3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development

Spending the last week in Oslo, Norway, with the visionary Ann Michaelsen and other school leaders here, I have really thought about the way that we deliver professional development, and to be honest, some of the practices that either don’t make sense anymore, or we have to rethink.  Although this is focused mainly on what we do as adults in our time together, many of these lessons have applications to the classroom.

1.  Creating a detailed agenda – As much as I understand that people want to have an idea of where a day is going, too often we focus too much on when we are having lunch, as opposed to getting to know participants and understanding where they are at in their learning.  If we are truly to honour the learners in front of us, how can I know where they are going to be at 1pm if I haven’t even met them yet?  Listing objectives for the day is one thing, but saying when they will be achieved throughout the day is another.  If we are going to differentiate our workshops, let’s quit focusing on a time, and focus more on a person.

2.  Scheduling back-to-back-to-back-to-back learning – How many times have you been really interested in two sessions at a conference and found yourself running across a large convention hall to make it from one session to another?  With so many people connecting through social media now, the hallway is becoming as valuable a learning space as any large room; some would say more so.  The opportunity to connect and talk face-to-face is invaluable, and I believe that this has to be embedded into our days.  I was shocked a few years ago when I delivered a workshop to a group of Australians and they wanted a full 30 minutes for a break, as we were used to usually having a quick coffee and jumping right back into the learning.  They had it right, and if anything, that time could be a little longer.  A conversation with a colleague about the information presented helps to bring any knowledge shared into context within an organization.  Let’s make sure we build time in for that.

3. Thinking that “collaboration” with others is the only way we learn – It is great when we are in a room with so many colleagues that bring a lot of learning to the table.  Often the drill seems to go, someone shares information, talk with others, rinse, and repeat.  Why do we not create a time for people to sit and reflect.  Not necessarily create something, but actually write a reflection.  I have been doing this in workshops for awhile, and to be honest, a lot of educators seem to feel uncomfortable with that process, yet feel fine writing notes of everything a presenter says.  How much do we learn when we “copy and paste” our learning like that.  My belief is that until we get a chance to process and make connections, we don’t really learn that much. In one ear and out the other.  If we start building reflection time into our professional development, don’t you think that we would start doing this in our classrooms.  We have to move away from the “mass dump” process in our learning.

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey

We constantly talk about changing practices in the classroom, but until we rethink and redo the way that we learn, nothing will change in the classrooms.

What would you do different?

P.S. If you want to talk to someone who is, in my estimation, an expert on the topic of professional learning, connect with Cale Birk.  He knows this area inside-out.


  1. Chris O'Neal said:

    I like the idea/discussion of changing up professional development. I do a lot of p.d., and a participant once said that she appreciated the *opportunity* to take part in multiple approaches, but that she did not want to be forced to do so. Her example was “talk to the person next to you” about something. She said she despised feeling forced to interact with content in a way that was prescribed. Her most effective (according to her own self assessment) method of attending p.d. events really was to listen to what was going on, take meticulous notes, then process it later on her own time. It was an eye-opening conversation for me, and really made me rethink my expectations for how I wanted participants in my workshops, etc. to take part!

    February 16, 2014
  2. Steve said:

    How about stopping any PD where there is no actual evidence of improved student performance. Any PD where there is no before and after evidence of student work is not valid PD! Also, It is not valid if no teacher is present who did the “improvements” and can speak to the pitfalls and problems.
    The insanity has to stop….”the data shows” is not a compelling argument. Nor does anyone believe it anymore.

    February 16, 2014
  3. Su Fu said:

    I couldn’t agree more on the part that we need to spend time reflecting whatever information that we have exposed to, especially during and immediately after a fairly intensive training session.

    Having been working as a language trainer for years, I’ve come to realize that it is any trainers’ biggest mistake to overestimate people’s working memory capacity and underestimate the difficulties in reviewing the information long after its delivery.

    There’s no magic to it. Just give them to reflect on whatever you’ve given them, let them talk to each other about it and maybe even bring related experience or ideas to the table. (The last one sorta comes naturally if the first two have been built into our training session routines)

    February 17, 2014
  4. Robin Litaker said:

    We have known this for years….. The problem is we have stayed in the comfort zone…. it’s like a teacher who lectures… we hide behind the message and the knowledge we are trying to deliver…. we push teachers to have their students to think creatively…. yet during professional learning…. we revert back to the skill and drill routines… Good article…. simple and to the point….

    February 17, 2014
  5. Darren Mitzel said:

    I actually prefer the latest PD of edcamp style. So far my experiences have been extremely enlightening and the conversation intense. The idea that the smartest person in the room is the room itself is very true. I am looking for ways to model a similar PD “edcamp” type of morning at my school with my staff and even students. The opportunity to talk more freely on a specific topic has more appeal than someone telling us what we should be doing in our daily practice.

    February 20, 2014

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