Professional Development (PD) is a privilege, not a right! Anecdotally speaking, 1 out of 10 people in most workshops ‘already know it’ or ‘doesn’t need to know it’, 1 has some ‘urgent’ matter more pressing than their own development and at least 2 people are probably there because someone didn’t know what else to do with on the PD day. I feel bad for those 2, as they are often the counsellors, librarians, learning support or some other ‘specialist’. I am not disparaging these five people, but I am asking them to make the best of a seemingly bad situation. For these five, I end this article with 5 tips to influence their professional development journey, which could even mean getting out of unwanted PD.
First, though, regardless of how or why you are in that room, you form part of an ecosystem. It is incredible how teachers could not be aware of how their behaviour can effect the learning environment. Despite the fact that a lot of PD is poorly planned with more time spent on the powerpoint slides and handouts than on understanding the needs of the people in the room. But, being in that room is a privilege and how you behave is an extension of your own values and beliefs about learning.
During a recent workshop on Interdisciplinary Teaming, we had a team of teachers from one of the regions more prestigious and better resourced International Schools. Throughout the morning of the first day it was obvious this team was not engaged with the workshop. Of the 40 people in the room this small team stood out like a sore thumb.
During an activity I sat down at their table. I was concerned about why they were not participating but I was equally concerned how their lack of involvement may impact the learning environment. The following is a summary of the discussion:
Me: I noticed this team has been engaged in some passionate discussions but I think they may not be relevant to the activity and I am concerned you won’t be able to contribute to the larger group discussion.
Participant 1: Yeah, sorry. You are correct. We are wondering why we are here. To be honest, we have done the Norms of Collaboration and Cognitive Coaching to death…we get this teaming stuff. We really came to learn about the intricacies of the ‘school within a school’ project the other facilitator spearheaded.
Me: I can appreciate you want to discuss and get your teeth sunk into a major case, especially if you feel your team is ready to take on big challenges. In the afternoon and throughout tomorrow there will be plenty of opportunities to apply your skills to mapping out actions appropriate to your school’s stage of readiness for such an initiative.
Participant 2: Yeah…well…that’s sort of the problem. It useless for us to sit here and work on a plan without our other colleagues. They would never accept it if they weren’t involved. don’t get us wrong, this stuff is important, but not relevant to where we are.
Me: At this table is a team representing a cross section of Primary. And if I understand correctly, one that has received extensive training related to collaboration. If developing a ‘school within a school’ is something your school aspires to, then this will be a good opportunity to reflect on where your school is in it’s journey, relative to Primary, identify if any steps have been skipped, map out next steps and try to identify potential obstacles. At a minimum, you could serve as role models for the other participants by providing examples of how you have applied these skills. Reflecting on your own learning journey is critical to being able to recall knowledge and skills when an opportunity presents itself.
Participant 1: I can appreciate how you are trying to get us involved, but our school already has other people working on this and its a 5 year plan and its not our job to think about it. We really just want to know more about the other school’s experience.
Me: Ok, I will let my co-facilitator know of your interests and ask him to sit with you during the next break. In the meantime, please be mindful of the other learners.
Interestingly, at the table next to them were non-academic staff from the same school, passionately engaging in the activities and making insightful contributions to the larger group. This team understood the agenda, completed the pre-workshop survey and readings. They came prepared to learn and had identified an interdisciplinary project to apply the skills and tools we were introducing.
On day two, 3 of the 5 teachers from the primary team didn’t show up and the other two sat with the non-academic team. At first one was roaming around and not directly getting involved in group discussions. By lunch time, everyone on that merged team were working collaboratively to complete the deliverables for day two. The most rewarding moment of the workshop came when one of the non-academic staff participants came up to me and said: “The collapse of our colleagues team was probably the best thing that could have happened for us, as it provided an opportunity for two of them to join us and contribute a perspective often missing in our planning work”.
I find it sad that the academic team that had so much invested in them were unable to make use of the two days to work on a project proposal that they had a common interest in. Previous training should have given them a common understanding, tools and experience to explore a common purpose to improve each others practice. Where as the team that gets significantly less training came prepared, identified a common purpose and applied the skills and tools that were introduced over the two days.
This said, I want to impart some advice to this academic team to ensure they are never put into this unfortunate situation again:
- Take an active role in identifying the professional development you require to improve your practice. This means input from your team members, team leader and other senior stakeholders.
- Formulate a focus question (essential question) that relates to your needs and see if the proposed workshop is designed to answer that question.
- If you have been assigned to a PD you feel is not relevant to your needs or you don’t feel you have time for, take time to speak with the decision maker to understand how you can benefit and try to develop a focus question that aligns with that purpose. The discussion will surface concerns regarding potential obstacles to learning that can be mitigated.
- Speak with the facilitator in advance to share your focus question and ask to be grouped with people with similar interests and experience.
- Not all of the content may apply to what you need now, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need it later. Develop use cases for skills and tools being introduced and use workshop time to explore those cases with other participants and the facilitator. If the facilitator has 1000 slides and leaves no time for discussion, then write those cases down and discuss them with the PD decision maker at the end of the workshop. This should be done regardless as it’s an incredibly effective strategy to ensure the decision maker is more considerate for future PD planning.
Not every PD will be a life changing experience, but by taking time to understand the desired outcomes before the workshop and debriefing the experience with relevant stakeholders after the workshop, you will be taking an active role in shaping your continual learning journey. Additionally, you will be playing an important role with your colleagues professional development. That alone will pay huge dividends in future collaborative ventures.