Last week I gave my last PD event of 2021, which was the busiest PD year I've ever had. I wanted to take a minute to capture some things I’ve learned and share it in case it helps.
Good PD Gives Life to the Soul; Bad PD… Doesn’t
Before we get to differences between good and bad PD, an important warning: both good and bad PD experiences are created by smart people with good intentions. Good intentions and intelligence, then, aren’t enough to avoid giving bad PD.
So what are the differences between good and bad PD?
- Good PD helps me do my job. Bad PD just adds more things to my job.
- Good PD gives me less but better things to think about — it clarifies and focuses. Bad PD gives me more and worse things to think about — it sows chaos, confusion, incoherence.
- Good PD is delivered by a credible individual — someone who demonstrates Care, Competence, and Passion/Urgency. Bad PD is delivered by a non-credible individual — someone who demonstrates indifference, incompetence, or the filibuster (i.e., running out the clock).
- Good PD takes only the time it needs, not a second longer. Bad PD fills time. (A teacher’s quality is measured in their mind, body, soul, impact — not in their clock hours.)
- Good PD treats teachers like multi-faceted souls in need of encouragement, equipment, and understanding. Bad PD treats teachers like computers in need of software updates or data downloads.
- Good PD couldn’t have been done via an email. Bad PD (for sure) could’ve.
- Good PD is both intellectually rigorous and refreshingly simple. (Note the tension.) Bad PD is either hopelessly complex OR bland and oversimplified.
- Good PD targets fundamental understandings and competencies that apply to every person at the meeting. Bad PD ignores or minimizes the roles of folks whose jobs don’t fit with the topic.
I know that sounds like an intense list. It could even sound judgy. But my aim is observation, not finger-pointing. I’ve led PD hundreds of times, and I’ve for sure made all of the kinds of BADs listed above.
But even though I don’t wish to denigrate anyone, please hear me when I state, emphatically, that bad PD is an affront to the human soul. It is NOT a small problem. It is experienced by many of us as pain. So to knowingly allow bad professional development is to abdicate our calling as educators.
Stark, I know. But also, true.
So, how do we make better PD?
My holiday break is fast approaching, so I don’t have a ton of time to dive into this, but here’s a list of things to ponder as we close out 2021 and look ahead to 2022:
- Pick any of the bolded “Good PD ________” sentences in the list above and use them to analyze your own work. Even better, ask an honest colleague to give you feedback in these areas.
- Pick timeless topics. What core competencies do you want all your folks to have, all the time? Managing self, cultivating motivation, producing learning — these are some fundamental competencies that all teachers deserve and desire to grow in. If I was in charge of PD, I'd have a three year cycle that rotated through these topics, and I'd be seasoning all my speech and communication with these, and I'd be relentless in my urgency to help my folks separate the stressfully plentiful nonsense away from the core, calming kinds of work that matter most.
- If you've got to bring folks a mandated-but-out-of-touch PD topic, twist it into a shape that will bring life to your people. If that's not possible (and sometimes it's not), call it what it is (a hoop) and make it quick. I have witnessed administrators earn large credibility gains via such honesty; it creates a clear sense that you are passionate for your people.
I could go into this more, but again, time is finite. One of my (very few) focuses next year will be offering a program for folks who want to lead student motivation PD in their settings.
Keep an eye on your inbox for that announcement tomorrow!