Published in TIE, The Marketplace for International Education, November 1, 2013
4 o’clock in the afternoon. People shuffle in with the countenance of weary commuters. There is not a piece of food or drink in sight. Some people have furtively packed student papers they will review. Another has folded a newspaper on the inside of their notebook. The level of enthusiasm is equivalent to passengers on a transatlantic flight with a six hour layover who have just been told of delays. For 45 minutes a principal or Head of School or both will efficiently read from the weekly bulletin reminding teachers of upcoming events, due dates and contributions to the annual fund. Some people keep yawning and checking their watches. Some do email or text. Others have the vacant, glassy look in their eyes that tell you they are someplace else. The meeting ends on the familiar refrain: Does anyone have any questions or wish to make an announcement?
The third session on the Common Core or Backwards Design or Differentiation. The school has spent a sizeable amount of money to bring in a specialist whose book and accompanying DVD are on sale in the lobby. He has never visited anyone in his or her classes nor will he. The power point slides have the glossy look of a magazine and the presenter even has an infrared pointer to go with it. Teachers stay moored to their seats with the exception of handing out the PowerPoint printouts. “No need to take notes,” says the facilitator, “it’s all in the Handouts I’ll be passing out.” When a question is posed, the answer is “that will be covered in the last workshop. ” The problem with the old model of professional development is its inertia and disconnection from the ways we want our students to learn. It takes itself too seriously and eschews everything we know about adult learning. It doesn’t belong to teachers. It reproduces the passivity and compliance of the teacher-centered classroom. There is no activity, no collaborating, and no contextualizing. And like a stuffy room, there is no fluid circulation of ideas except those that emanate from the front of the room.
As part of a commitment to creative scheduling every 3rd day of the month is a half-day. All teachers convene in a large room where the Head welcomes everyone, acknowledges an exciting project she witnessed in someone’s classroom the other day and outlines the course of the morning. Three rooms have been assigned to faculty. The three themes, identified by teachers over the summer include: using iMovie to document and examine student learning; global exchanges across content areas and how to organize one, and a reading circle that has been reviewing Dewey’s “My Pedagogic Creed.”
At the completion of each mini workshop an evaluation form is handed out. At the end of the day, teachers convene again in the auditorium. There is food and drinks. Once assembled the Head asks for feedback and questions that might have emerged from the workshops. After 15 minutes she thanks everyone for the participation and reminds them, that this is what a professional community does: collaborate, share and inquire together. People stay around to talk to each other. No one hurries out or rolls their eyes. There is the palpable energy of inquiry and unity in the space. Everyone knows where they are going. And those who are not quite sure don’t get left behind. On a whiteboard in bold letters is written: Learning is not what is done to you. It is something you choose to do.