Staff development that makes a difference

I’ve had staff development on the mind lately.

In his post “Why Staff Meetings Matter”, Chris Lehmann writes that “a faculty is greater than the sum of its parts.”

He goes on to say:

“That’s why it’s important to read articles together, build wikis together, agree on school policies together. That’s why it’s important to take the time to set goals together. “

I’m been watching Mr. Holland’s Opus for the first time while I write this, and listening to Richard Dreyfus sing the John Lennon song “Beautiful Boy” to his son, who is hearing impaired. 

And I’m thinking this is why staff development is important.  Not as a way to fill up time or fulfill requirements.  But because ultimately, what we learn and how we teach has to make a real difference for our beautiful sons and daughters.

And then, watching To Sir With Love,(must be teacher night on TBS) I hear one teacher ask another about learning from students, ‘Does it matter who you learn from as long you learn?’

I wrote the above two weeks ago, but it has been simmering in my mind as we begin our fall staff development modules.    Our campus has a new schedule which allows for staff development during the day each week, 7 periods a day, and I’m co-chairing the committee for planning that.

Last week we kicked off our series of staff development workshops.  We opened the session with this video where I interviewed some of our staff members about staff development.  (Warning: some humor ahead 😉  Our staff did a great job helping me with this!)

Download Video: Posted by technolibrary at

We then had time to do some brainstorming(flickr photos of session)–asking our teachers what they like/don’t like about staff development and to reflect on how they themselves learn.  It was fascinating to see all the different responses, and the variety of staff that we will be training.

One of the main things that has come across clearly is that teachers learn by doing  (every group on our faculty mentioned this, yet most workshops ask them to sit and listen),  that they do appreciate having choices and the ability to chart their own path through the workshop (makes it more relevant to their course), they want to walk away with something substantial, and they want follow-up.   (So much of what our staff said about their own learning applies to our students as well, but that is another post altogether!)

I was also somewhat surprised/dismayed to hear a few teachers sound like that they’d rather not attend staff development at all, or want to do it all on their own,  and that there isn’t much new for them because they are experienced teachers.  While this definitely brings up a concern about “one size fits all,”  I always find myself surprised by teachers who want students to sit and learn, but then they themselves come across as not being very “open” to learning.  There’s a lot of irony here that I’ve been really struggling with, but I also am reminding myself that all educators have different personalities and learning styles, just like our students, and also that many staff development experiences aren’t that helpful, or are repetitious, etc., so it’s natural for people to be frustrated.   

I just (being the Pollyanna that I sometimes am) hope that teachers will bring “themselves” –because really, that’s the most important thing we can bring to a workshop.

Our staff development committee has planned three strands for the fall, each of which will run three weeks(1 day per week), so as we work on this, we’re trying to consider all that our staff said about their own learning.   The strands are:  21st century learning, authentic student engagement, and ethics, but they will be fairly open- ended with lots of discussion and hands-on time with laptops as well as time to collaborate.

Now, this morning I’m reading a post by Clay Burrell about a staff development workshop he’s planning for his campus in Seoul, with lots of fascinating advice he has received, and the focus is very much on the same things that our own staff brought up, particularly that teachers don’t want one-size fits all learning environments (interesting that that is the kind of environment we most often provide for our students!).

This again, is the power of the network for me.   I’m committed to making this opportunity we have work better, but have been struggling, given the format we have, with how to do that effectively.  And here comes my network with some answers and advice!

One question I’m pondering–how much of the “collective” thinking is important, as Chris mentions, and how much of the “departmental” or “individual” and how to keep those balanced?

Clay’s post and the subsequent comments, like those of Wes Fryer, challenge my thinking and offer some solutions which will help us steer our way.  

Clay is creating a wiki (which he has invited others to assist with) to offer workshop pathways geared to the multiple intelligences of the teacher learners.   So collectively, we can collaborate to add sites and all use this tool, which I’m very excited about for my own campus.   The power of the network will help all of us provide better training for our own teachers.

In any case, it doesn’t matter who we learn from or where we learn, as the teacher in To Sir With Love Says–it just matters that we are learning. 

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