Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Want to be a great teacher? Don’t go to PD.

Guest Post by Peter Kent

As a professional development (PD) provider for a Public Ed Department in Australia, I lead and coordinate the strategic delivery of PD to support the use of tech in schools in all its different forms and flavours. If feedback counts for anything, I am very good at what I do. I have been in this position for 3 years and have seen countless teachers and schools improve their practice.

However, one thing I have noticed when it comes to integrating information communication technologies (ICT), is that the teachers and the schools that really fly, the high performing schools...they don’t come to my PD. They don’t go to any PD. They understand that they, and their professional networks, are their own PD.

Our beliefs limit our potential

The following video sums up for me what is wrong with the ‘I need PD’ way of the world. It is this belief that limits our potential as teachers.

“There are two teachers, we have just been given (insert your technology here) and we need help”. As you can see from the video it is not a helpful attitude to have.

The problem with PD is that on the whole it treats teachers as ‘consumers’ of professional knowledge, and discourages teachers from thinking for themselves. The reality is that most of good practice with ICT is still to be developed. Teachers need to be ‘creators’ of professional knowledge.

A mindset that insists on PD before you integrate ICT, is flawed because the world is changing too fast. New technologies, new Web2.0 (and soon Web3.0) tools are being developed on almost a weekly basis, and this rate of development is only going to increase. While these new tools are being created other old ones are becoming redundant, does anyone use ICQ anymore. It is not possible to create PD courses to keep pace. There is a concept in ‘futures thinking’ that is important here:

If the world is changing faster than you can change, then you lose control of the future.

The context of education is changing very rapidly. Teachers and schools that cannot change fast enough to keep up lose control. When you lose control you become frustrated and angry. I occasionally hear people say that it has never been harder to be a teacher. If you cannot change and adapt your practice as your students and ICT changes, then yes – it will be very hard for you to be successful as a teacher.

However I think it has never been easier to be a teacher. No teacher throughout history has had access to the powerful ICT tools that we have. We can bring richer content into our classrooms, we have access to high quality student data on which to base our lesson planning, and we have the capacity to allow students to be creators of their own knowledge and controllers of their own learning. So while it has never been easier to be a teacher, the proviso is that you use technology well, and for that to occur you need to let go of the notion of PD.

PLN not PD

Great teachers see themselves as ‘creators’ of professional knowledge. Through a continuous cycle of ‘planning, application, reflection’ great teachers develop improved ways to educate students, tailoring their teaching to the specific needs of the context within which they teach.

I use three key questions to guide the reflection within this cycles – the reflection being the most important part:
  1. How well did that go? (what I tried to do?)
  2. How do I know how well it went? (what data am I relying on?)
  3. How well could that have gone? (this is probably the most important question)

It is best if you get the others, including students, to help you answer these questions.

Growing your professional practice, becoming a high performing teacher is a journey. Like all good journeys they are best done in groups. This is why your professional learning network (PLN) is so important.

I go to quite a lot of conferences each year. When I started out teaching in the mid 90s I used to judge a conference as a good one if I learnt two or three new skills that I could adapt to my classroom. I still look for good ideas, but now a conference is a good one if I met two or three people who will add richness and diversity to my professional network.

But this is just my view, my thinking. What is important is what you think.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Lisa. Love the escalator video; hope you don't mind if I share it in a future blog of my own.

    The point is well taken. The PLN is definitely more helpful than PD, which in most cases is ill-conceived and designed only to look good to the community.

    I get more valuable info from my PLN in a day than I get from PD in five years.

  2. I agree with you that people who develop a PLN and use it and contribute to it can learn more and faster than going to traditional PD in many cases. My experience has been similar since I connected with so many wonderfully talented people online. But I am deeply concerned about what happens to those teachers who do this and begin to "outgrow" their institutions. When the institutions don't also embrace the PLN concept and accept that learning occurs 24/7 and that maybe, just maybe, there are really great ways to teach and learn that the institution has not (and will not) considered. What happens when the institution won't allow the teacher to use the tools they are learning about or when it reprimands the teacher for bringing Web 2.0 and a new pedagogy to the classroom even when doing so clearly benefits the students? We are standing on a bridge looking at the future of education and there are unyielding guards holding us back. It is on this bridge that I and many of my colleagues stand today. How can we as members of a PLN best support those teachers in their efforts to cross the bridge?

