Differentiated. Relevant. Engaging. These are all words used to describe quality instruction. Yet how ironic is it that they so rarely describe the professional development of teachers. Most of the time we are talked at for several hours on a Saturday morning, or in the afternoon after a long day in the classroom, with nothing to engage us but a conciliatory bowl of candy. This would not stand in our classrooms, so why does it with teacher PD?
It doesn’t have to be this way. If providers of teacher professional learning were to simply adhere to the tenants of good teaching themselves, much could be improved. I’ve been to extremely engaging PD sessions—all of which have been hands on, driven by participants, and immediately relevant to my practice. In these shining examples of teacher learning, the presenters acted more as resources than as lecturers—allowing us to guide our own learning and drive the content through our questions and curiosities.
After such sessions, I always leave refreshed, renewed, and excited to learn more. At the same time, I regret that the session was over. My discussions with colleagues are ended and I have to go back to the “grind.” How could I continue my learning from the session?
Ah, the Internet. Sites such as TeacherTube, The Teaching Channel and social media outlets like have made self-serve PD as simple as a mouse click or hash tag. There is a simple beauty to being able to access the classrooms and ideas of teachers from around the world while sitting comfortably in your pajamas on a Sunday. So, one may argue, why have live professional development at all? Why not digitize the whole thing?
While online learning has become revolutionary for teacher learning, I believe in-person discussions are what ignites our curiosity and drive to seek out additional knowledge and interaction. I am most excited when fueled by the in-person conversations, questions, and ideas of fellow educators in these workshops. The challenges brought up in discussion push me to think differently and strive to improve my practice. It no longer is about whether I feel like clicking on that link I saw on Twitter or the video on a teaching website. I am engaged by the back-and-forth discourse and then inspired to go home and seek out that video or blog post to further my thinking.
So what I propose is for districts to consider a hybrid approach: a differentiated, relevant, and engaging live PD to whet teachers’ curiosities and ignite their passions, then an online platform for teachers to continue to learn and pursue their new thirst for knowledge.
Jennie Magiera is a 4th and 5th grade math teacher and a technology and mathematics curriculum coach in Chicago Public Schools. A Teacher Leaders Network member, she is the 2012 Chicago Public Schools Tech Innovator of the Year and author of the blog Teaching Like It’s 2999.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.