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✓ On Professional Development and Conferences

Over on his blog, Eric Sheninger posted about his new role at ICLE and the professional development that "School Leaders Need and Deserve" What rankles me about his post is that he starts out by saying:

During my ten years as a school leader I dreaded professional development days in my district. I am not sure any educator looks forward to these monotonous experiences (developed under the guise of learning!) that are supposed to provide us with new skills and knowledge to do our jobs better. If in-district professional development wasn't bad enough, I also attended my fair share of workshops and conferences that were a complete waste of time. I attended many of these events just to meet the required hours of professional development. The problem here was that the experience focused on hours of time on task, not on the learning itself. More often than not, PD is something that has been done to us, rather than something we as educators want to engage in. These experiences made me and others come to the conclusion that professional development, or “PD,” as it is often referred to, is broken.

We, as educators, rail against this kind of teaching. How can we expect our students to sit there, unengaged, and actually learn something. Eric is trying to change this by providing a conference that is hands-on and not like the PD he is offering, which is admirable. He is trying to change things.

I've presented at a lot of local conferences. I've chosen the kind of presentation that Eric suggests, focused, hands-on, interactive, participatory, engaging. What have my results been? Very few participants. I decided to conduct an experiment this last year and I presented a topic called 60 Tools in 60 minutes for Busy Administrators and I had way more people attend. I asked one of my friends with a higher view of the conference perspective what he thought about that and he said that it was a symptom of our time. People want a firehose. They don't have time to go deep into anything.

What a tragedy.

When I go to conferences, I see that time as being totally focused on learning new things and improving my craft. I get so frustrated when I go to conferences or trainings and can't get out of it what I need. As a principal, it is even more frustrating when I see my staff's time wasted. I feel very fortunate that I was able to learn about how to give good professional development from Hollie Pettersson and Amber Roderick-Landward when they were my bosses and Directors of Evidence-Based Learning in my former district. They knew how to create PD that was meaningful, engaged, and made you learn. Hopefully, I can provide that kind of PD for my faculty whenever we have that opportunity.

I'm going to give Eric Sheninger my trust and I am going to go to his conference. I hope it is as good as he claims it will be.

The best conference I have ever been to is the RTI-Innovations Conference. Everyone who presents at that conference is all about doing it. They all come ready to show how to do things and make sure you are engaged in figuring out how that works at your school.

What are the best conferences you have attended?