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My big duh (and Patrick Larkin on reinventing PD)

At TeachMeetNJ yesterday, I attended Patrick Larkin’s session, Professional Development Doesn’t Have to be an Oxymoron.

Patrick described some of his PD strategies as the Principal at Burlington (MA) High School, (see his post A Professional Development Day that Worked and the Google Doc for the session), and engaged the rest of the participants in conversation about successful PD.  (Patrick’s talk starts at about 1:15 in this video.)

There are these moments when you just get a sense of clarity.  And Patrick’s session did that for me.

Patrick recommended we apply the message of Seth Godin’s Poke the Box (see my last post) to poking the tired old professional development box.

As I listened, it occurred to me that I’ve been attending so many inspiring, informal conferences that break the rules of conferences, that change the power structure of the room, that allow new leaders to emerge, that engage all interested stakeholders in the conversation.  Though I actively bring back and share the stuff I learn with my students and faculty, I neglected to bring the actual PD strategy home.

Patrick suggested stealing from the TeachMeet or Unconference approaches when we design PD in our schools.

He asked,

Why are all these people giving up their time, getting together with other educators on a Saturday, or watching the sessions online?  They are saying that we can do this ourselves, perhaps better than what they’re providing in my district.

These teachers, and most teachers and administrators, are not done.  They are not done learning.

The audience covered what I’ve come to call the yeah buts:

Patrick apologetically admitted that a few teachers and administrators are like oven stuffer roasters. Their sticks have popped and they feel they are done as learners.  (You may know them as the folks who grade papers at workshops or leave for the golf course at noon at conferences.)  As for those few who are done, we should stop designing professional development with the lowest common denominator in mind.

As for state-mandated PD, let’s cover those in less time. Let’s skip the big name speaker.  Professional development should not be something that is done to you.  It should involve teacher input.  It should be meaningful.  It should meet needs.  And it should build capacity.

Let’s focus our time on answering important questions like,  What do we want for kids in the classroom? What do we want our classrooms to look like? Can we dare to be innovative?

If we were truly innovative would it really look like a professional development lecture?  Can we use planning periods or other more flexible time slots to build a professional learning community culture?

What would happen if we tried a teacher-led TeachMeet style once?  If it tanked, would it be worse than typical professional development day? What would be the worse possible thing that could happen?

Check out these must-see resources from the sessions:

Thanks to the organizers and participants of TeachMeetNJ.  I was so sorry that I had only two hours to learn with you yesterday!

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Doug Johnson says:

    Hiya Joycie,

    We’ve started running “user support groups” instead of “training sessions” for a number of applications in our district – GoogleApps, Smartboards, etc. The focus here is that people bring problems/issues/projects to share and discuss rather than just have a trainer train. Seems popular.


  2. Karla Collins says:

    I love this idea Doug gave of “user support groups!” Our monthly technology training sessions have very low attendance. This might be a way to generate some interest and a sense of ownership among the teachers.

  3. Billie Esser says:


    We instituted differentiated professional development in our district two years ago. The belief was that teachers know what areas they need to improve upon or want new learning and as far as training goes, we have a broad knowledge base among the professionals in our school district that can help with training, etc. Several PD days throughout the year are targeted as DI days…each teacher must submit a DI plan for their learning for approval and then must follow up after with a reflection component. Our teachers are happier and it sure beats principal-led staff development.

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