Reflections about Professional Learning and the NESA FLC

One of the first questions that was asked during Tom Guskey’s presentation on Does it Make a Difference Evaluating Professional Learning Experiences at the NESA FLC conference was What makes PD effective? I immediately thought about all the PL sessions I have offered over my 5 years here at AIS-R and specifically about the feedback I had received. I also thought about the different sessions I had attended and what I had learned the most/least from. I decided that the remaining four days would be a great opportunity to further develop my understanding of what makes PL effective. But first let’s look at what Mr. Guskey had to say.

During Mr. Guskey’s presentation he spoke about research findings related to effective PL experiences.

  • He mentioned that the workshop model is effective. However, that it is often a one shot deal and is more effective when the model is reproduced.
  • He also mentioned that using outside experts leads to effective PL not because they necessarily have more expertise but, rather, because often ‘people who create the problem have a hard time fixing the problem.’
  • He spoke about the importance of time and that studies show that a minimum of 30 hours must be spent on a topic to show improvement.
  • Mr. Guskey mentioned the importance of focusing on content – pedagogy or curriculum.
  • He also mentioned that PL needs to have teacher discretion incorporated. There has to be ‘mutual adaptation’.

More information about his findings can be found here.

As the conference continued I informally evaluated the sessions I went to and found that most of what Mr. Guskey spoke about rang true. The session I learned most from were those I was invested in and had an opportunity to contribute to. The best sessions for me were the two days of meetings for the NESA Virtual School Consortium. They were related to topics that directly impact my job. I had the opportunity to participate and share my thoughts and influence the topics. We had a significant amount of time to discuss topics and were surrounded by like minded experts. I also had good take aways from Mr. Guskey’s presentation, Mr. Popinchalk’s presentation on Internationalism and Interculturalism and the presentation on Using Visualizations for Learning Analytics. The common denominator in those presentations was that they applied directly to what I was doing, were focused on big ideas and had charismatic presenters.

On the flip side there were presentations that weren’t nearly as effective that I attended. The presentation on STEM curriculum wasn’t about STEM curriculum at all. It was a sales pitch for an online product. Also the presentation on resilient leaders did not have a strong impact on me as a professional. While the presentation had some interactive elements it had no practical applications and the content was not directly related to something I do each day at work and it was the last presentation of the conference. Here was my biggest concern with the entire conference. I spent 6 days listening to people talk. None of the presentations were in the workshop model. While we had intermittent discussions during some of the presentations, none of the presentations challenged me to create or develop something. We are asking our teachers to facilitate learning and help our learners construct their own meaning but we are not practicing that at our own Leadership Professional Learning Conference.
In thinking about the sessions we have offered this year at AIS-R; I believe we have had some success. The work we have done with ePortfolio’s, learning principles and the school theme has been interactive with teachers working on individual and group projects. We’ve challenged them to think about what they are teaching and how they are teaching it while creating something. The only time we have had a ‘sage on the stage’ was for important information dissemination. One item that I think both we and NESA could improve is on the actual scheduling of PL. Have 4,5 or even 6 straight days of PL doesn’t allow learners to actually put into practice what they have learned and even maybe overloads the amount of information that is absorbed. Instead spreading days out allows learners to take one task, implement and reflect and then work on something new the next time.