March 8, 2018
by Larry Ferlazzo
Editor’s Note: Phil Taylor is a teaching colleague who is an exceptional educator and researcher. He has been an educator for nineteen years. After a recent professional development at our school, he shared some thoughts and I invited him to turn it into a guest post. Video clips from the training he discusses will appear on this blog soon. He also contributed a previous post last year, Guest Post: Teacher Action Research. I’m adding this post to The Best Resources On Professional Development For Teachers — Help Me Find More.
I experienced a professional development (PD) recently that made me wonder, why don’t we do this all the time? It was a PD to help teachers understand how to address the needs of our English language learners (ELL). The teacher leading the PD was well-organized, well-researched and presented relevant, practical solutions to ongoing problems we were facing when working with mainstreamed English language learners (ELL) in our classes. This teacher also happens to be the author of this blog – Larry Ferlazzo. His position did not influence my thinking on his PD, however. Larry has been a peer of mine for some time, and he would have heard my complaints, as well as his peers if his PD fell short, despite his renowned status as an education blogger. We are a tough crowd here at Burbank!
In addition to being well-organized and well researched, Larry brought ELL students in to share their point of view about the solutions he presented. Students shared their experiences with teachers and classes who did, and did not use Larry’s solutions, and explained what kinds of techniques helped them to become more effective learners, and what teacher moves caused them to struggle. Teachers could ask follow up questions. It was engaging, relevant, and from an organizational standpoint, I felt it brought PD to a whole new level.
Not only did we benefit from hearing about relevant practices, we got to hear about and probe how such practices impacted the learners themselves. These ELL students also benefited from the experience of a high-pressure environment where their English language competence was on display. In this case, it was more powerful than any exam. Unlike an exam, the students were presenting meaningful, engaging information that was authentically useful to the teachers at their school. These kids were doing real professional work, as well as engaging in tasks that allowed them to prepare and practice their English for a high pressure, meaningful experience.
What if this is how we did PD? What if PD involved student reflection that highlighted and presented student experiences and struggles? In this way, PD would not only more effectively educate teachers about how to improve their practice, but would allow students to evaluate and reflect upon their learning experience in a way that they know can make a meaningful difference to their learning community. This would be more than an exam! This would be authentic involvement at a high level.
Such a model of PD is appealing to me also because it engages the whole learning community in the event. It professionally develops everyone involved, students and teachers, as well as provides a powerful opportunity for teachers and students to impact one another in deep and meaningful ways. Ultimately, PD should ‘develop’ every participant in the learning community. Now that I’ve seen this model of PD, I wonder why we haven’t been trying to include students in our PD from the start?