PD Reality Check
“Hi! My name is Marcus. I'm a teacher and a leader. I'm under construction. Now what?”
I’ve been a high school English teacher for 15 years. Throughout those years, I have just assumed that those individuals delivering professional development understood that teaching teachers is the same as teaching students. I’ve never EXPECTED my professional development to be fun, engaging, or anything more than stand-and-deliver, but I always HOPED it would be. We all graduated from college and know that we don’t necessarily have to be entertained in order to learn.
However, as time has passed, our students have changed, our content has changed, our standards…..HAVE REALLY CHANGED, and, yes, we need to change too! As adult learners, we may not have the same expectations as today’s youth when it comes to learning. However, if we can adapt our teaching practices for all learners to something closer to the interests and learning styles of today’s youth, we are going to better engage all of our students, regardless of age. THAT has been my “AHA!” realization as I have taken on a more prominent leadership role in my school. Trying to make learning engaging and fun is a given for innovative teachers, but I think we forget that teachers need to learn in the same manner! FUN and ENGAGING ACTIVITY! PROBLEM SOLVING! COLLABORATION!
How often have we as teachers sat through trainings/professional development and thought to ourselves, “My Sweet Lord, I want to pry my eyes out with a spork!”? Me too! So, the logical question is this: If we are constantly striving to make our content engaging to our students, why should our professional development be any different? Adult learners are no different than young learners. We all want some entertainment value. In the same ways that we work endlessly to differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of the gamut of learning styles in our classes, we need to do the same in our adult learning settings. I've seen fellow teachers nearly paralyzed by fear at the thought of pressing a button or clicking something on their device. I find myself starting most trainings by saying, “Whatever you do, nothing is permanent. You WILL NOT break anything and whatever you do can be fixed, if needed.” To some of the best teachers I have worked with, technology can be a ticking time-bomb of intimidation and uncertainty for them. How can we ease some of that fear? Do something to lighten the mood! The same way that our students are engaged by videos, music, augmented reality, fun games, and apps, we too can be hooked into learning in the same ways.
At this point, my most staunch teacher friends are thinking, “My job is NOT to entertain, my job is to teach the material. Education isn't a Broadway production.” I hear you. But wouldn't learning be more fun and engaging if we focused as much on engagement as we do on checking-off the boxes next to standards covered and content completed? My point is this: Believing and hoping that the old delivery methods we grew-up with will work with today’s students, is an exercise guaranteed to fail. The teacher cannot be the only authority in the room in today’s classroom. We MUST allow ourselves to let go of control because if we don’t, we choke out creativity and innovation. I experienced this idea first-hand in a training this past school year.
While delivering a training session about our LMS, Canvas, and some E-learning best practices, I was able to pass the torch to a few of my fellow teachers. In my interactions, with teachers in my building I had seen some great things being done! So, during our training, I was able to defer to fellow teachers as the “authorities” on the subject. That gave the entire staff a sense that the new content “could be mastered” and it empowered those teachers and put a spotlight on them. After that training, one teacher came up to me and said, “Hey, thanks for letting me be a rockstar! I assumed everybody knew how to do what I did.”
I was so happy to empower Sandy in that meeting and what she said is profound. “I assumed everybody knew how to do what I did.” In the same way that I believe teachers need to capitalize on empowering young students, in this case, we were able to see a fellow teacher empowered and invigorated. BINGO!!! Now, we must transition into taking new perspectives on how we approach our day-to-day.
I became a teacher for a number of reasons, but one of those reasons was because I have always loved being a student. I love learning new things. In order for us to be the best educators we can be, we must always remember what learning is like from the student’s perspective. I want to laugh when I learn. I want to move around when I learn. Sometimes I want to work with my peers, and sometimes I don’t. I want to have choice and freedom. I want to be allowed ways to make my work unique. I want to be given opportunities to compete and prove what I know.
For these reasons, I plan to begin the process of reverse engineering. Each and every lesson, unit, learning experience, and activity will START with this question: “How would I want to learn this material?” Once I can answer that question from a learner’s perspective, I can work backwards to create authentic learning in my classroom with a truly student-centered approach. I can also envision using a similar approach by polling students prior to a particular unit, chapter, or piece of literature and asking them, “How do you want to learn about __________?” I also plan to continue applying this approach into the professional development I deliver to teachers in the future.