Nov 15, 2009

Puzzling Professional Development

Most teachers recognize that much of what they teach cannot be done learned easily or quickly. Learning to read, write, reason, etc., all take years to learn, even at a superficial level. Mastery takes even longer. (Gladwell and others have posited that it takes 10,000 hours. Though others, like Godin, disagree about the exact amount of time.)

So, why is it that teachers and district administrators, most who once were teachers, keep planning professional development in a manner that fails to take this into account? Do they really expect more than a superficial understanding after a staff meeting, one day workshop, or even a four day training? Is it any wonder that most professional development has little effect in the classroom?

And that's not the only difficulty. Even if the teachers can see the theoretical value in a longer term development project, they feel as if whoever is facilitating the project should be able to communicate the whole even before they begin. If they don't, many teachers start to get frustrated. Donald Schön expressed this difficulty in Educating the Reflective Practitioner,
It’s as though the teacher said something like this: “I can tell you that there’s something you need to know and I can tell you that with my help you can probably learn it. But I cannot tell you what it is in a way that you will understand. You must be willing therefore, to undergo certain experiences as I direct you to undergo them, so that you can learn what it is that you need to know and what I mean by the words I use. Then and only then can you make an informed choice about whether you wish to learn this new competence. If you are unwilling to step into this new experience without knowing ahead of time what it will be like, then I cannot help you. You must trust me. (p.66)
Most adults are uncomfortable with such a proposition. Many teachers actually prefer the ineffectual one-hit wonder type of workshop. Interesting that they expect their students to be willing to live through just such a situation. (Or maybe they don't, and they only expect rote memorization and skill mastery.) The question is how to structure their adult learning in a way that can help them live through and eventually appreciate such a deep learning experience. If the school or district even considers such opportunities.

No comments: