sketch by @Sylvia Duckworth

sketch by @SylviaDuckworth

While on Twitter today this graphic caught my eye. It was posted by @MindShiftKQED linking to an article on their blog. The sketch itself was created by Sylvia Duckworth and it definitely caught my attention.

I began to think about the kinds of professional learning we offer at Powerful Learning Practice and asked myself if we were honoring what teachers want. We are a small, intimate group here at PLP, but we have huge hearts and an extensive amount of combined experience both in and out of the classroom when it comes to pedagogy and future ready learning.

No one works harder and thinks deeper than the folks at PLP who selflessly plan and offer the coaching, professional learning, e-courses, and products available on our site. I am grateful for each instructor’s drive and ability to be self directed, conscientious and caring toward our clients.

But I was curious if what we do we aligns with this list of teacher wants? And more importantly, should we? Was anything important missing from this list?

1. Teachers want a voice and choice in the PD offered.

At PLP, we like to think we listen. We survey, evaluate and take feedback from those who have been through our programs. We are responsive and rework many aspects based on the feedback we receive each year.

But I wonder about the district empowerment of the teachers before they show up in our sessions. Have they had voice and choice? Are district leaders talking to teachers before they “sign up”? Or are leaders making those “one size fits all” decisions for teachers. I also wonder if teachers already have well developed voices and if they so, do they know how to use them to make their choices known. Have they sat down and thought deeply about their professional learning needs? Do they understand the trends, shifts and needs their students are bringing with them that will require new teacher skills and capacities.

It has been my experience that often teachers are too shy to speak up about their professional learning needs. I have also been told that even when they do share- no one is listening. Once teachers show up they are  often resistant and we find ourselves having to spend weeks getting to know them, building trust and getting buy-in on what we are going to learn. Rare is the learner who comes ready to immerse themselves in the relationship based, self directed, collaborative environment we provide. If teachers had more voice and choice before they came I bet that would change.

2. Teachers want PD that is relevant for their students.

This is so important. Professional learning should be aligned in ways that prepare teachers for what their students need most. If the goal is not to just teach students but to help them learn, then the focus needs to be on helping teachers become learners themselves. Often teachers see the relevancy issue through the lens of the “content and standards” they need to cover. Where we believe the focus needs to be on what will prepare kids to be successful in their future. Are the skills, techniques and strategies the teachers are learning going to help them find and guide student learning through passion, interest and personalized efforts?

3. Teachers want PD they can use right away.

Nothing is worse than to require the entire district to take a workshop on a tool or curriculum that is “coming” without any practical application in the now. And nothing is more frustrating than a workshop that tells, talks, and shows with little opportunity to enact, engage or apply what they are learning. However, on the other side, at PLP we find teachers sometimes miss the fact that they are applying their new skills in the activities, collaborations and blended aspects provided during the course. What some want is an “easy button” that will give them a lesson plan or tech tool they can use the next day. Learning that gives the teacher immediate use but not much depth.

Change is not easy. Teaching to multiple-choice tests is easy. It’s easy to try out a few web tools and put a check in the box next to change agent. Turning your classroom or school into a place where deep learning occurs and learners’ needs are being met is hard. Educational change is hard because it involves re-culturing and re-examining values and dispositions and letting go of what we are vested in.

We have addressed this yin/yang need by offering different types of professional learning. Some of the courses we offer are short, make and take courses designed to teach a practical skill that can be applied immediately. Others are job embedded, year long and coached and taught through the use of learning cycles and design thinking that results in deep, connected learning. One style of PD focuses on self efficacy of the individual teacher, the other focuses on collective efficacy of teams of teachers embedded in schools or districts together.

4. Teachers want PD that is conducted by professionals with classroom experience. 

All of us at PLP have been classroom teachers. Most of us have gone on to work in leadership positions at the school or district level. All of us have worked with educators around the world to rethink their classroom practice. We are very Google-able. We have large digital footprints and you can see our best pedagogy online. Most importantly we all have taught using the strategies we espouse. We also bring in classroom teachers or school and district leaders who are embedded now in schools to add their ideas to what we are offering PD around. We believe in collaboration in the most authentic sense in all our PD leveraging experienced classroom teacher’s voice in all we do.

