Edcamp as PD: Shifting Mindsets (Part 2)

To follow up my earlier post with a thought that was still marinating before, another thing that I have been working on at school is creating more professional development that looks like the kind of learning we want to see in our district classrooms. As a leader, I am responsible not only to set a vision and goals for my area of supervision, but to model best practices for my teachers. If I want teacher-​​centered classrooms with students passively absorbing volumes of content, then that’s the kind of professional development I need to continue doing.

But if I want student-​​centered, learning-​​focused, differentiated, problem-​​based instruction, I need to create the same for my teachers. Providing a lecture on how to do active learning projects is not the way to get it done. I had a professor in graduate school from whom I learned a great deal. But I didn’t learn much from the actual class time. The professor had an enormously thick binder for each course stuffed with neatly-​​typewritten (as in an actual typewriter) notes, each page carefully slid into a plastic sheet protector. He began each 3-​​hour class by standing at a lectern, opening the binder to the page where he left off last time, and reading aloud to us from the script. Periodically he would salt the lecture with stories from his experience as a teacher, principal or superintendent; these were usually moderately interesting. Several times in each course (and I had at least half a dozen courses with him) he would admonish us not to teach as he taught, and that he was too old to change his ways.

Where I really learned were from his assignments. He had a way of generating spectacular questions and prompts which forced us to dig, analyze, and make connections between what we were reading and discussing in class. What would make them even more powerful would have been to turn them into collaborative exercises where we worked together to research and problem solve.

Where the Edcamp model really shines, and where I think it pushes the envelope to the edge, is going even beyond student-​​centered learning to student-​​driven learning. When we allow students (in this case, the educators) to follow their passions and interests, to explore the things that already have meaning for them and to wrestle together with each other over those meanings and applications, the learning that can take place will be immense. Angela Maiers is a huge proponent of this approach, and her work would probably help us to design better teacher professional development.

I plan to explore ways to embed teacher-​​centered learning into professional development that still moves us towards district-​​initiated goals. Just as we can have teacher-​​selected goals and still plan student-​​centered learning, I believe we can embrace teacher interests and needs without giving up the overall mission and direction of a district initiative. What are your thoughts about how this could work, or how it might backfire on me? Has anyone done this before? What are your experiences? Tell me in the comments.

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