Out Of Service Inservice

Warning:  Likely Pointless Raging Against the Machine Ahead
 
Summer wouldn’t be summer if it didn’t come to an end–and today is that day for me, at least officially.  I’ve been in the classroom for many hours this month, of course, getting things organized for a new year.  I’ve been using Google Calendars to try and organize some of my instruction for the first month or so, preparing to juggle the needs of community building, launch of academic study, and preparation for my state’s high-stakes “assessment”, the MEAP. 
And tomorrow I’ll trip into the local Methodist church for breakfast with my 200+ colleagues around the district, followed by four days of district-coordinated professional development.  Highlights for fifth grade teachers like myself:
  •  A half day entitled “Math”–yep, that’s it.  How am I supposed to plan as a professional for this?  Clearly that is not required, so I’m guessing we’ll just sit somewhere and listen to someone for a few hours.  I suppose this someone will talk about math instructional practices, or math materials for instruction, or math standards, or math pacing guides, or math curriculum maps…maybe.
  • A half day entitled “Words Their Way“–this is the word study “program” my district has adopted.  Should I bring materials?  Are there professional readings recommended for preparation?  Is their a specific goal in mind?  I don’t know–that information didn’t come with the brochure.
  • A half day entitled “Brain-Friendly Teaching and Learning” by Dr. Marty Burns from Scientific Learning–At least this is clearly a presentation I am just supposed to sit through.  I’ve been reading Brain Rules and watching video by Dan Willingham on You Tube, so I am interested to hear from Dr. Burns.  Actually, I downloaded another presentation by her and will listen to that in preparation for the “live” show.
  • A half day entitled “Positive Behavior Support“, which I here will be a district-implemented behavior management program–I don’t know this for sure.  I am sure it is a lovely program, and I will surely comply with any directives, but I do wonder at my district’s dogged pursuit of sameness and what it says about their view of me and my colleagues as professionals.  Do we need to have this because we aren’t doing the job of behavior management “right”?  Will every class using this model prepare students for the world beyond classroom walls?  I’m curious about this one.
 
I’ve left out some tidbits here and there, but these are the highlights.  We do have some significant time to work on “building agendas”, which is likely a laundry list of business that the state or district needs us to address, with a dash of teacher-generated issues mixed in.  These things have to be dealt with, so I don’t begrudge the “building agenda”.
 
I do get frustrated with much of the other district PD.  I know a large consideration is budgetary.  We can’t afford to spend lots of money to bring in consultants/experts differentiated to each educator’s specific needs.  And a little sitandlistenquietly is to be expected.  But if the point is actually to grow teachers as professionals, should a district be “teaching the teachers” using methods that are so very far from the practices that are accepted as the most promising for learning?  I doubt the brain-friendly teaching and positive behavior support lectures are going to tell us to sit our students down and lecture to them for 2-3 hours at a time.
 
We know that the example a teacher sets through her/his behavior choices is often far more powerful than much of what that same teacher says.  Just because we are adult learners doesn’t really change this paradigm.  We need to play with new knowledge, have choice and opportunity to contribute within the learning community and socially construct knowledge…we need similar opportunities to the kind we provide for our students.  PD needs careful pedagogical consideration, and the best PD I’ve experienced has clearly had it.
 
I feel embarrassed for the administrators of the world who demand excellence from their employees but do not model best practice when they find themselves in the position of teaching their teachers.  I feel grateful that I am a self-directed learner that goes out to find the books, webspaces, and networks that push me to expand my thinking and my practice.  I wonder what starting the school year with rich, authentic, and engaging professional development is like? The momentum that must provide teachers to bring their best into those first days of school! 
 
I’m sure I will get some useful information from my PD days this week.  But I will have to shake off the medicre process so that I embrace what I (and most of my fellow teachers) know to be the set of promising practices that invite learners to explore, question, make connections, and build knowledge.  I’m afraid we will have to be compelling and fun and worthy and effective in spite of this PD rather than because of it.