I first heard that simple but profound joke 25 or more years ago. It remains as likely to draw laughs from appreciative educators today as it was then.
For far too many educators “inservice” continues to be a dreaded, near-death experience, an event that is often mind numbing and disrespectful of their professional judgment.
Consequently, it’s not surprising that my most widely-viewed post was titled “Mindless professional learning produces mindless teaching.”
Before I have my own real-death experience, somewhere far down the road, I hope that:
• A day will come, sooner rather than later, when educators fail to see the humor of this joke. “What does it mean to be ‘inserviced’?” they will ask.
• Educators will no longer think of professional learning as something they leave their work to do, an add-on to their primary responsibility of teaching.
• Teachers’ professional learning will be inseparable from the primary tasks of their work—planning for instruction, assessing student progress using various sources of evidence, reflecting on the effectiveness of their methods in achieving valued outcomes, and continuously improving teaching and learning with their colleagues in cultures of interpersonal accountability.
While there are pockets of excellence, my experience and perusal of the professional literature—where the same core problems are raised year after year, decade after decade—tell me that for the vast majority of educators professional development has shown little improvement in spite of the herculean efforts of many individuals, professional associations, and foundations.
Fortunately, however, it is possible for school leaders and leadership teams to make dramatic improvements in the quality of professional learning and in meaningful collaboration within two or three years.
All that’s required is intention, a serious study of effective professional learning practices, a willingness to learn from the successful efforts of others, and a cultural ethos of continuous improvement.
Large and challenging tasks, I know, but ones that are within the circle of influence of school leaders who are serious about the quality of teaching and of learning for all students every day.