OPINION: Moving PD Forward Beyond Videos

Shelly Blake-Plock Shelly Blake-Plock

The fact that there are plenty of companies touting video-based PD as more efficient, individualized, cheaper, and faster should not surprise anyone who has been in the education game long enough to have suffered through Harry Wong.

But to suggest that video versus in-person PD is the real play here totally ignores what is happening back in reality. A reality where we merge online and real-life everyday through the act of sharing.

Video Killed the PD Star?

There is so much talk recently about online video replacing live PD that one might think video libraries were the key to teacher effectiveness. This begs the question: what makes online video so special?

YouTube isn’t special because it’s a video library. It’s not even particularly special because anyone can upload to it, though that in its own right is pretty disruptive. YouTube is really special because it is a searchable video library where videos are immediately sharable to anyone in the world. YouTube exists because of people’s desire to find, share and comment (right now) on what they see.

YouTube is important because it is social.

To be effective, it really doesn’t matter so much if a PD curriculum is mostly delivered via video or via live presentations; it matters whether the learning experience is social.

Content with Content?

Especially in terms of professional development, it is plainly a mark of insanity that so many companies are vying to be the content producers and managers of video and live curricula alike. Insane because the greatest content management system the world has ever known, and the largest and easiest to search content repository in the history of human experience, is freely available to anyone with a connected device. It’s called the Internet.

The real story here is that most of the people calling the shots on the procurement of “transformative” technology in the PD space don’t know how--and more importantly why--the Internet works.

Content--video and otherwise--is only as useful as it is sharable. The act of sharing itself--and the network effect of sharing in a socially networked environment--is what inspires the development of more granular aspects of professional growth. The key is not “what” is shared, but the act of sharing itself.

Professional development is more than getting the “right” information.

I firmly disagree with the clinical and prescriptive approach to PD. Effective professional growth in this age isn’t activated by doing something “right” or watching the “right” video. Effective professional growth in this age is activated by doing, making and sharing into the network and being part of the disruption itself.

We don’t need more PD content in PD. In fact, that’s probably the last thing we need. Nothing on earth is more boring and unrelentingly uninspiring as PD-content-for-PD-content’s sake. What we need are new (and constantly evolving) technologies built specifically to allow educators to curate, create, share, and collaborate on the things that matter to them personally. If you want professional development, you need to let professionals develop.

What do we need?

More participant-driven PD. More data (and more kinds of data) on the effectiveness of PD at the classroom-level. More social technologies built by and for educators who best understand their own professional needs.

The point of professional development shouldn’t be in having teachers check off a box that they attended a session or watched a video or took on a project. And it surely shouldn’t be in having an administrator check off a box for them. The point of professional development should be in helping human beings--who in this case happen to be educators--become more fully engaged and connected with their peers and fellow professionals. The goal should be helping them to develop the profession themselves.

It’s about empowerment.

The biggest problem facing professional development in education is not that schools “don’t know exactly what they need.” It is that schools don’t activate the power of the informal and grassroots professional development networks that teachers have been creating to meet the needs of their classrooms throughout the last several years of social media-driven upheaval.

Example: I just had a conversation with a district admin in charge of PD who had never heard of #edchat. Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. The new road has been built. Come on out and take a spin.

And this hints at the deeper reality: teachers--in the classrooms and in the Twitter chats--are the ones with the firsthand knowledge of what’s really going on. It’s time to engage them and bring them into the process. Not just as survey takers, but as professionals with the experience and knowledge necessary to play an active role in the procurement process.

If you want teacher buy-in, let the teachers buy.

We don’t need PD video libraries and district-level PD rubrics. What we need is to accept the fact that educators are professionals. And we need to give them--like we give professionals in most any other professional field--the pro-grade tools they need to innovate and to develop the profession themselves, on-the-ground, in the classroom where it matters.

Identifying those teachers with the skills, experience and peer respect to handle PD procurement decisions at the school level is not difficult. Taking the political and managerial risk to take that step is another matter. But it is a matter that those in positions of leadership in schools and districts need to weigh.

The paradigm of what constitutes engaging and quality PD has shifted in favor of those who are actively involved, through the informal and social media-driven opportunities that educators are now creating for themselves. And neither the professionals in this field nor the profession itself will be able to move forward, let alone live up to the promise of a new moment where technology, culture and education are so elegantly merging, so long as the means of addressing the problem is rooted in an outdated paradigm.



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