A Change In PD … For The Better?

As I mentioned in my last blog post, this summer, I’m once again a Curriculum and Site Support Teacher for Camp Power. The other Site Lead and I have been working together with our principal, Kelly, to plan two training days. While I’ve done this training for many years now, reflecting on the virtual experience last year, we all realized that we needed to do this training differently. Once again, just like the camp, the training will all be run through MS Teams. As the three of us were discussing possibilities, we all landed on the same point: when on a virtual platform, it’s very easy to turn off your camera and microphone and walk away.

I’m not saying that this is what our instructors are going to do. Maybe they’re more focused than I am. If someone is just talking at me online, I get very easily distracted. I’ll start to …

  • scroll through a few posts on Twitter,
  • check out what people are sharing on Instagram,
  • reply to emails,
  • and even doodle.

At times, I wonder if some of these distractions actually help me focus — as I keep my fingers busy elsewhere, I listen to what others are saying (kind of like a grown-up fidget toy) — but I also wonder what I might miss. When I think back to our Online Staff Meetings this past school year, the best ones were when my teaching partner, Paula, and I were in the classroom together listening on the same device. Then as we heard information being shared, we started to discuss it.

  • What did this mean for us?
  • How might we apply these ideas in our classroom?
  • What are some different things that we need to consider, which we might not have thought about before?
  • What are some of our practices that we need to reconsider based on what’s being shared?
  • What might be holding us back and why? How might we move forward?

It was through talking and playing with the ideas aloud that we gave meaning to the content on the screen. Applying this to the Camp Power experience, I started to think more about a constructivist approach to professional development.

What really needs to be shared with staff and what can they work through together? The other Site Lead and I — with the blessing of our principal — decided to share some information with the full staff together, and then break into different sessions with smaller groups. We really pushed ourselves to consider various ways to get instructors sharing ideas and creating content in these small groups.

I’m responsible for two small group sessions: one on assessment and one on play and inquiry-based learning. It’s likely not a surprise to any of my blog readers that I’m very passionate about both topics and could probably discuss them for hours. But I’m going to resist the urge to do so. Instead, through the use of Padlets, Minds On activities, sharing opportunities, and even a playdate, my intentions are to have staff make meaning of the topics, talk about past practices, and hopefully, even inspire a few new approaches.

The sneak peek playdate invitation, as staff won’t get this until Monday.

For my session on play and inquiry, I don’t even have a PowerPoint presentation. I’m not sure that I’ve ever done a session without one, or some kind of equivalent. My hope is for two Padlets to share the same purpose, but as a co-created document. In my head, I have big dreams of how this all works out with an exchange of ideas, active participation, and even some aha moments. As for reality, I’ll know more on Thursday.

I know that there is a lot of uncertainty about what school will look like in September. Will staff meetings and PD sessions still be online? If they are, I wonder what a constructivist approach to learning might look like in these bigger groups. I know that we did a lot of breakout room discussions this past school year. What else might be possible? What have others tried? I keep thinking about this tweet that Gerry Smith shared in June of last year.

Throughout the school year, Gerry spoke a lot about how much we’ve changed as educators due to COVID. Just as there are teaching practices that we might not want to go back to, are there PD practices? What might other options be at a school and at a Board level? Right now, I might be planning for Camp Power, but I’m thinking bigger than that, and I wonder if others are as well.


12 thoughts on “A Change In PD … For The Better?

  1. Hi Aviva, your words, “I realized we needed to do the training differently”, reminds me of a two-month series of two-hour, Wednesday evening, Zoom sessions in which I participated. All the presenters were authorities in their field, were well prepared and eager to share, which made me keen to learn. As requested, my camera and audio were off, but I was always at the screen, listening because I wanted to be informed. I frantically jotted notes, wondering what I’d missed while writing. I worried about the portions of information I missed when I was anxiously trying to process previously heard information. During the final session we were assigned to chat rooms: this brought an immediate change to the dynamics. Suddenly I had a sense of inclusivity.
    Your realization and my experience have me wondering what could have been differently in the process that could have benefitted me as a learner…with the big question being: can these actions be taken online? Throughout the sessions, it was me, myself, and I looking at and listening to presenters, and it probably would have been the same for every other participants (unless they knew the presenters personally); I could have done with something at the beginning to create a sense of community. Workshops were jam-packed with useful, insightful information, but later in the evening it was difficult to recall much. What could be done to enable listeners to create a record of the information? Would it be possible to build in breaks for quick, but purposeful, interactions? Would it be possible to set-up a buddy-room system, so with regular pauses, the buddies could share what they’d heard, or ask each other a question, or exchange a comment?
    Your post had me reread: https://www.swselfmanagement.ca/uploads/ResourceTools/How%20adults%20learn%20-%20Principles%20of%20Adult%20Learning.pdf; and the piece by Christopher Pappas: https://elearningindustry.com/pedagogy-vs-andragogy-in-elearning-can-you-tell-the-difference

