In an inspired piece of lunacy, last year the local state education department and the teaching union managed to negotiate a new pay deal partly by agreeing that the first three days of the new school year would be given over to mandatory whole school staff development activities. This would replace the previous arrangements where schools had the authority to decide on when during the year they would schedule these three days. In part the rationale was that PD days at the start of the year would remove the uncertainty for parents of schools closing at different days throughout the year. It was also argued that planning at the start of the year is important, (in previous years schools were required to use the first day of school in planning anyway) and that three days would add positively to this process.
Reasonable though the parental argument maybe one wonder if the downsides to the arrangements were considered;
- One day of whole school planning during the hottest part of the year is generally problematic especially when teachers are also focussing on getting their classrooms ready and functioning for the students prior to their arrival
- Three days of planning and professional development in a row can be taxing on participants especially if it is whole school and there are no real choices in options
- Often the scope and content of these days is determined at worst by the Principal alone or at best by a committee often acting within restrictive priority guidelines
- Whilst there is definitely a need for planning at the start of the year surely if we hold true to constructivism and the like teachers are going to need ongoing planning opportunities throughout the year, (something schools will no have to meet from within their already restricted budgets)
- Having all schools statewide conducting Professional Development at the same time of the year leads to restricted access to facilitators
- Whilst it’s great to utilise in-school personnel, the practice of extended whole school PD without at least some external input tends to lead to lead to a lot of introspection
- In most cases the learning approaches used on days such as these run completely counter to those that are espoused for use in the classroom with our students
Of course it should be argued that there is a big opportunity for ongoing staff development using PLN’s but that is for another post.
Anyway as you may have gathered as part of my consultancy I was involved in these three days as one of these outside agencies bought in to enhance the day. In one case the day bought together a number of local schools with the aim of initiating ongoing staff development related to the use of ICT. The day was planned around a number of optional sessions looking amongst others at selected software, IWB’s, and Web 2.0 applications and portals amongst other activities. Apart from the air conditioner suffering overload failure during the last session for the day the most notable aspect of the day was that though at the start of the session only 3 participants knew anything of blogs, at the end of the 90 minutes all had a functioning blog and at least one idea on how to use their new space. It’s planned that these teachers will be offered ongoing support in developing their knowledge and practice in using these and other spaces. I shall watch from afar with interest.
Another of the days was taken up with my other hat on, that of primary science. Working with a school that I had worked with last year I was asked to provide a refresher session on approaches to teaching science that given it was on the last of the three days was to be fun hands-on. Leading the participants through activities that hopefully modelled the Five E’s approach I had decided to finish by making ice-cream in a zip-lock bag, (what else could I do on a 40 degree day). If you haven’t tried this activity which is both fun and ends with a great tasting product here’s a video example
Whilst the science session was lots of fun and the feedback was very positive, I’m not totally sure that this feeling was not generated more by the making of the ice-cream than the pedagogy underlying the session. I guess time will tell.