I write the words Teacher-Centered PD with pride when I advertise the Teacher Art Retreat each year. But I know that not everyone sees that as a legitimate way to spend PD time.
“Student-Centered” is what we need to focus on, and I agree. Of course education is about doing what’s best for the students. However, if we are not inspiring the teachers first, how can the teachers inspire the students? And I am prepared to be a voice for teachers everywhere that we NEED Teacher-Centered PD, professional development that feeds us.
It reminds me of when my district brought in Dr. Chen, a mathematician and educator that helped to create the Math Common Core. He was invited to our school district to instruct the 3rd through 8th grade math teachers in the principles behind the CCSS for math.
But to illustrate his points of working with precision, working with models or persevering through solving a problem, he didn’t give us examples of multiplication stories that a fourth grader would see or concepts that built on basic calculations. He didn’t share stories of how an 8th grader worked really hard at a math meet and won a trophy. He didn’t ask us to read math problems and try to make them applicable to our students.
Instead, he made us uncomfortable, he made us think, he made us work by including math problems that many hadn’t seen since Junior year in HS, and for others, he had even more challenging work.
Through this grueling PD, teachers were forced to put themselves into the students’ shoes and see the type of experiences we should be providing our students. Some teachers wanted to give up, other dug right in. Some covered pages with calculations, others doodled. Leaders emerged, math talent came to the surface, fears of being incorrect were felt, avoidance crossed many minds.
For so many teachers who participate in Teacher-Centered PD, the realization of being put in their students’ shoes surfaces. At this past retreat, one teacher wrote:
Art is an expression of one’s self and at the start of the retreat I was nervous to share my art–myself–with my fellow retreaters. I, however, ask my learners every single day to try something that is new and uncomfortable for them. I think it’s important to remember how it feels to be a student, to begin and complete a task that you have no mastery of. I approached my three days at the retreat as a chance to take those risks I so often ask my students to take. ” ~Ashley
For some of the retreaters, it’s not just about the retreat activities. Everyone is certainly not going to use every single skill in their classroom in the fall. My colleague is not going to ask her class of 27 2nd grade music students to melt wax off an egg with candles. Instead, that teacher was challenged with a new skill of egg decorating and inspired by the traditions of Pysanky. In the words of that teacher,
It isn’t about us doing an activity and then repeating the same activity in our classrooms, although some of us can totally do that with some of the activities. It’s about going through the process of creating at our own level. We experience the excitement and uncertainty, the thought process, the focus, the challenge, the disappointment, the problem solving and the joy. We go through all that on our own level. And then as teachers, we find a a way to bring this to our students.” ~Taylor
When we are put in a situation that makes us learners, REAL learners, that can only make us better educators.
Another teacher wrote,
Isn’t it okay to have some creative time that nurtures my soul, relaxes me and rejuvenates me at the same time? Yes! Then perhaps we go back to the classroom kinder, gentler, with renewed excitement . . . and that is a gift I am happy to share! ” ~Julie
I know that some of those teachers attending the math workshops came away with not only new ideas, but a new appreciation for the concepts of math. And that was instilled in the work they did in the following days.
Teacher-Centered PD is something that gets at the guts of the teachers. It can include great activities that can be used the next day, but it also involves the teachers getting hands-on with the material.
How many PD days have you spent sitting and listening and writing notes? I’ve had PLENTY of those and there’s a place for those. Sometimes we get an interesting workshop that can give you great ideas. I write them down in the hopes that I don’t forget to try them all in class. But, doing the activities, living the activities and throwing myself in the activities is a whole different experience.
Teacher-Centered PD is about getting your hands into the work – experiencing it!
Not to be cliche here but, you all know the words of Confucious:
I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
That’s what Teacher-Centered PD is. That’s what we strive to do at the retreat: gain some understandings. About content, about skills, about the way students learn, about the creative process as a learning process.
And that’s pretty legit to me!