Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Why, What if, and How of Teacher PD

It's the end of the school year, and that might mean we have time to address some pretty tough questions. If you're a faculty member like me, you get about a week to catch your breath, submit final grades, and finally read that article you've had open for the past month. For many of us, summer is a chance to reflect, make changes, and move forward. This is at the same time exciting and daunting, so where do we even start? 

I personally like this model from Peter Pappas (pictured right), primarily because of the first two questions: what did I do? and what was important about it? Most importantly, being able to answer these first questions is indicative that we can answer a question even more important: what is the problem?

This is when things can get messy. How do we identify what the problem is? Who gets to say it's a problem? Who decides which problem we address? These are messy problems because everyone has his/her own answer. That messiness might also get compounded when a member of the team jumps into the middle of a problem-solving process, we aren't sure how to name the problem without taking blame (Scott again), or - worst of all - there isn't anyone willing to start the conversation in the first place. I've written before about Susan Scott's book Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work + in Life, One Conversation at a Time. One of the key attributes to a fierce conversation is to name the problem. Professional development, like most things, isn't effective if it's done without focus or haphazardly. Once we name the problem, we can make choices and be strategic about what we invest our resources in.

To better name the problem, only more tough questions will do. I love the discussion in Co.Design's article Tackle Any Problem With These 3 Questions about using inquiry to drive the problem-solving process. The graphic below summarizes that framework:

The article points out that this isn't formulaic since this kind of questioning can bounce around. In fact, this sort of method should be unpredictable in order to find hidden answers. (What do you do when you've lost something and looked every where it should be? Look where it shouldn't be.) Each set of questions appropriately moves the process forward.

The purpose of all this, of course, is to emphasize the process and thought that should be involved in professional development. There's even more questions you can use with something called Cubie, which adds on a few more questions and an "else." But how many of us face such challenges in our classroom and want to do something, but aren't sure where to start? This is a method that provides, at the very least, a road map for us to follow until we find the groove.

Teachers have a unique opportunity for autonomy, no matter how many standards, assessments, or competencies are placed upon us. Professional development is one area that faculty - college faculty especially - still have some chance for control and self-direction. We know that there is a great need for change in education, and we can take the initiative to look for solutions through professional development. The way to get there is to truly, honestly dig into the why, what if, and how.

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