Earlier tonight, I answered a series of tweets by @jybuell concerning teachers' content knowledge. It got me thinking about the direction professional development needs to take. At my own school, I see a range of comfort levels from teachers when it comes to the new content in their curriculum. I'm a pretty savvy mathematician and end up fielding a lot of content questions from colleagues, but even that didn't prepare me for tape diagrams and double number lines; someone had to teach me how to use them. Then there's this picture that has been bouncing around Facebook for the past few days. Who among us didn't need a few moments to decipher the thought process taking place at the bottom of the page? All of this is to say that most if not all teachers need some support with content knowledge as we adopt Common Core. That support may be in grasping the "deep conceptual understanding" we want our students to have or it may be in understanding the finer points of new methods were asked to use to get our students to that understanding.
Where does that leave us? With a precious few inservice days built into the calendars and plenty of initiatives around every corner, we need to have professional development (now "professional learning," according to some) that addresses the needs of the individual teachers. As teachers, we are asked to differentiate lessons for our students and I think it's time that administration look at doing the same thing for their teachers.
One thing I would love to see happen is local conferences. My idea is relatively simple: have each teacher work individually or in a small group of not more than three to select something to present to other teachers. It could be anything from a method of classroom management, strategies for cooperative learning, web-based resources useful in a variety of disciplines, interactive notebooks, information gleaned from a conference or class, or interesting math tasks. Whatever it is, teachers would be asked to plan and deliver one session on an inservice day and to attend other sessions of their choice given that day. In larger districts, several schools could combine at one location to offer more sessions. My school pretty much always has the same few people present inservice and in the past three years, it's always been about Common Core, PARCC, or some combination of those two things. I know there are people now implementing aspects of Common Core that are worthy of being shared and I would like to learn from them. In many ways, I think a local conference would be more practical than a national or regional conference. I attended NCTM regional in the fall and I realized that so many things were not useful to me- either they didn't apply to my population (hello, no technology at home), were things that my district had done previously and moved away from because we found them ineffective, or were just sales pitches disguised as sessions. One notable exception: @Mathalicious. I totally need to spend my entire curriculum budget on that next year. Second runner up: Dinah Zike's Foldables. Yes, a sales pitch, but my kids love the books I learned to make and I didn't spend a cent on the books.
I realize my idea involves lots of logistics and teacher buy-in but I think it would be a valuable way to share best practices. As I say frequently, "One day when I run the world..."
In what ways should professional development change to make it more effective for you?