Empowered Learning: Transforming the PD Paradigm

Power Plant PD

I’m currently immersed in a doctoral study involving some of the most innovative and effective school leaders in the country.  My research is focused on the Professional Development (PD) experiences of elementary principals in a digital age. The process of reviewing hundreds of peer-reviewed research articles and talking to countless practitioners in the field of education has been a deeply reflective exercise. I’ve been convicted of some of my own personal PD leadership failures, and I’m also gaining clarity on what I believe we need to do to create conditions in which teachers are supported in their learning.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that attending a dynamic presentation or well-organized workshop is the gold standard for PD. The traditional PD paradigm espouses that an “expert” in the field can share information about a topic with an audience, and that this transmission of knowledge will increase an audience’s capacity, motivation, etc.  We’ve relied on this “Power Plant” approach to PD for several decades. This type of PD may recharge our batteries for a period of time, but it is unlikely to cultivate an educator’s long-term ownership of his/her learning.

“Power Plant PD” may have represented best-practice and sound pedagogy in the past. However, it’s the same approach we are asking our classroom teachers to migrate away from. We want students authentically engaged in relevant learning that includes opportunities to hone 21st century skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. To usher in a new learning paradigm the predominant voice in the room must include our students’ voices. Why would principals and PD planners hold themselves to a lesser standard?

Empowered Learning

Image Credit: Tim Lauer

Image Credit: Tim Lauer

The most powerful PD comes when the learner is empowered…not the presenter. Teachers who are empowered are conduits for high-voltage learning. They possess an authentic yearning and fervor for growth that cannot be completely satisfied through traditional presentations.

If we are to foster an ethos in education in which staff learning is truly revered our teachers will no longer be treated like batteries needing a quick recharge. Teachers will be honored as the true “sparks” in our schools and connected with other educators across the globe. A powerful connected-pedagogy will emerge that supports teachers in securing the time and skills needed to collaborate.

In order effectively leverage the student-centric connections made possible by technology including social media, it’s critical that we are engaged in our own digital age learning. Each of us is a digital leader…the only question that remains is, “How effective and relevant are we in this role?” I’d encourage you to check out the Digital Leadership Challenge blog post and sign-up to participate in the personalized mini-challenges using the Google Drive link embedded within. If we don’t walk-the-walk and own our learning how can we expect anyone else to?

Finally, here are four additional PD questions I’m encouraging educational leaders to reflect upon. I’ll be holding myself accountable to the same four questions and encourage you to check back with me. I can’t think of anything more important than empowering the true “sparks” that are working with our students every day. Transforming the PD paradigm is paramount to supporting student learning in the digital age. We need to rethink the very definition of Professional Development; PD can be a conversation, EdChat on Twitter, written reflection on a blog, flipped faculty meeting followed by purposeful face-to-face time, or an asynchronous dialogue via Voxer. We must empower our people!

4 Questions

Powerplant Bar

Image Credit: dispatchesfromthegypsyroller. wordpress.com

1.) If the PD and/or staff meetings you plan were optional would your staff still show up?

2.) How might we more effectively model current-best practices in PD; the same practices we’d expect our students to benefit from in the classroom?

3.) Is the topic of failure regularly discussed and modeled? Do staff understand the explicit value of failure in the learning/growth process?

4.) How are we leveraging technology and social media as tools for personalized learning? How are we supporting staff on this journey?

 

 

 

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About Dr. Brad Gustafson

I am an elementary principal and author in Minnesota. You can connect with me at www.BradGustafson.com or on Twitter via @GustafsonBrad

Posted on July 21, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Brad this is great! I can’t begin to imagine how much reading you’ve done in the past year. I agree that PD must be relevant and you ask great questions. I always say that my last year on Twitter has been more enlightening than my last 20 years combined simply because I can choose what I read. Granted there are times when we must learn about things that quite frankly are boring but important. But, there is enough time that we can carve out thaqt we can give teachers back their syllabus. In fact, why not let them write it in the beginning of each year. I mean for them not their students.

    • Hey Jon,

      Aside from the obvious power of collaboration and “connections” Twitter affords…the tool also puts users in a unique position that most PD approaches do not; we are empowered to own our learning. We’re behind the steering wheel and our learning is fueled by our professional needs, passions, and experience. In a word…it’s personalized!

      Thanks for weighing in,
      Brad

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