Today my home district kicked off its year-long, job-embedded, professional development opportunity with Powerful Learning Practice, founded by Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. The 45 teachers from SAU 16 who will be a part of the TristatePLP cohort began the process of thinking about and challenging the way they think about teaching and learning. It was a spectacularly tiring day, as teachers were both overwhelmed and excited about the opportunity with which they were presented. In their respective Keynote addresses, both Will and Sheryl stressed the need for our teachers to be selfish about their learning – to take time to learn for them, not necessarily their practice. It struck me that Will and Sheryl had to stress this point, but as I thought more about this I realized teachers need permission to learn and as I reflected more about this throughout the day, I realized that this isn’t a phenomenon unique to my home school district – in every school I have ever worked in, teachers have needed permission to take the time needed to learn. Further, as I reflected upon my experience as a teacher participating in professional development, I can recall either thinking about the “final” project that I had to produce or how I was going to translate what I was learning into my classroom. There was always a feeling that if I did not apply what I learned in my training to my practice immediately that my training was not worthwhile. That came in part from the pressure of administrators and school boards to justify the expense of professional development and also by presenters to justify their costs by having teachers develop action plans or receive “take homes”. As a result, teachers feel pressure to turn their professional development into immediate lesson plans whether they are high quality or not.
My point here is not to begrudge professional development. By and large we spend too little time developing our craft. But, how often do we – do I – grant permission to teachers to learn, to grow, and to develop their craft with the appropriate time needed to apply what they learn to what they do? As I evolve and grow professionally as a learning leader, I have to remember that professional development needs to be structured at a pace that is consistent with teachers’ ability to develop high quality practices and if that means that they need to be given time to learn without the pressure of immediate return, consider permission to be granted.