Caroline uses Twitter to connect experienced teachers with schools who appreciate their expertise so that students from low-income communities can benefit. Last week, she suggested that I craft a post about professional development for teachers who work in low-income schools, and ironically, a regional opportunity is taking shape here that might provide a bit of inspiration.
Several weeks ago, Scott McLeod shared a compelling four-part series of posts titled Beware the Outside Consultants, and as I read it, I couldn’t help but question once again what it means to be an expert in this field. We tend to throw the words “best practices” around with wild abandon, and yet, those I consider my colleagues and friends often challenge the existence of such things. What makes something a best practice? Who has the right to assert themselves as authorities in the field? More importantly, who am I to suggest what type of professional development might be best for teachers of kids who live and work in places far away from where I do?
I guess I feel uncomfortable making any assumptions, and I think that all consultants should. There are reasons why need’s assessments are given, peer-review is recommended, and rigorous program evaluation is valued. Experts who don’t subject themselves to quality assurance measures like these can’t truly call what they do best practice can they? I’m hoping that becoming an authority in the field requires much more than being popular these days, but I’m not so sure it does, and in light of that, I hesitate to make a lot of recommendations when I’m asked to name “experts” of “best practices.”
I think we all have a place at the table. We all have expertise to share, and it’s a wonderful thing when educators can come together to do exactly that. Are you familiar with unconferencing? Have you explored the Teachmeet wiki? If the idea of sharing what you’re passionate about and learning from others who have something valuable to contribute excites you, then this professional development model might hold promise. It’s something I’m happy to get behind, and in fact, I intend to!
Planning is underway for a WNY Teachmeet, which will be held this spring in or around Rochester, New York. If you’d like to get in on the ground floor and help in the planning of this event, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gene Gordon and I are planning to get together with a group of very interested local educators to begin conceptualizing this event on February 15th, and we’d love to have you there.
I’m all for leveraging the best of what teachers and administrators have to offer, and I’m hoping that we can invite some other expert voices into the conversation as well…..student voices. I don’t know if this is the sort of response you were looking for Caroline, but I hope it provided you a new idea or two. Let me know, and thanks for getting me thinking!
I love the idea of a Teachmeet. As an educational community, with diversity in background and experiences there is so much to share and learn. As a teacher I relished anything that came from the front lines that I could implement immediately. A Teachmeet sounds like the right forum, collaborative, reflective and positive.
We’re getting some great feedback too. Have quite a few people from different places expressing interest and offering to present and plan. Hope you can be a part of that!
Angela, you are right – it is so important to foster this kind of collective learning among the very people who’ve got to implement the best practices. And, the use of wikis and other web capabilities to do this is exactly what 21st century learning is all about. Will definitely be thinking about how to connect more teachers to Teachermeet… just as many thanks back to you for getting ME thinking!
Love the TeachMeet idea – teachers should have as much time together as possible! And of course pulling in students is always a good idea in my book.
However, I would hate to have you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Outside expertise can be useful too!
In my book, a consultant/expert is worth the money is when they can synthesize multiple experiences, apply it to a new situation, and transfer that knowledge quickly. When teachers share personal experiences, sometimes it’s hard to figure out what is transferrable, what isn’t, and what parts and pieces might be needed somewhere else. It’s not “best practice” if it’s only been tested in one unique situation, no matter how successful it was.
And a consultant/expert had better understand that there is collective wisdom to be built on, or else whatever they do won’t have local ownership and will fail.
I think it’s all too easy to conflate consultant, expert, and speaker as well. Just because someone can come in and give a rousing speech doesn’t mean they can leave enough behind to really change practice. Districts often get the parade of “experts” who really are just inspirational speakers, and then they wonder why nothing changes.
As usual, there’s no simple answer, it has to be a combination of all these things!
The distinction between consultant/expert/speaker is such an important one….great point. I wonder how often the goals and indicators of initiatives are clearly defined before schools call on people to provide consulting of any shape or form, though.
I feel uncomfortable suggesting how schools should help kids unless I’ve been invited to consider evidence that suggests what their real needs might be. Sometimes, outsiders are brought in merely because they are popular and movements take shape for similar reasons…in fact, this seems to be rather common. I’m watching it happen all around me anymore, and it’s kinda scary.
That said, I agree that there are plenty of experts out there whose work anyone would value and many ways to develop solid initiatives that lead to real change. In my own work, I’m learning more about how leaders might identify a program’s theory of change, and I can see how doing so might help define how schools can call upon speakers/consultants/experts in more strategic and ultimately effective ways.
I don’t mean to suggest that an unconference can replace all other forms of PD. It can’t and it shouldn’t. But I’m excited about getting this one off of the ground. I’m also glad that you opened up this larger conversation about experts/speakers/consultants and the like. It’s such an important one, and I know that in my own neck of the woods, we could use some clarity around all of these issues.