5 Trends in Professional Development We Must Think About

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

We know that professional development of a teaching staff is the number one strategy to increase student achievement. In fact, I believe in it so much that I devote over 1/3 of my budget on professional development. Looking at the ways in which teachers like to receive the professional development is vital. Connecting more and more people to the needs of the district takes time delving into data, observing teaching staff, having long conversations, and of course taking professional development myself as a principal! Here are my top five trends in professional development that I see are the most influential to the success of staff development: 1) bottom-up approach, 2) employee empowerment, 3) attention to culture, 4) problem solving, and 5) utilizing multi delivery methods.

Bottom-Up Approach / EdCamps

The "unconference" or "edcamps" have led the way with new bottom-up approaches or grassroots professional development opportunities. Teachers in the field are deciding what they want to learn about, and then the information they garner is tailored to their needs. An "edcamp" starts out by several people coming together in a common location, hopefully with internet capability and other possible tools for success. The participants come up with topics in education that they want to learn more about. Some "edcamps" have a theme, and some are wide-open to be determined. Participants put their ideas on a large board or wall and a facilitator determines the trends in what people want. Then manageable groups are devised pertaining to a certain topic and participants are led to that location. The beauty of a true "edcamp" is if you are not getting what you want in that group or it isn't meeting your needs, you are allowed to get up and go to another group. While in a group, there is no real leader. There might be someone that helps start discussions, but does not present or lead the group…they also might help moderate to keep people on the chosen topic (to an extent). Another great quality of this format is that people can bring with them anything that pertains to the topic: books, pictures, videos, and etc.… They can also use BYOD, bring your own device, to research the topic while in the group. After a set amount of time, participants can chose to stay and continue the conversations on this topic, or they may choose to move to another group. I believe this is the ultimate bottom-up approach to professional development that is definitely empowering to the participants.

Teacher Leaders

The more healthy a teaching staff, I believe you will find a high number of teachers who are leaders. The ability for an administrator to build leaders within the school is important to the culture of learning. I believe I don't have all the answers and I am not an expert on all topics…I believe others on staff can support me and do a better job by empowering them to lead. Teachers step up, many times without pay or compensation, and feel a sense of service and regency, They want to make sure our school is the best place to work and learn, and spreading their expertize is how they can support us. Some administrators have a hard time giving up power and control; I think this negatively affects student achievement and hampers creativity. My job as principal is to make sure all students are thinking and being responsible. If I start with that premise, I also would want my teachers to do the same. They can glean so much from each other in our school, and truly my only job is to model professionalism, cultivate school culture, promote a growth mindset…and get the heck out of the way!

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Cultivating culture through professional development is all about putting an emphasis on relationships. I believe a school will self-destruct without focusing on how to treat students, parents, community members, and colleagues. From day one, we preach 212 degrees of customer service. At 100 degrees, we support each other, seem positive, greet others occasionally, and help our customers…kids and parents. But, at 212 degrees, we are going out of our way to support kids, parents, and community members. We are making connections to all these people and put relationships first. When anyone enters our school we are saying hello and asking them if they need support. We go out of our way to make sure the needs of all stakeholders are met. We treat each other with a high level of respect. We greet each other everywhere in the school, we even set up times to meet outside of the school day to create even stronger bonds with the people we work with. We continually are creating, cultivating, and growing a place where everyone likes to work, learn, and "go to solution" daily!

Problem Solving

The amount of decisions a teacher or principal make in one day is unfathomable! In fact, a recent study showed that a teacher makes roughly 1,500 decisions in a school day or four per minute. Professional development focusing on problem solving must be required! We constantly make decisions about students on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and behavior. In addition, we are also making decisions on making sure our kids get their basic needs met: food, clothing, and safe housing! Teaching is more difficult than rocket science for sure! At our school we devote time to developing personal learning plans for many students, which we call Customized Learning Plans. We also meet as a staff weekly to discuss problem solving strategies in our professional learning community (PLC) time. We believe the faster we "go to solution," and not "sniff the turd" the healthier we are as a learning team.

Multi-Delivery Methods / Technology

The last facet that I see as changing for teachers with professional development is the aspect of offering multiple delivery methods. As we know that learning isn't always asynchronous, we need to change our professional development offerings to mirror this change. Students can take classes in person, online, with mixed media, in a team environment, and these tasks can even be project-based. Teachers need the same. Some learn better by reading and implementing, than by getting modeled a strategy or team teaching. Some learn better when they can have more time to dig into a topic, then rushed through a topic in the devoted hour for PLC that week. This form of differentiating happens and is required for students around the nation, why shouldn't it be required for teachers as well?

As you may be able to tell, I am professional development junkie. I read books, attend workshops, follow education leaders on Twitter, conduct research as a hobby, and even write a couple weekly blogs. The five trends above are something that we pride ourselves in trying to offer to our school and we are constantly reflective in our practices, as well as looking forward to the trends in professional development. We know that Web 3.0 is on the horizon and it will change education! How will these trends affect your school?

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Jon Konen