5. Teachers want PD that is innovative and creative.

When you look at What We Believe here at PLP, you can see innovation and creativity at the heart of what we do. But even more importantly we think teachers should bring innovation and creativity to the learning space with them. Effective PD is not done to you. The learner is an active part in what is created and what is learned. Our mantra is, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

In our relationship-driven learning environments, the syllabus is malleable and collaboratively created by teachers as their needs emerge. Personally, I expect and look forward to being both a learner and a teacher in the courses and professional learning experiences I lead. We all do here at PLP. And the collective learning strategies we use always yield better outcomes. Plus, teachers come out more confident in sharing their ideas and using their voice. They emerge as bloggers and social media users who understand how to connect and learn collaboratively (a skill that is needed in a teacher’s toolbox) as well as skilled at pedagogy and the content covered overall.

6. Teachers want PD that makes them better teachers.

Exactly! It is not just about some skill you can use immediately, but more importantly it is about growth over time, developing thick schema, making connections, building tribe, strengthening dispositions and values and reigniting fires and passion within each educator who participates.

7. Teachers want PD that is practical and not theoretical.

Hmmm. This one bothers me just a bit. Teachers are often treated as though they are the working class of the education world. The teaching profession is seen as a semi-profession. Why? Because we are one that does not police its own. That has to change.

You have to own something before you can evaluate it and before you can give it away to your students.  If we can’t find joy in scholarship, if we do not own the ideas we are using, how do we know they are in the best interest of the students we love so dear?

Again, skill building (how to use Google Docs or a set of math tools) may not require a deep understanding of theory behind the tool, but when we are working on becoming better teachers (#6), that demands you understand the theory and evidence behind what you are doing. As a professional, you need to be able to defend your pedagogical stance. Teachers should be most literate about the ideas, strategies, dispositions and values they are incorporating into their practice. If you do not understand and are not able to articulate the theoretical underpinnings- then how can you be sure you should be using them with children?

8. Teachers want PD that allows them to collaborate and speak honestly.

If your professional learning does not create a place of trust and safety then I suggest you run, and if applicable ask for your money back. This includes face-to-face conference workshops, webinars, Twitter chats, and blended learning activities.

You need to be immersed in communities of practice and/or networked spaces where you are driving the learning right along side the instructor. And the instructor should also be able to speak honestly without you pulling the “I am paying YOU” card.

Treating each other with respect and having an open and willing spirit – being teachable – is what will allow critical moments and honesty to result in meaningful change and growth. We know how to create the safe environment that encourages honesty at PLP.

9. Teachers want PD that will be relevant for a long time.

In a world that is constantly changing educators are looking for anchors. But let’s face it, we simply do not have it as easy as our predecessors in terms of change in education. The culture of schools remained unchanged for almost one hundred years. Teachers knew what they had to learn and once they learned it, they simply needed to refine their skills slightly. Not so today. Culture in schools is shifting. Our student demographic is changing. Technological advancements are requiring all of society to reinvent themselves or be lost forever (think newspapers, stores that sold albums and CDs, publishing, etc.). Teachers today need to be flexible, nimble and have adaptive expertise.

The good news is much of our content, at least for now, will remain constant. But the dispositions, values, tools, and techniques we need to use everyday will change. That means today’s educator will not only need to  embrace change but also understands how to manage change.

Interestingly enough, in 2012 I asked my Twitter network (educators) about what they wanted in professional development in the 21st Century. What they shared still stands in terms of relevancy but varies a little in focus from our list here.

