“Professional Development is meant to develop you professionally, not serve as purely administrative time.” That one line, delivered by the passionate and talented Walter Brown of Hudson HSLT, completely changed my perspective on professional development.
How often had I sat through meetings during my mandated “Professional Development” time to talk through administrative checklists? Even in the furthest stretches of the imagination, the it would be a stretch to call much of what schools set aside for “PD Time” as something that truly expands the professional skill set and abilities of the staff.
That is not to say that this is entirely the fault of the administration when professional development is so dull - it is incredibly difficult to run a school and to design meaningful group experiences for the staff to partake in every week, on top of mandated district trainings, departments meetings, etc. But what is too often an untapped resource is the very core of the educational output these schools have - their teachers.
Teachers are incredible. You likely agree, because you’re reading this blog. But they’re not just incredible because of the work they do with students or the time they put into their lesson plans. Teachers are, by their very nature, highly curious and passionate people - and often have a massive amount of resources, experiences, and strategies to share.
Teachers need a better opportunity to share their passion with each other - that is one of the reason EDxEDNYC is such an amazing concept - but, what about the rest of the year? That is where professional development comes into play.
“Professional Development is meant to develop you professionally, not serve as purely administrative time."
Professional development can have a tendency to be rote, dull, and uninspiring - but my experience with EDxEDNYC taught me it didn’t have to be that way. So, I pushed for my administration to implement a mini-EDxEDNYC every month. The format would be:
-3 teacher volunteers presenting about something they are passionate about (it can be pedagogical, content-based, or just something that they care a lot about
-The rest of the staff gets to “register” for the meeting of their choice. This maintains an air of professionalism and structure.
-”Conversations” last for 45 minutes, and are followed by grade-team meetings in which the staff “jigsaws” out their learnings (so that we all get exposure to each talk), and groups discuss how these strategies could be applied to their own classrooms across the grade
Flipping professional development from the administration to the teachers, and from checking-off to-dos to creating passionate conversations, has been a revelation for our staff. Nearly every staff member has reported that they prefer the new style to their other professional development opportunities, and every staff member reports improved student outcomes as a result of their conferences.
At our school, we call the sessions “Let’s be Frank”, after our namesake, the author Frank McCourt. McCourt himself was a teacher and a storyteller whose various experiences inspired generations of students and readers. I’d like to think that, given the opportunity, he’d have a pretty great Let’s be Frank presentation. What will your staff share? What experiences are waiting to be shared, waiting to inspire?
Vince is a biology teacher at Frank McCourt high School who is passionate about getting students involved in meaningful ways in the classroom. He founded a nationally recognized science research program and also developed a robust peer mentoring program at his school. He loves cooking and gardening with his beautiful wife. Vince acts as session coordinator and oversees logistics for EDxEDNYC!