If you remember that lovable cartoon from the 80’s called Rainbow Brite, you’re more than familiar with a place called The Pits. Rainbow and friends live in Rainbow Land, but there’s a part of the land that’s dark, gloomy, and void of color. This place, aptly called The Pits, is where nemesis Murky Dismal and his henchman Lurky live. Their goal is to steal Rainbow’s color belt and the color from Rainbow Land as well.
This is what was on my mind as I read through the first chapter in The Art of Coaching. I found myself nodding along and highlighting quite a few points (yes, I started marking in my books finally!). I also started sharing these points on Facebook and Twitter with colleagues, and it started some interesting discussions with them. I really could discuss the downfalls of PD for quite some time, and it was nice to take a look at yet another perspective on the topic.
The thing is, if we know traditional PD is so bad, then why in the world are we still doing it? Why are we letting ourselves muck through the junk that it provides, knowing that it does the teachers and students no real good? The teachers who really latch on to the PD topic will continue to research and learn the tool or method. Those teachers will make a difference because they are spending countless hours to learn outside of the PD session/s and work toward fluency. However, those teachers are very few in number, so the difference isn’t widely felt.
Sometimes those in charge decide that there will be one initial PD session at the beginning of the year, and then one or two more follow ups at a later time. We think this is better, but it’s really not because those teachers are still only skimming the surface, and not delving deeper. They will only go deeper if they do so on their own, or if they have the support of a coach to guide them throughout the year.
I believe this is part of the reason that George Couros mentioned in his book that districts should choose 3 tools that they are going to focus on. This gives districts and schools the chance to have their ITRTs or other coaches really work on those tools with staff so that they are able to do more than just manipulate the tool.
It is great to introduce more tools to educators so that they know what is out there. However, I think I am going to start making it clear at those sessions that unless the educator is consistently learning the ins and outs of the tool, whether alone or with ITRT help, it will not be very beneficial to them. It might be hard to hear, but it is the truth. You can’t learn everything there is to know about a tool or method from a simple session, whether it’s an hour or three.
Knowing all of this about traditional PD, what do we do about it? For me, it’s changing the way I work with teachers and how I coach them. I need to work more closely with them and have them select a tool that they would like to work on I know I will have my Fluco Toolbox posts, which will help teachers discover what is out there. They are meant to be “fly-by” posts to introduce a tool, but they are not meant to teach about the tool itself. However, if a teacher sees something they like featured on the toolbox, then I can help them delve deeper into the tool, or they can do so on their own.
Beyond that, there’s got to be a way to get administration to see that traditional PD is not the way to go. Sure, you can do your opening days PD sessions, but unless you do something all year long on those particular topics, your teachers are just wasting their time. First of all, they don’t want to be there because they’d rather be setting up their rooms and preparing first lessons. Second of all, they are taking in so much information at once that they don’t have any time to really process it all. Third, the sessions are one size fits all.
My suggestion would be to pick the tools/methods that will be focused on for the year. Then do the opening days PD sessions, unless a different method can be devised. However, then your coaches need to work consistently throughout the year on those tools/methods with teachers. Otherwise, it’s worthless and a waste of teachers’ time. It’s also a good idea to stick with certain tools for more than just a year instead of constantly changing things on teachers. That’s really frustrating. I am only speaking of the edtech tools though, and not the literacy or math skills stuff… that’s a whole other ball game.
I’m definitely into this book so far though and can’t wait to see what other ideas it produces!