  • “I can tell you it needs to be available any time, anywhere, on a variety of platforms . . . ” Steve Anderson, @web20classroom
  • “PD in the 21st Century? Highly personalized.” Beth Still, @bethstill
  • “Necessary, invigorating, available, active, connected, complicated.”
    Mel Hutch, @melhutch
  • “No more sitting in rows and chairs. It no longer comes to you, you MUST search it out and be involved in FINDING best practice.” Carol Broos, @musictechie
  • “I’d describe PD in the 21st Century as an integral and defining part of almost any job. It’s also part of being literate today.” David Warlick, @dwarlick
  • “PD in 21st Century—learning from a PLN, putting that learning to use and documenting it—sharing with others as you grow.” Leslie Maniotes, @lesliemaniotes
  • “PD in 21st C: targeted, personalized but communal, active, action research, transparent . . . ” Derrick Willard, @derrickwillard
  • “As personal pd—a shift away from state/district/school pd with the onus on accessing multiple inputs using variety of platforms.” Cory Plough, @mrplough07
  • “For me PD is customized, immersive, ubiquitous, self-constructed, community based, empowering, & connective (I know . . . many adjectives.)” Wendy Drexler, @wendydrexler
  • “It’s available 24/7 if one wants it. Its reach is regional, national, and global.” Hiram Cuevas, @cuevash
  • “21 Cen teacher PD is blended, ongoing, relevant, job-embedded, collaborative and a combination of self-directed + informed by data.” Tania Sterling, @taniasterling
  • “Unattached. No rooms, few boundaries. Blend of the old ways (for those that can’t let go) and the new ways (for those that need to jump ahead).” Tim Holt, @timholt2007

What will stand the test of time in PD is learning to be connected educators. Teachers must learn to model connectedness and enable students to develop personal learning networks, made up of people and resources from both their physical and virtual worlds—but first, teachers must become connected collaborators themselves. At PLP we develop PD that allows teachers to fully exploit the transformative potential of emerging learning technologies and to do it within a global framework.

10. Teachers want Admin to attend and participate in the PD sessions.

Research shows that educators need to attend PD together and reflect collectively on what they are learning. At PLP we bring teams of educators together with Connected Coaches who facilitate deep discussions around the projects they are creating. Principals and administrators are members of the teams and work collaboratively with the teachers on implementing what they have learned. We follow up and give feedback about team goals for the professional learning,  making it a meaningful experience for both teachers and administrators.

Traditionally, teacher professional learning has focused on acquiring new knowledge and skills through passive, system-sponsored workshops delivered on in-service days. In these workshops, teachers learn new pedagogy from an outside expert and then are expected to take the learning back to their classrooms and try it out. After the workshop, when daily routines and pressures take over, and teachers have no one to help them problem solve, they go back to business as usual. Bringing new strategies from theory into individual classroom practice is even more difficult when teachers try to implement innovation and change, since traditional professional development rarely offers ways for teachers to work together through the issues that emerge in practice.

Our model of teacher networking doesn’t replace the traditional network—it subsumes and transforms it. The connected teacher benefits from this traditional network and also has access to a much wider community that contains the knowledge of thousands of people, all connected to one another through technology.

PD the way teachers want it

We hope you will join us and experience PD the way “teachers want it”. Let us help you break through the traditional isolation in PD while you collaborate with your peers and leverage world-class experts- all to improve student learning.

What are your plans for professional learning this fall?

We have an exciting lineup of online learning happening this fall! Our popular instructor-led course lineup is back with a fresh round of practical courses for your professional learning. We can also customize year-long and other learning experiences for your school or district.

We are also thrilled to announce the launch of a brand new slate of self-paced courses. These courses can start anytime, anywhere. You’ll learn with video, audio, and written content from top quality instructors. Best of all, you work through the courses at your own pace, in your own time. The self-paced courses are practical, affordable, and convenient!

We hope you’ll join us for high quality professional learning this fall!

View our courses & enroll now!
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Powerful Learning Practice

During a 25-year education career, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach has been a classroom teacher, technology coach, charter school principal, district administrator, university instructor and digital learning consultant. Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice, where she works with schools and districts from around the world to re-envision their learning cultures and communities through the Connected Learner Experience and other e-learning opportunities. She is the author (with Lani Ritter Hall) of The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age (Solution Tree, 2012) and serves on the ISTE Board of Directors.

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