A Teacher’s Perspective on Professional Development

Today’s post is written by social studies teacher Demetrius Ball as a reflection on a half-day professional development experience Howard held in early February. Rather than having a typical “one size fits all” stand and deliver type session, we chose to experiment with the “unconference” format. Here’s Mr. Ball’s thoughts on the day:

Friday,February 5, 2016, Howard High School, 7:25am
Teacher: “Hey, what are we supposed to be doing today?”
Me: “Great question. We’ll be doing whatever you want to do!”
Teacher: Puzzled look

Howard High School hosted our first unconference. Talk about uncertain feelings among staff members! In the unconference format, the participants create the sessions based on what they want to learn or share with the other participants. This is uncharted territory for the staff at Howard. We are used to the mandatory sit-and-get professional development. Having a set agenda has been the standard operating procedure. This is definitely shakes things up. Personally, I love the unconference style, because it is participant driven, and I can learn many new things, build relationships with colleagues, and share some of the things that I have done in my classroom with other teachers.

I had the opportunity to be part of the design team, and lend my experience (5 time Edcamp participant) to the process. The design team met with Mr. Novak on Thursday, to receive the plan of attack and familiarize ourselves with the operation. All the groundwork was laid, and all the design team had to do was show up in the morning ready to set up the cafeteria and the session board (and be prepared to facilitate a session if needed).

Friday morning, Mr. Novak gave the run down on how things would work. There were table tents set up to get folks thinking, sticky notes, and pens to post session ideas. I had the opportunity to share some of my experience and the “Law of Two Feet” (if you enter a session and the discussion is going in a different direction than you anticipated or you are not learning anything new, then use your two feet and head to another session). One of the ideas that I thought went well, was that those staff members that wanted to facilitate sessions used a different color note, which allowed the design team to set sessions and facilitators in a timely manner.

The Session Board
The Session Board

My first session was Parent Communication, then Professional Learning Networks, and finally National Board Certification. I only participated in these three sessions because I was either the note taker or one of the facilitators in those sessions. Though I didn’t apply the “Law of Two Feet,” in between sessions I noticed a palpable buzz in the hallway. Colleagues in different departments were carrying on the conversations that had gone on in the session, and were trying to figure out a time to continue them past they day’s event.

During the following week I asked several teachers for their feedback and this is what I got:

  • “I loved the concept. It was cool to have input into what I learned.”
  • “It was hard to apply the ‘Law of Two Feet’ because I didn’t want to make the facilitator feel bad.”
  • “In one session I thought we would be brainstorming ideas, not defining the issue.”
  • “It was cool to learn from and with colleagues that I never get to see.”
  • “I didn’t get to participate in all the sessions that I wanted to.”
  • “I learned so much!”
  • “The facilitators were awesome.”
  • “It was cool to work with
  • “We need to do this again.”
  • “I liked the variety.”
  • “I actually applied what I learned in my classes this week!”
  • “The Canvas sessions were great!”
  • “I could have used some time catching up on grading.”

Overall, from my colleagues’ feedback and my experience, I believe that #HUN2016 was a success. This event reaffirmed beliefs that I’ve held for a long time: Teachers love having a say in their professional development, teachers learning from and with one another is key to building moral, and that there is nothing wrong with shaking up tradition and trying something new. I will continue attending Edcamps and I hope we continue hosting Howard High unconferences!

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