Professional Development Drought

*This blog post does not reflect the views of my school or anyone working within my school.

Professional development (PD) should be the cornerstone for anyone looking to better themselves no matter what career they choose. Educators seem to be at the forefront when it comes to attending PD. We are a profession that is constantly trying to make ourselves better and in some instances told we have no choice but to attend certain professional development because we cannot be licensed to be a teacher without a set number of hours of PD or college credits to match.

Since starting my teaching career over 16 years ago I have slowly and steadily watched professional development make the proverbial dive out of the sky as if it is an airplane that is slowly losing one engine at a time. Teachers aren’t going and the quality of PD isn’t always top notch. For me, I am lucky because I have had the privilege¬†of being on both the delivery side of PD and the receiving end through work with the Chippewa River Writing Project. Through many conversations with colleagues and like-minded educators, I have come to a few conclusions as to why professional development is facing a potential breaking point for teachers and educators.

First, professional development is expensive. Many school districts used to help their teachers out and help pay for professional development. With constant cuts to per-pupil funding, declining enrollment, and other funding like Title II being cut, teachers are forced to pay for PD out of their own pockets. If you add up the cost of the conference, potential hotel expenses, gas, and meals. Teachers can potentially be looking at costs between $500-$1000 depending on the type of conference. Please don’t think I am complaining about what teachers make either. I am simply saying therepotentially is a lot of out of pocket costs to absorb.

Besides the financial burden of professional development, I feel there is low-quality PD being offered by our Intermediate School District (ISD) where multiple schools belong. They do a poor job of helping teachers. Our ISD is supposed to support and develop teachers and their skills. That is not happening. I do see them helping our new teachers, but that is it. I hear too much from their end about the high cost and poor attendance, etc. Why is it then that our ISD sits on almost 3 million dollars, but can’t offer quality experiences for teachers? I don’t know if this is true everywhere, but I know it is within my ISD. ¬†They are not the only entities to blame for quality PD, but when considering the types of professional development that can be low cost or free for teachers, this is good place to start.

Now, put aside financial burden and quality of PD and the issue of teacher burnout existing. I never really gave much thought to teacher burnout until I was talking to a very close friend and colleague about why teachers are not participating in PD. He discussed that fact that teachers plates are becoming increasingly full. With reduced staff in schools, teachers are being asked to do more and more. When teachers prioritize what they need to do and get done, PD seems to be at the bottom of the significant list of items. I think of PD like a salad. We know it’s good for us and it can make us better or healthy. However, we just want to skip it and get to the main course or the main items on our plates. We don’t have time or the need to mess with the salad. I have even witnessed teachers turn down a professional development package that was worth over $1000 and all it would cost them is gas money to travel.

All of this lends itself to rethinking how professional development should be delivered to teachers. Yes, there are many online PD opportunities, but are they better than face-to-face? Is true collaboration taking place with online spaces? I do have a passion for the 4T Conference which is truly phenomenal. So, to say that all online PD is low quality is not a fair assessment. I do not have the answers and I am sure others don’t agree with what I am writing. On the other hand, I do feel it is time to rethink how PD is being done and what we can do to help teachers in this area.

Cheers!

 

PD

(Image Courtesy of Johnson County Community College http://blogs.jccc.edu/2017/08/11/professional-development-days-fall-2017/)

 

 


Measuring Growth in a Language Arts Student

As my second week of summer vacation comes to an end, I find myself scratching my head and wondering where the summer is going so quickly. Ahhh, such is life. Right now I can’t help thinking about measuring the growth of students in a Language Arts classroom. The Michigan Department of Education and our beloved state government (Sense the sarcasm there?) wants to measure our ability as effective teachers based on the growth in our students. The measurement for this growth will come from a combination of things. One of them being standardized testing. Now, what that test will be is still yet to be determined. In addition, I am confident saying that part of the growth needs to be proven by the teachers as well. Currently a major portion of the teachers at my school give a pre-test at the beginning of the year and then a post test at the end of the year. To be honest with you, I don’t have a real issue with this process. A pre and post test can be beneficial for a math teacher. I have always argued that quantitative data can be used more for math and science. However, it doesn’t work necessarily for a Language Arts classroom. As a language arts teacher I am looking for the qualitative data that can only be found in my student’s writing. Giving students grammar sheet homework daily and the mundane drill and kill exercises only turns them off and I don’t feel it clearly measures their abilities or their growth. When it comes to reading nothing turns me off more than seeing a worksheet packet given with a novel. No wonder our students don’t want to read. Would you want to read knowing every time you did, the worksheet packet was looming over your head? Kelly Gallagher talks about this in his book Readacide.

The argument that I have had in the past with colleagues is I can’t input data into a data collecting system when it doesn’t measure what my students can really do or what they have learned over a school year. It is impossible for me to do that with a student and their writing. On the other hand, I know I can give my students a typical comprehension test over what they read; that is easy. But does it really give me accurate feedback on how my students have grown? I think not. Though I could debate about a student’s growth in reading and find some tools to help me, I am more interested in the writing portion.

Recently, before the school year ended, I met with two of our high school English teachers to discuss Google docs and Schoology. As the meeting progressed we discussed how to measure growth in our students and what is the best way to achieve our goal. We all agreed that writing portfolios are the best way to show the growth in our student writers. We are going to take it one step further and next year we are all going to have the students do digital portfolios. We will use Google docs seeing how our school is going to Google apps. Students can simply make a folder in Google Docs and then take the portfolio with them each year. Obviously you can get more complex with the idea of a digital portfolios. Visit http://www.michiganportfolios.org to see examples, resources, etc. It is a super site for getting started with this idea. I am attending my second workshop in 2 years in August on the idea and I hope I can get it fully implemented next school year. This past year I only began the process and didn’t fully execute it. My principal is in full support of us doing this from middle school to high school and I believe it will be a true reflection on how the students grow as writers. I will publish some blog posts on the subject as I go through the process.

Cheers!