Opinion
Professional Development CTQ Collaboratory

Why Professional Development Should Be More Like ‘MasterChef’

By William J. Tolley — May 24, 2016 5 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The alarm goes off. You roll out of bed, sidle to the kitchen, and have a glass of water while you fumble for the button on the coffee maker. Semi-alert, you suddenly remember: Today is a professional development day. Perhaps you just issued an imaginary sigh of relief, reassured by your school’s focus on staff development and eager to engage with your colleagues over meaningful professional development. Or perhaps your spirit just died and you counted in your head how many sick days you still have in your bank.

The trending apathy toward PD is ironic in that it coincides with rich developments in teaching. Maker spaces, gamification, personalized learning, standards-based grading—while not taking hold everywhere, these modern learning concepts define the current conversation on enhancing learning for students, so why not teachers? How many times do we have to hear that interactivity and inquiry are the best forms for learning from a hired expert lecturing from a text-laden PowerPoint presentation before someone does the math?

Here’s an idea. What if teacher professional development looked more like what transpires on the popular reality show “MasterChef”? What if our trainers were expert chefs, and we engaged with our peers the way they ask their amateur chefs to? What are the best practices of “MasterChef” that should be brought to our PD table?

Gamification

As the most obvious and distinct characteristic, “MasterChef” gamifies learning for its contestants. It is important here to recognize the distinction between games and gamification. On the show, proficient home cooks race around the “MasterChef” kitchen competing in “challenges” that push them to cook this, cut that, or recognize essential ingredients in a context that motivates them to meet their goals.

Of course, it is also important for the PD developer to realize that some teachers, just like people everywhere, are not as tuned into gaming as others. They should also remember that one of the key complaints teachers have about their PD is that they are often treated like children. The majority of teachers won’t mind a little competition, but no teacher likes to be treated like they don’t know what they’re doing.

Mastery Learning, Differentiation, Personalization

The amateur chefs on “MasterChef” get multiple opportunities as members of teams and in individual challenges to prove their mastery of a particular skill. Those who demonstrate mastery are “safe” and removed from competition in that particular challenge. Then they are allowed to advise their peers, and may be taken away for a personalized training session with one of the hosts—advanced training they have proven themselves qualified for.

Back in the studio, the contestants who have not yet mastered the task are given further opportunities to improve and prove competence under the close supervision of the expert hosts. This is the very definition of differentiated learning—how have TV cooks gotten there before us?

Peer and Expert Evaluation (With a Nice Aussie Touch)

Teachers aren’t scared of tough-talk—they are scared of the perceived repercussions. If an experienced mentor or peer tells a young teacher to work on classroom management, counsels on how to achieve this goal, and supports regularly through direct observation, the teacher is not going to cry because he or she is a professional adult. The fear creeps in when a teacher thinks that an appraisal of an isolated aspect of the total skill set will result in an unsatisfactory yearly rating. We tell our students to not be afraid to fail, so why do we still let this fear fester among teachers? Professional development should never provide cause for permanent censure.

By contrast, the contestants on “MasterChef” work in an environment that keeps the pressure on, but in a way that motivates and inspires. When they are working hard, they get kudos. When they are slacking, they get a kick in the patookas. Even the normally sweet Australian hosts George, Gary, and Matt (“MasterChef” U.S. host Gordon Ramsay is a tad too aggressive for our purposes) will lay down the science when a dish is ill-prepared or tastes bad. But the contestants almost always get a chance to redeem themselves and try again.

This sounds like a relationship most teachers yearn for when starting their careers. Instead, far too often, without hands-on guidance, we are told to aspire to “satisfactory.” I don’t know a single professional educator who wouldn’t be willing to nurse a few bruises to their ego in exchange for truly constructive critique.

Microcredentials

The ultimate prize in “MasterChef” is the coveted golden immunity pin. Once in possession of a pin, contestants can use it to sit out any elimination contest, surviving to fight another day.

Translated into the teacher’s world, the case for microcredentials is strong and growing. Among their many benefits, just like on “MasterChef,” microcredentials prove mastery of a particular subject or skill and can relieve teachers of being forced to repeat training unnecessarily. By designating who is trained on certain issues, schools can also identify experts in these areas to lead sessions (rather than sit through them) and assign mentors to less-proficient peers.

Speaking of leading sessions, remember those hired guns lecturing at their keynotes? Let’s trade that model for this one and see what synergy we conjure up when teachers don’t passively listen to the big-name instructional experts of the world, but those luminaries throw on their aprons and dig in to help—or compete with—teachers in writing units, crafting lesson plans, and designing project-based learning experiences. I would suggest that the teacher who produces a better backwardly designed unit than Jay McTighe has earned the right to sit out the next Understanding by Design training session—or lead it!

Redemption and Empowerment

Professional development that borrows from the model of “MasterChef” will challenge teachers in a way that builds grit, instills meaning, and conveys all the benefits we attribute to competitive sports—and extol to our students. Yes, we will have to brace ourselves for the occasional critique, sometimes in the presence of our peers, but we also create opportunities for praise and commendation. When was the last time an expert watched one of your lessons and told you it was perfection?

The “MasterChef” franchise has even worked out that this environment works on escalating levels as your career advances and thus has created spin-offs like “Junior MasterChef” for children and “MasterChef Australia the Professionals” for seasoned chefs. This makes perfect sense if, like we tell our students, learning is a lifelong process.

Of course, the one difference we must maintain between our profession and the model of “MasterChef” is that as working education professionals, we are not limited to a television season’s timeframe, nor do we need to declare a final winner. We can repeat the cycle of supportive, meaningful, fun, personalized professional development as long as it takes for all of our colleagues to become proud of their work, but still keep improving with the encouragement of a community of peers.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Opinion Here's a Way Forward With Challenging Students
Giving teachers a chance to use their expertise can have stellar results, write two researchers.
Bryan Mascio & Hunter Gehlbach
4 min read
Tiny woman watering plants growing from the brain of a large silhouette.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Professional Development Opinion What's the Best Professional-Development Advice? Teachers and Students Have Their Say
Becoming a better teacher starts with being respectful and using common sense.
6 min read
a group of people water a lightbulb plant, nurturing an idea
iStock/Getty Images
Professional Development Opinion 6 Myths About Teacher Professional Development
What's working and what can we do better to make PD the solution it's intended to be? Scholars take a crack at it.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Professional Development Spotlight Spotlight on Professional Development
This Spotlight will empower you with insights and advice for turning challenges into opportunities for professional development, and more.