This blog post is about the professional development meeting that we teachers had after school today. We must attend these meetings and, except when we get to meet with other teachers in our disciplines, they are usually dreadful.
Before I unleash my vitriol, I should note that it’s very difficult to plan meaningful professional development for teachers; it takes a lot of effort and time. It’s also very difficult to have teachers enthusiastic about meetings when they are forced to attend them. And finally, trying to get teachers to concentrate at the end of a long day of teaching is extremely difficult.
That said, today’s meeting was not productive for “structural” reasons. Here’s a blow by blow account of what happened.
(2:15 pm) The meeting begins with the assistant principal asking us to write for a few minutes in response to one of these three guiding questions:
1. “What works?” vs “What is your personal philosophy of teaching?”
2. How can our school, committed to promoting the understanding of all learners, help teachers contribute significantly toward achieving that goal?
3. What role does teacher/peer observation play in identifying the underrepresentation of key strategies and processes and existing student achievement and performance gaps?
Wow. Where to begin? First of all, #1 doesn’t make any sense. Am I supposed to respond to one question or the other, or am I supposed to respond to the juxtaposition of the two questions? I don’t know what the question is getting at, and so I have no idea how to respond. Question #2 is such a huge question that I feel completely paralyzed by it. If I am really supposed to answer question #2, I would need more than a few minutes or need the scope of the question to be narrowed down significantly.
So, I settle for question #3. I write for a few minutes and then the assistant principal asks us to share our responses.
(2:20 pm) One teacher shares his response to #2. He makes the suggestion that having time in our meetings to share lessons with each other might be beneficial. Another teacher makes the point that it’s even better when lessons are shared between teachers from different disciplines. The conversation then devolves into teachers venting about things and about whether instituting a protocol for sharing lessons would be helpful or make the process seem too formal. In the end, only one person gets to share a response to the three guiding questions.
(2:40 pm) Assistant principal moves us to the next task. We are to read a handout entitled “Investigating the Key Jobs of Teacher and Student,” write comments on it, then share our responses within our small groups. Since the handout doesn’t have anything to do with the previous three guiding questions or the previous conversation, this action sends (to me, anyway) the message that what we just did wasn’t very important. I’m wondering what those three guiding questions were supposed to guide us to. I’m also very curious to see whether the suggestion about having time to share lessons with each other actually gets picked up in future meetings–there have been lots of other suggestions brought up in previous meetings that seemed to get lots of assent but no action.
(2:50 pm) The four teachers in my group have been reading the handout silently up to this point. One teacher in our group brings up a question about what to do when all of our students perform poorly on a test. It’s an important question, but one that is not really related to the assigned task. Nevertheless, our small group has a discussion on this topic. When the principal asks for the small groups to share their responses, we hear some very general comments about teaching. The handout seems to have had little impact on the discussion. (The handout puts various teaching strategies into three categories: direct instruction, coaching, facilitative and constructivist teaching.) There is no discussion about whether some of these strategies are “underrepresented” in our classrooms.
(3:04 pm) The assistant principal introduces a representative from a local credit union who wants to help us teach students more financial literacy. The meeting ends with some announcements.
Each of us was given an agenda for the meeting. The agenda lists these outcomes for the meeting:
By the end of this session, participants will:
(1) Consider the degree to which teaching styles and strategies promote high levels of student understanding.
(2) Identify areas where particular strategies and processes are underrepresented in existing classrooms.
(3) Discuss correlations and gaps between identified teacher behaviors and student responses.
None of these outcomes have been met, except maybe (1). The feeling that I get from the agenda is that it is mainly a showcase for educational garbledygook. The meeting is unfocused and incoherent. I feel like I’ve mostly wasted my time. I can feel a growing personal aversion towards these professional development meetings and educational phrases like “underrepresented strategies” and “continuous improvement efforts.” And judging by the looks of my colleagues, I don’t think I was the only one to feel this way.