6 powerful strategies for paradigm-shifting teacher PD

As educators and leaders, we need to re-think every aspect of our professional practice to consider ‘could we be doing this better?’ Here is a brain-dump of the 6 most powerful strategies that I have used or in which have participated.


1. Use a ‘hands-on’ approach that teaches team work

 I want the teachers for whom I am accountable to comprehensively embrace student centred, inquiry based learning.

If as a school leader I expect staff to sit in a room listening to me talk for longer than 5 minutes (or saying anything at all), then I am assuming that the collective cost of the time of the number of attendees is best spent that way. I doubt that I could say anything so powerful or clear that it would justify the cost. Think about it. 100 people for 60 mins = 100 hours x the cost per hour of each person. (There are very good meeting costs apps like Meeting Cost Calculator – a very useful tool.)

Instead, use the mode of PD as a means to shift staff practice by getting everyone to experience the methodology you are advocating. Create tasks where every staff member has to be an integral part of a team where they create a challenge relevant to themselves, collectively work on a solution and during the same time frame reflect on the challenges and success of the task completion via a written blog or video blog.

The emphasis on this style of PD is that you get teachers to do exactly what you would want them to do with students. You also get them to experience the challenges of collaboration and people can then usefully reflect on what are the key essential qualities of be a team member. Useful in every way.

2. Run an Open Space workshop

The best thing about an Open Space approach to running a workshop, summit or conference is that it places core value in the capacity of any attendee to contribute something worthwhile that will in turn shape the outcomes or directions of the event. View as a means by which to sift and distill the thinking of every participant attending a conference or workshop and use their knowledge, experience and passion in collaboration with like-minded professionals to drive thinking for change forward and at the same time create new strategies for immediate implementation. And it is entirely scalable. The process works for 5 or 500. In fact, after participating in some of these type of summits, you will become very restless if forced to attend an industrial paradigm conference which is all about an ‘expert’ delivering content to passive recipients. You can still use the expert input – they can become an integral part of an open space process, but as a fellow participant whose thinking and experience you value.     



3. Encourage as many staff to develop courses or present at conferences or workshops

The benefit of this approach is that any person from beginning teachers through to highly experienced people can be affirmed in their professionalism. As they articulate their journey and thoughts, so they strengthen and live those approaches. Again, another win/win. (Works with students too). We have been growing this culture for many years and our biggest challenge now is either fitting in all the PD courses that our teachers wish to prepare for their colleagues or working out the logistics for the large numbers of teachers getting selected to present at external conferences to attend. A great problem to have. If at all possible, I will seek to resource and support any person willing to develop PD for others. It is a high motivator for someone when they are asked to present and they are building their career at the same time.

4. Pecha kucha style gatherings

If you have experienced a pecha kucha style TeachMeet gathering you will know they are informal, informative and fast-paced. Translate this idea into the local school context where you get your change champions or your quiet achievers alike to share and celebrate with their colleagues their success and programmes. The busyness of a school day is such that many people are simply unaware of what their colleagues are doing. A pecha kucha style session is a great way of celebrating successes. A common outcome from such presentations is to have ignited passion for learning or sparked an interest in trying something fresh.




5. Take teams on observational journeys

The most powerful way to create fresh vision created in a collaborative context, is to plan a physical journey that will form the foundations for a professional and emotional journey. This was the way I started the journey to change at our school – and as a result the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning was born (www.scil.com.au). A shared journey is at the one time collaborative, empowering, affirming, active and game-changing. I recall ten years ago checking out for the cheapest web based airfares in order to take a team of 4 – 6 people (or more) interstate for a crash course of observation, conversation and dreaming. You can do it in a day, or take two or three days. People feel immediately valued and they will rise to the maximise the benefits of the shared collegial and professional dialogue. Ideas will form and grow during the process. Capture them and place them into an implementation timeframe so that you maximise the benefits of this activity.

It can also be done as a one day whole staff professional development. As we were considering the use of space and activity to more actively engage our students into learning, we sent all the staff in teams into the city on a schedule that was in part suggested and in part created. Teams then came back the next day to share their new ideas and thoughts and were encouraged to implement at least one idea as soon as possible. This is another game changer because it accelerates the process of change and it particularly appeals to the kinaesthetic and visual learners in your staff.  For greater interest, we added a ‘race-around-Sydney’ component where we captured some ‘mathematical’ images within the central city area from Google Earth and teams got bonus recognition for the teams that identified and visited the greatest number of those sites. Perfect training for a fun excursion also.

6. Join or create a ‘Vision Tour’

It has been wonderful for a number of our staff to receive awards, fellowships and scholarships from time to time during our journey of change. While the awards are all very well and good, the money that often accompanies this recognition has been fed back into a recurrent process of taking a core team of change leaders on an international journey to look at exemplar schools, programs, museums, libraries or spaces, as well as meeting up with outstanding individuals who will immediately inspire or promote fresh vision.

One criterion we informally add into the expectations of participating in these tours (if not the immediate recipient of a scholarship), is that there is the intention to stay at our school for at least the next three years so that the monetary investment can have an impact back into the school community. I don’t think that unreasonable – and it is not a signed contract context anyway. These journeys have morphed into the most powerful type of professional development I could be involved in or could conceive. It has the potential to enable any school to create world class examples of transformation and it will also help shape the path of what schools could look like in 2013 or 2030. We shape the future with vision, rather than letting context and circumstance shape us or our thinking.

It will not necessarily be the places, spaces or people that will have the most impact, it will be the constant conversation, creating and collaboration that will shape fresh vision. And vision does have the power to transform communities and nations.

For further information on the types of activities we would recommend visit: www.scil.com.au/vision-tour.