Nov 152010

Practice, then, both shapes and supports learning. We wouldn’t need to labor this point so heavily were it not that unenlightened teaching and training often pulls in the opposite direction. -Brown & Duguid, 2000, p. 129

Far too much teacher professional development happens in a way that is isolated from the very practice of teaching. We go away to conferences, or an “expert” is brought in to our school and regular classes cease for a few days so we can all go into a separate place to “learn.”

teachers at seminar

… all of which is fine and good (don’t tell me you’ve never breathed a sigh of relief knowing that you won’t have to teach two days this week), but if learning is to be authentic, shouldn’t it happen in context? So why are we learning how to be competent, well-rounded professionals outside the contexts of our classrooms? Where is the professional development that involves being in my classroom? Where is the professional development that happens alongside — or as part of — my teaching?

Where is the social learning that happens within the context of a teaching practice?

I’m by no means advocating we get rid of in-house professional development or stand-alone conferences altogether. I just wonder: what would the professional development landscape look like if we were consistently involved in learning that involved our teaching practice?

What would our teaching practice look like?

What would our learning look like?

What would our students’ learning look like?


Brown, J.S., & Duguid, P. (2000). The social life of information. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

teachers at seminar by Lief (Bryne, Norway)

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  4 Responses to “Practice: PD in context”

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  1. I cannot not tell you how many times I have thought of how irregular and painful most professional development is. Forget the location or the context, but the delivery is often times the most mind numbing nineteenth century style content that we would be embarrassed to give to students. Most teachers are often disengaged and complaining about “having to” learn yet another thing.

    I think because like most teachers, schools are trying to get through content, but instead of curriculum they are saddled with initiatives. Get everyone up to speed on Powerschool, or Atlas Rubicon, or Understanding by Design, or whatever other new fancy idea every school is using this year.

    Where is the inquiry in that? Where is the learner led discovery in scheduled meetings dictated by admin. Sure there are opportunities for teachers to share and collaborate both in house and at conferences, but like you said, it all still feels a bit contrived and unnatural.

    Just riffing some ideas here but what if:

    PD was planning and co-teaching with a teacher outside of your department or grade level.
    PD was inviting parents in to observe and participate in a debate or presentation.
    PD was allowing a group of student teach an after school class for teachers on: social networks, gaming, or whatever else they want.

    PD was finding a group of teachers to collectively find something none of them know about and learn together. Doesn’t have to be school related, but they document learning along the way.

    Goes back to my point of questioning how much teachers with everything they have going on are really interested in learning anything new. If you think I am being cynical take a look at your next PD session. Or maybe the problem is that like our students, teachers are just bored, disengaged and tired of being told what they need to learn and want the freedom to explore for themselves.

  2. And then there is the amazing online collaboration of ideas and professional development that is happening right now, as my fingers tap out the words.
    It’s been great so far and I have bookmarked even more sessions. Setting up professional networks is key. My fellow tweeps have given me so much and made my blended course possible.
    My school has come along in leaps and bounds in the last few years. We get interesting key note speakers and I have generally felt inspired the last few times we have had such days. We have another professional development day on Friday and technology has been higlighted.
    Having said all of that, I read above and I don’t disagree, at all. I am just pleased my school is moving in the right direction. It is so frustrating as a teacher been talked at when they should be modelling excellent teaching, if it is indeed for our professional development. Lead by example.
    I love the idea of students running workshops. There are some students that would just shine and love the chance to do so. Some of my students are called my technology gurus and have gained respect. It would be great to see that on an even wider scale.

  3. @Jabiz – you’re absolutely right. Too often admin make decisions on behalf of teachers as to what teachers need to learn. Most of the time (in my experience, at least) this is done somewhat “intuitively” without a proper needs-assessment — exactly what we are NOT supposed to do in our classrooms! “I’m going to decide what you need to learn.” Of course I understand that sometimes in a professional environment this has to be the case, particularly if a school is moving in a certain direction (e.g. tech integration) and teachers need to get their skills up to a certain baseline. But again I argue that that learning should be done within the context of the teachers’ learning practice, i.e., in their classrooms, while they are teaching. It makes no sense for it to be isolated. There’s an abundance of research out there demonstrating that learning in isolated contexts does not result in transfer — we KNOW this as teachers, too.

    I love what you’ve said here especially:

    “PD was finding a group of teachers to collectively find something none of them know about and learn together.”

    This is why I linked to action research, as I think it can be one of the most reflective, metacognitive, and powerful forms of professional development.

    @Melissa – agree with you about setting up your personal network. It gives a supportive and nurturing environment, for sure (which many do not have in their schools). Happy to hear that UNIS Hanoi is continuing to move in the right direction — I always thought it was, so this is no surprise to me! :) And I too would love to see student workshops. Hmmm.. maybe students should be leading our practice-led professional development in our classrooms? Some food for thought there…

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