Deirdre Moore | October 2015

Mary Mary Quite Contrary, How Does Good PD Grow?

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does good PD grow?
With gardeners and sun and rain
And support that is quite apropos.

How many times have you attended a professional development workshop presenting a specific approach or program and been really excited about it, but never got around to using it?  Or maybe you tried it when you got back to your classroom but it didn’t go quite like it did with the trainer so your initial energy and enthusiasm fade.  How about attending a good PD that presents an approach which seems strangely like a good PD you attended at your school a few years ago that never took root in your school?  Based on a conversation I recently had with some educators it seems like this experience is far too familiar.  Hearing that is so disheartening, because it means precious time and resources are wasted. Ultimately, it’s the students who are losing out.

So, How Do We Grow Good PD?

I’ve thought a lot lately about how to ensure good PD stays, lives and grows in schools.  One factor is the PD has to be worthwhile and educationally sound, like a good seed in rich soil.  If the good PD itself is not high quality it’s not going to be worth the teachers’ or the students’ time.  That means whoever is booking the good PD needs to do his/her due diligence.  Plus,  the timing needs to be right.  It needs to fit with what the school’s needs. Preferably, it should come at the request of the teachers so the ground is ready to receive the seed.  If possible, the presenter should demonstrate the approach in one or several of the classrooms in the school.  Nothing convinces teachers, and proves the approach’s worth like teachers seeing it work with their students.  It further enriches the soil, making it more likely that the PD will take root.

So, the PD was awesome and the teachers are initially enthusiastic.  The seed planted, and is sending out roots.  But, how do you make sure it starts to grow and bear fruit?  Cue the second factor – leadership.  The powers that be in the school need to act as a gardener would; be attentive to show that the PD is a clear priority yet giving it some time and space to flourish.  What does being attentive look like?  The approach or strategy should appear in the school bulletins, information about it should appear in the hallways, it should be referenced and integrated into school assemblies.  When teachers have staff meetings it should appear on the agenda.  The expectations of how and when the strategy should be applied need to be clear to the teachers.

But What Else Does A Seedling Need To Grow?

It needs pruning and weeding, sun and water.  And who should do this pruning and weeding?  It can be the principal or instructional leader, it can be the teachers themselves coaching one another.  It could be the trainer coming back to observe teachers utilizing the strategy so they can receive feedback and support on where to prune and what to weed.  The sun and water could be special supplies or other resources that would enrich the work.

Finally, the last two important factors – time and TLC.  Initiatives, new approaches or strategies require time to grow.  During that growth time, those seedlings require TLC.  Time needs to be set aside for teachers to talk to one another about their successes and challenges with the approach in a safe environment.  They need to get regular feedback, both positive and critical.  In other words, teachers need to be treated as they treat their students since the teachers are the learners here.

Seedlings are fragile and need to be treated with care so they can really take root and thrive.  With good gardening, sun and light, time and TLC we have no idea just how big they may grow or how much fruit they may bear.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.