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Why I hate “plunk” PD!

We’ve all seen this.  An administrator or teacher of influence sees a great session at a conference and says to themselves, “That is exactly the message that our school needs to hear!  We totally need to do [that] or move in [that] direction!”  Now, when the administrator or teacher of influence is thinking that, he or she almost certainly has several specific people in mind.  They know those teachers who just don’t “get it.”  They just don’t move in their teaching the way they should.  “That speaker was so articulate,” they think, “if they just heard this message, this way, from this speaker, we’d be on the fast track to success!”

They book the speaker.  Everyone gathers during a professional day and the person who brought in the speaker sits proudly in the back of the room waiting for the magical transformation to occur.

At the end of the session, the people who already “get it,” say stuff like, “That was awesome! Thank you so much for bringing in that speaker!”  The pride blossoms in the back of the room.  Surely, we are merely hours away from the magical transformation!  However, as the teachers for whom this speaker was “targeted” leave, the balloon of pride is quickly deflated when the comments are overheard.  “What a waste of time.  Seriously, where do they get these guys?  I have more valuable things to do with my time!”

Money spent.  Precious professional time gone. No meaningful progress.

A lot of schools are quick the blame the grumpy teacher for choosing not to open their mind.  I think it is more complicated than that.

If the grumpy stagnant teachers were the target, what did the school do to understand the target learners?  These are educated professionals!  They have heard this message before from other colleagues.  Did we really think that the only reason they didn’t agree was because the message was not articulate enough?!  If you’ve been at a school that has made substantial reform then you already know…that is not NEARLY enough.

Our professional time is already so limited at schools.  A series of disjointed experiences where we just “plunk” someone in front of our teachers does very little to more us forward in a sustainable way.  We need something relevant that meets us where we are!

They say an expert is anyone who knows something and lives 20 miles away.  Through Educational Collaborators, I’ve been given the chance to be that expert for other schools and districts.  With those schools we have taken this larger approach and seen the fruits.  A great example is Daviess County Public Schools in Kentucky.

They looked at their four year old 1:1 program and reviewed how far they had come and where they wanted to go.  We helped them with that review.  Part of that review included the creation of new goals for the next four years.  We then created a survey for teachers.  However, we wanted to know, not only have they achieved the goal in observable ways, but, do they possess the prerequisite attitudes and skills to get there?  That gave us data to meet teachers where they were rather than where we hoped they’d be.

We also worked with the administrators.  How were they supporting and assessing the teachers?  Did they get the coaching they needed to be good managers?  Did they know what to look for and how to translate those observations into meaningful and supportive actions?  Just a few visits a year where we did Learning Walks with them helped everyone keep their eye on the prize.

We also mixed and matched the delivery methods.  We tried workshops, webinars, professional learning groups, coaching and more.  Some things worked and some didn’t.  However, because we had developed data collection methods, we knew when it was not working so we could make changes.

We all know that professional growth is a process.  We should treat it like a focused and thoughtful process.  Our teacher’s time is precious.  We should avoid “plunking” someone in front of them.  Make all of your PD for teachers part of something larger.  Make sure they understand that larger goal.  Be certain that you are meeting your teachers where they are.  If not, you are wasting money, but worse, you are wasting time.


Alex Inman is the Director of Information Systems at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC.  He has managed one-to-one programs at three different schools.


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One Comment

  1. Nick C Says :
    Posted on February 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Great article. I have often been encouraged, but put most of my effort towards those that are easily swayed so as to develop programs and initiatives that take off with the hope to inspire the others who are not so easily convinced. I usually infer this to be passive aggressive shaming into getting on board. I find myself challenged by those that don’t get what i’m trying to do and often spend most of my time trying to get them on board; i don’t often succeed. thanks for the insight.