A whole lot of money is often spent on district-wide professional development days. Often, these events occur two or three times a year, feature an inspiring speaker (or one that was supposed to be), and supply teachers with a fistful of great ideas that evaporate upon contact with the realities of the classroom…particularly when little follow-up support is provided in the aftermath.

This year, schools are facing an even larger challenge: cuts in funding.

Last year, my daughter Laura and I were invited to participate in an unconference during the final Western New York PLP session. At first, I was overwhelmed by the thought of my ten year old daughter speaking to a group of educators about a blog project that was still in its infancy, even if it was an informal chat with a small group of interested parties. Will and Sheryl eased that mild anxiety by asking Laura to present to the entire crowd in a more formal capacity shortly afterward. Good times for my neurotic self, let me tell you.  I kid (sort of)–but in all seriousness, I’m still grateful to them for that invitation and Laura is as well. It was a good experience for her and a proud moment for me, but more importantly, it opened my eyes to something important: the fact that children have tremendous expertise.

We know this, of course. We all do. But how often do we act on that in meaningful ways?

I’m wondering what would happen if schools were to survey their students about the expertise that they have and invite them to lead their next district staff development day? This could look like an unconference, or it could look like something more. And their participation does not have to be limited to the space of a single event.

Quality professional development is driven by passion, supported long-term, and firmly rooted in the culture of every district. In the end, it’s about serving children. And children have a lot to offer when they are called into service. I’m thinking it’s not necessary to spend a ton of money inspiring people when that money could be better invested in kids and teachers who have much to teach each other.

What do you think? What could first steps look like? I’m thinking that schools in our region could do any of the following:

1. Determine Topics for Potential PD by working with PLCs, leadership councils, or CDEP committees. Teachers and administrators could also be surveyed to pinpoint areas of interest. Are teachers eager to learn more about social networking? Blogging? Smart Boards?

2. Invite Students to Participate as PD Leaders by linking their work to their classroom learning goals. A student who blogs his responses to a novel study can train teachers to help others do the same, for instance. Another who built a glog about the Holocaust can help teachers use this tool with their own students. Their willingness to serve in this way could earn students classroom credit.

3. Survey Students to determine what their areas of expertise are. Consider teacher recommendations and portfolio assessment as well, possibly.

4. Or, Include Them All by following a true unconference format. Open it to all students, allowing teachers to “vote with their feet.”

5. Make PD a Part of the School Day by including all students at sessions, where they can learn beside their teachers.

6. Assess the Impact by determining how success will be measured and how the model can be improved upon over time.

7. Plan for Long-Term Support  and think about the ways in which these students could support teachers or how groups of students and teachers could help other beginners as they gain new expertise.

8. Broaden the Learning Experience to include other schools in your community and world-wide.

These are steps that I’ll be taking with the teachers and writers of the WNY Young Writers’ Studio in the coming year. I’m eager to hear from others who have done similar things and what your beginnings were like.


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