  3. I agree. I also think that one must seek out successful models and avoid those who talk the talk but the data says they don't exactly fully get what we're supposed to be doing...In my district we are to follow administrative leaders and our data is poor - as a teacher I would like to be empowered to follow neighboring districts who have data that is soaring.

  4. I agree completely with the thought of coming away from a conference with 2-3 contacts vs/or along with 2-3 new ideas. If you have a pln or are willing to spend any time on your own poking around for answers, you have probably been exposed to the ideas already. My fellow teachers are very much like the folks on the escalator, sad to say.

  5. I love how you put it at the end. Conferences need to be about networking with other educators and gathering ideas.

    I have never been to a conference where I met people that I stayed in touch with and yet that is exactly my goal with Twitter. Game changing really.

    Nice post.


  6. I love this youtube and your comments. I have often talked about on demand help to our building and district leaders. It is very clear you need help when you need it and not in Nov or Feb. when the PD comes along. I also understand the point: PD does not work. The PLN is the key. Who can you turn to when things go wrong? Who can help you with ideas for the next lesson? Who will encourage you to take a risk? Teachers need that, some just are not creative and can not see past the pass or how they were taught. They would be the last ones to create the PLN's and the first to complain about PD (and in the same breath ask why we don't get enough of it). The real issue is a mind set, don't you think?

  7. @Deb Hanson: 'Out Growing your school' could be a problem for your school. If you are out-growing your school then I am sure that the students are too, and probably faster. Again, if the world changes faster than a school can change, then the school will begin to lose control of the future and become less effective. In terms of what to do.... Schools are collections of people and relationships. The best way to influence any change is through strong relationships (ie. work with the people you get along with). From experience, logic rarely works.

    @Joe Bower: You became part of my PLN a few weeks ago and I must congratulate the thinking you do on your blog, particularly on 'anti-grading'. I am sure you would agree that there is still a long way to go in developing teaching practices that does not include 'grading'. This is what I mean when I say that 90% of good practice is yet to be developed.

    Peter @Kent3ed

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  9. "Through a continuous cycle of ‘planning, application, reflection’ great teachers develop improved ways to educate students, tailoring their teaching to the specific needs of the context within which they teach." I totally agree with this. It's totally different to see teachers as creators and collaborators in a field rather than robots who need constant reboots from experts in order to work properly.

  10. Thank you for this post. For years I have done a lot of PD but not through the normal channels. That means, when I'm looking to apply for a posting, I get frustrated with the PD section of the application. My PD is ongoing and varied: reading blogs, reading books, discussing with fellow teachers(PLN), online forum such as this and others, etc. It's difficult to list the details on an application. No worries....I get by.

    I agree, though, that PLNs are the way to go and the challenge, then, is in finding a PLN to join if your school is not on board. Without the support of an administrator on many levels (time, equipment, etc) a PLN in some schools would not work. I long for a group who is willing to sit around a table / or chat room and talk about those three main questions on the post, discuss options and ways to make our teaching with IT better. Alas....I continue to search.

  11. I would encourage teachers who want to create their own professional knowledge to apply for a Fund for Teachers grant. This national nonprofit believes teachers know best what they need to remain relevant and awards $5,000 (individual) and $10,000 (team) grants for SELF-designed professional development during the summer. The application for 2011 grants goes live 10.1.2010 - Check www.fundforteachers.org for eligibility or facebook.com/fundforteachers for fellowship examples and teacher posts...

  12. This was a very interesting thread until the host decided to remove the post that didn't agree with the article.
    So much for being able to learn from differing viewpoints. We were discussing this at a meeting today and it was the comments that really drive the topic home.
    Too bad the host doesn't feel that everyone should have a say. Only those that are like minded.
    Well, that is one of the problems we have in education.
    How long will this post survive?

  13. Might as well remove the anon posting option since you no longer welcome the opinions of others.
    Go ahead and make people log in to post.
    The anon posting option is only useful when you want a real exchange of all ideas, not just the rubber stamps.

  14. @Anonymous, welcome. I assume you are new to this blog as I've never removed a post and I often write posts specifically that provide a different lens to spark dialogue. There are many whose comments don't agree with mine. Take a look around and you'll be pleasantly greeted with an exchange of ideas and lively comments.

    I'm curious what you mistakenly believe to have been removed. Please do share as it certainly was not removed by me. Perhaps you are behind a firewall that did not enable the writer to submit.