It's time for me to go back to school and that can only mean one thing: required district "professional development". When I first started teaching six years ago, I was shocked by the veteran teachers who rolled their eyes and talked in disgust about professional development. Now I have become one of those same veteran teachers who hates this time of year.
Is it because I think I know everything? No, absolutely not. I'm going to school for a doctorate in education right now. I read the latest education research every night with glee. My life is spent talking with colleagues about ideas and watching the latest webinar on things like visual schedules and digital icebreakers for back-to-school (which I'd recommend trying this year). I love improving myself professionally.
The reason I hate back-to-school PD is because 80% of the time (this isn't hyperbole...see below) it doesn't focus on the actual needs of our students or what teachers feel they need to know. For example, I got my school district's professional development calendar, and here is a list of the sessions I am required to attend:
- Review of Evaluation Cycle (learning how I'm going to be evaluated...something that doesn't actually help me improve as a teacher AND something our administrators don't even understand)
- Writing PPGs and SLOs (same as above)
- General district stuff including awards and announcements, an update on our insurance, union meetings, 2.75 hours to work in our classrooms, and our elementary open house.
- Staff meeting for TWO HOURS, PLC meetings (something I actually find useful because I started my own PLC with a colleague and we use this time to work on the latest tools for developing communication in nonverbal students), and the Elementary Smarter Balanced Assessments Training
Summary: Only 4.75 hours will be devoted to actually improving my classroom and skills as a teacher (done by collaborating with another teacher). The remaining 21 hours (82%) will be spent either talking about being evaluated, random nonsense I could read in an email about the district, or how to torture/give even more standardized tests.
Yes, I understand that it is important to teach our staff about their evaluations, upcoming tests, etc., but these things could be done in other ways, and I truly wonder if the amount of hours we spend talking/training on these things really has any causal impact on student achievement.
PS - Don't even get me started on the horrible professional development many paraprofessionals receive. Waah!
Today I was thinking about Robin Williams and also about advice I was asked to give to a new special education teacher when I came across this quote from the movie Patch Adams: "You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome."
This quote sums up what I have learned is most important to the success of my students. I have never had two students whose disabilities were alike despite sharing similar categorical labels of autism, ADHD, learning disabled, etc. Every child's interests, learning styles, and needs are vastly different, and remembering the person first and not the disability is the most important step to creating a great classroom and plan for each student. At times, it can be scary to read the labels on IEPs and evaluation reports and wonder how a particular student will ever be helped, but if you focus on treating each student as a unique and special person, then the rest will come much more easily. I promise.
Candace Burckhardt is an international education consultant with an emphasis on special education, English learners, and social-emotional learning.