careful about the way in which these pedagogies are presented to the staff. If a company is sending a trainer, it’s likely that trainer is coming with a binder full of talking points rather than planning an experience for teachers.
At Keeping the Wonder, presenters shared strategies that were both research based AND classroom tested. BOTH kinds of strategies are valuable. I’ve done plenty of lessons in my time that weren’t based solely on one specific body of research and they’re been lights out, killer lessons. That’s because teachers know how to teach. Their experiences should be just as valuable and worth the stage as the research. Strive for balance in what you bring to your teachers and they will thank you for it.
KTW participants said:
“When I go to more ‘traditional’ PD I feel like the presenters spend a huge chunk of time simply validating their presentation and grounding it in research. While of course that is important, for me Keeping the Wonder just got down to brass tacks. The sessions were the perfect length and jumped right in with the HOW. Honestly, as a teacher at this point in my career I don't care so much about the WHY -- I know the presenters are legitimate and masters in their craft. In other words, I trust them! On a broader level, I often feel like those presenting ‘traditional’ PD are doing it to inflate their resume.” --Noel Cordle
“Everything about it was just so valuable and intentional and practical and useful. Not like the stuffy commercialized, forced upon you PDs that teacher usually have to attend. It was what PD should be. It was so worth the trip. Truly made me love teaching even more.” --Chasity McGee Ivy
CHECK OUT MARIE MORRIS’ VLOG OF THE EVENT!
2. Keep Sessions Short & Flexible
At the school where I began my career, I can remember getting the back to school letter in the mail with our agenda for PD on the first two days. We always started those days with a two-hour long session. Seriously. We jumped into the newest initiative before we even said, “Hi! How was your summer? Did you have fun on your trip to…” and then BAM! Two hours in our seats “listening” to a presentation that we all took very seriously (I mean, no one was on their phones or laptops or daydreaming about the million mile long to do list for the first day...hasn’t anyone told you yet that teachers are the worst students??).
At KTW, sessions were organized in small chunks and anticipated the needs of teacher participants. The organizers looked at their participants as students, and then, using best practice, planned a day that would be effective for their students. It seems like such common sense, but it’s so rarely happening during PD time in schools! With the day broken down between large group, small group, rotations, flexible seating, snack time, etc., teachers happily learned at a pace that kept them engaged the entire day (making it worth the money invested). This is an easy fix for schools looking to up their PD game.
KTW participants said:
“I think the timing of sessions was also very well planned. At previous PD I’ve attended, sessions will go for over an hour, and I struggle to remain focused. Having a variety of session formats (the tours, the whole class sessions [the suitcase and mind maps presentation, the presentation on escape rooms, etc.], the breakout sessions) and keeping them under an hour was very helpful in making it effective for me as a teacher learner.“ --Sarah Danielle
“What I loved most was that the ideas were all easy to implement in the classroom without having to revamp units wholly. A lot of pd sessions I’ve attended pretty ask you to approach your curriculum in a completely new way that is unrealistic for what requirements exist at a school that has certain regulations on curriculum. To sum: Real teachers. Real lessons. Real learning. Other things I liked was that there was so many things to learn bc the pace of the day was quick and always moving. I was never bored. It was affordable and worth the cost (that is not usually something I say about PD.)” —Angela Vasquez
3. Include Active, Excited Teachers as Presenters
It can be really hard for a room full of educators to get excited about a presentation from someone who hasn’t been in the game and can’t honestly relate to the day-in-day-out lives of teachers. If you can’t find expert teachers in your district or area, reach out to the teacher authors who write and share about teaching online and on social media. Keeping the Wonder mastermind Ashley Bible is starting to travel for PD, Jennifer Gonzalez is an expert teacher I’d love to have in my school, Jen Jones from Hello Literacy travels the country working with schools, and I’ve also started working the PD circuit myself. You might even consider doing an EdCamp model and letting teachers teach each other in a more off-the-cuff fashion. Real, engaging, and excited teachers are out there, but they have probably been busy teaching and haven’t done 25 years of research. Ask your teachers who they follow on social media or what books they’re reading. They’ll let you know who they’d like to see.
