Thursday, February 3, 2011

PD Follies - part four, New and Improved.

Professional Development Follies - part four.

Professional Development is one of those things that light up the stress meters in almost every teacher I've ever known. Bill Ferriter talks about it. So does Mr. Teachbad. Darren needed Google Translate to interpret the Educationese. What's my excuse? I have many things that trigger me and get my back up. the latest is the

Cha-, cha-, cha-, Change

Everything you are doing is wrong.  Change is the only criteria for success.  A few months ago, the states were all ranked.  Vermont got some pretty good scores all around and excelled when dealing with poor kids.  The only score we didn't do well on was "Innovation and Change." That earned us a D+.

It apparently didn't occur to anyone that if we were doing well and it "ain't broke," we might not consider fixing it.  No matter.  The ranking was not for guided change or change towards an ideal or improvement in any way. In fact, damaging the students and lowering our scores by implementing some change would have increased our ranking.

But enough of the silly think tank. We're ready to get improved.

So we have Challenges for Change, which replaced High Schools on the Move.  HSOTM replaced another failed initiative, and that one replaced another, and so on, and so on.

We had the Vermont Frameworks for Educations, then the Vermont Standards, then the Grade Expectations (but that sounded too Dickensian) so it was modified to Grade Level Expectations. Do all that work and "Happy New Year!" ... Change it all to Common Core.

You've got Best Practices, Master Teachers, Mentors and Peer Coaching, Videotape, Scribes, Verbatim, Class Flow, Curriculum mapping (versions: paper, Word, Excel, HTML, three different online companies), Literacy Across the Curriculum, Literacy Labs, Cross curricular.

Then states started really spending money: technology.  "Laptops for All will kickstart your students" until it won't, computers in every classroom (just 1 or 2 for 25 students), a computer lab, a mobile lab, another laptop program, (Hey! It works in Maine! ... except that it didn't actually do anything positive academically.) Shiny new version of the Office suite every 3 years whether you like it or not, SmartBoards and DVDs and TVs and cable/T1/Fiber Internet, Student Information Systems that tie together thousands of students into one big, unwieldy and ultimately useless mess. But it's all in one place!

21st Century Skills will change the World, unless you believe "Singapore Math Drills will Save the World." "The Chinese will Take Over the World". "India will Outsource our Education!"  Did You Know? "The rest of the world is Coming!"  Which is all well and good until you read that the Chinese people hate their education system (Kristoff, NYT) and want to emulate the American one.

Every one of those NEW! ideas requires time for teacher training and every one starts off during an inservice or professional development seminar. Hours are spent, dragging reluctant teachers through them. We're moving forward! Onward! Upward!

Enough hype and hot air to start an Infomercial Network.

Enough "New!" ideas that you could write a book ... as an object lesson on failed initiatives. The real problem is that most of those great new ideas aren't all that great and they aren't new at all.

I'm no Luddite.What I hate is repeating what has already been done.  I want to stand on the shoulders of giants, take what's been done and go from there. I'm sick of reinventing the wheel.  I do not want to be condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Don't put me in a PD and tell me the wonders of an open classroom design.  I'll just get steamed because I've heard this nonsense before.  I can show you a school 20 miles away that was built on this principle and the entire school hates it.  The cubical farm concept - bleah - but my Highly Ineffective Principal actually threw that one at us last year. Another school a few miles in the other direction built open classrooms 35 years ago and still has the permanently installed floor-to-ceiling temporary walls.

The more it was stressed that we were a "High School on the Move," the more stressed I got. With every new and improved "Best Practice," I wondered why no one, apparently, had never thought of this obviously brilliant idea before ... and then after maybe two seconds of thought, realized that it was pretty much what everybody tended to do anyway.

Every time I have to re-enter the curriculum into a new mapping "tool," I feel like screaming.

Every time the curriculum coordinator tells me that practice is "Drill and Kill" while telling me I need to spend time with test prep but that our students don't have high enough scores, I need to watch a Bruce Lee movie.

Every time the school tries a small "School within a School" without actually setting some kind of measurement to see if it worked, I want to go in my room and hide.

Show me improvement, not just change.

I hate professional development.