KTW participants said:
“KTW was so much better than the “traditional” style of professional development. The biggest difference is that everyone who was involved is an active teacher. All of the ideas and techniques have been used and tweaked in the classroom. There was even one session where the presenter said, ‘This crashed and burned a few times, but isn’t that the nature of teaching? We just try again the next day and try to make it better.’ They are real people who understand the needs of teachers because they ARE teachers themselves. The material shared with us was something we could use to enhance our teaching practices without adding extra work, extra items on the to do list, or extra time away from our personal lives.” --Alexandra Rodriguez
“All the presenters I’ve watched are actually USING the strategies, and not just regurgitating research or mundane language about their activities. I think the best pd comes from the teachers...I [was able to] pick and choose what I want to learn instead of listening to one presentation for 3 hours straight!” --Rachael Salvucci
“I liked that there were a variety of strategies and methods shared, and I appreciated experiencing it from a student’s perspective through the modeling. I think this provides a clearer picture of how the activity goes and is meant to be experienced. I also loved being a “student” because it kept me engaged and, most importantly, made it fun PD!” --Sarah Danielle
4. Let Teachers Stay in PJs with Eighteen Cups of Coffee
Even when the PD is strong, teachers still need to go to school to get the training. Does that really have to be the case? Other industries have moved to a more remote, work-from-home lifestyle, and education has yet to follow suit. Professional development would be an amazing place to start giving teachers a flexible work schedule by using virtual options. The Keeping the Wonder Workshop (among others!) are starting a trend of offering online virtual conferences.
It’s worth considering: how many days of the school calendar are used for teacher PD? How many half days? What would happen if, instead, teachers were asked to participate in virtual PD and could go home for the afternoon? Or were offered an extra day off for mental health recovery? Or teachers could work in their classrooms while listening to their PD via a podcast? Certainly there is a need for in-person PD where teachers are together, but what worries me about so many current approaches to PD is that, as a teacher, I feel like I’m not trusted with my own desire to grow. I feel like I have an ankle bracelet on. Teachers are corralled into trainings and attendance is taken: is the point of PD that teachers are physically there, or that they are inspired, learning, and excited to go back into their classrooms?
Virtual conferences are popping up all over the place, and they’re cheaper than going to big, national conferences. Other than Keeping the Wonder, Carrie Conover from educators 2 educators has put on two free conferences for teachers with presenters from all over the education world. The Teacher Reboot Conference took place over the winter break and served to help teachers both boost their self-care priorities as well as inspire their craft for the upcoming year. In the summer, e2e will host the Summer Teacher’s Conference with presenters sharing their areas of expertise. Also this summer, Danielle Knight and her team are hosting the Teach With Tech virtual conference. Over 60 different presenters will be sharing their best educational technology strategies and also be available on Facebook for interactive discussions. How could your school take advantage of these types of conferences, or even, create your own?
KTW participants said:
“As a virtual attendee of Keeping the Wonder, I do think it’s the wave of the future. We got so many different personalities and styles of teaching. The activities came with everything you needed to start tomorrow. For me, the virtual is perfect. I can go back in October and rewatch the black out poem for The Raven to refresh my memory. Educators want to feel excited and overflowing with ideas. That’s what we got with Teaching the Wonder. It was Not bland, boring workshops with presenters who have exactly zero passion on topics that don’t apply. It was for secondary ELA and every bit was applicable, relevant, and sparked a fire that made me wish school started tomorrow. Amanda’s setting pd was amazing. The presentation drew me in from the start. I immediately opened my google slides and began creating for setting in several texts we will be reading.” -Jennifer Smith
“I participated virtually and I have been telling everyone that this is the BEST PD I have ever done in my 11 years of teaching. 1) these are strategies used by current classroom teachers so they WORK in practice- not just theory. 2) they are creative, student centered, standards based activities, 3) each session is set up so you can take the handouts/templates/etc and implement the strategy- the majority of the hard work is done for you so it’s not as overwhelming because you’re not starting from scratch 4) it is SO easy to incorporate these strategies into what you’re already doing- it’s not like you have to scrap everything you’ve ever done in order to utilize these strategies and 5) I personally loved the virtual option so I can view at my own pace and go back to the sessions over and over as needed. 6) the creativity and energy that each presenter brings gets me pumped up to try these strategies in my classroom. I mean it’s summer and I’m willingly and excitedly planning for next year!” --Danna Hathaway Jones
So there you have it. Four ways teacher PD could be exponentially improved. I hope these ideas spark a discussion in your schools. Pass this along to an administrator. Make a suggestion at your next department meeting. Remind each other that education is about shaping the future, and the teachers need to continually be inspired to do so!
For more information on Keeping the Wonder, visit their website.
If you’d like to talk about one of my professional development sessions coming to your school, let me know!