    • Thank you for sharing these resources, your questions, and your experiences. You’re giving me a lot to think about Noeline. It was interesting how you mentioned listening carefully and writing a lot down, but not necessarily recalling what was shared in the sessions. This makes me think a lot about processing time and how we give attendees the chance to make sense of what they’ve heard and make it their own. I’ve done a lot of sessions before and always tried to jam in as much as possible, but I wonder how much really stuck with participants. If they were more involved in the learning, did they recall more? Just like “less is more” when it comes to resources, is this also true when it comes to PD? It also makes me think about “experts” in the field, and how much we can learn from each other. I might be passionate about play, inquiry, and assessment, but I’m also still learning. Is there something to be said for letting participants know this? Will this make them more comfortable with sharing more? You make a great point here about creating a “sense of community.” We know the power of developing relationships in the classroom with our students. What does this look like online, and what does this look like in a professional context? I know that after planning these PD sessions, I would definitely be reconsidering how I do PD sessions from now on … especially online, but maybe also, in person. I’m off to read the articles that you shared. Thanks for adding so much more to this conversation!


  2. You always ask the best questions, Aviva. And how amazing would it be to be able to sit with another person, face to face, while you were in a virtual staff meeting or PD.

    I, too, find it easy to get distracted if the PD is not participatory . And that happens even if it’s not virtual PD. One thing I was really thankful for recently was modeled by a new administrator in our June PD sessions. As we were collectively watching a video, he started posting quotes that jumped out at him. A few other people, including me, started doing the same. It let us see what other people were connecting with, which was hugely helpful.
    We did some electives with students in June, and it gave us the chance to really think about small group learning. I did a friendship bracelet session, and only had about 5 kids in each session. That meant we were able to just talk and I used the document camera to show steps as we went along. We had a great time. I really like your play date idea!

    • Thanks Lisa for your comment and for adding to this conversation! I love the idea of posting quotes as they come up in a video. Not only is this a great way to connect with others, but I wonder if it makes us listen better as well. I could totally see doing something similar with an older group of students. It’s almost like a backchannel.

      The small group electives is another wonderful idea. While Paula and I did small and large group sessions when we were online, the ability to really connect with students in a small group is wonderful. I wonder if the same holds true for adults. I know that breakout rooms allowed for some small group Staff Meeting learning. Are there any other ways to support small groups during PD sessions?

      I agree with you about participatory PD. I can be easily distracted in-person as well, but am maybe a little less likely to choose the options that I do online, as others can see me in-person. I worry about being judged. I’m wondering if some of these choices though are Self-Reg ones, and if they help me focus better when I might not be participating in the same way. Do we need to start naming this as Self-Reg for staff and supporting it? Or even thinking of different ways to get staff involved in sessions, if they’re in-person or online (and for any amount of time)? This makes me think about a conversation that I had with Sue Dunlop at BIT so many years ago, when a lot of sessions (including my own) seemed to be sit and get. She really pushed me to reflect and think more creatively about how to get participants involved even in shorter sessions. Does virtual learning have us reflecting again?

      So much more to think about …

  3. You’re making me think, and smile. I remember one of the first sessions I did at ECOO , I was asking questions as part of the process, and was willing to wait for answers, and one of the participants actually looked at other people (who were not answering) and said “people, she’s not going to go on unless we do the work here.” I wish I knew who she was,so I could thank her.

    PD is such a tough balance. I do think we need to make sure people know that it’s okay to self/co-reg ( you know that I have worked on staffs where the meeting norms included Lisa has her knitting) . But because some of us process orally and auditorily, and some of us don’t, we have to work just as hard at putting together PD as we do for our classroom work, and I think that differentiating gets lost for adult learners. .

    • Thanks for your reply, Lisa! I love this story of yours from ECOO. While I think it speaks to the importance of participants being involved in PD, I wonder if it also shows how rare this can sometimes be.

      Thank you for also sharing your PD experiences. I think there’s a lot of value in creating meeting norms that include Self-Reg and Co-Reg possibilities. We would do this for students in the classroom. Why not for adults?! While I might be willing to quietly doodle at a meeting in-person, I’m not sure that I would feel brave enough to make the other choices that I do online. You also have me thinking about how different adults learn, and how we can ensure that we provide these various opportunities to them. Our Camp PD includes a piece on differentiated instruction — which is actually going to be an application activity for staff — but now you’re getting me to reflect on how we differentiate for staff. I think that I’ll be looking over my sessions in the next couple of days to make sure that I provide enough of these different options while also considering Self-Reg.

      You’re definitely getting me to think as well!

  4. Really enjoyed the post Aviva because it is a reminder that regardless if the learning is live or on-line, it needs to connect people to each other and new ideas, engage the audience, and allow for personalization. Quality PD should have the same components regardless of the space it in which it happens.

    Our learning from remote last year was that that connection-student to student, educator to student, and educator to educator- needs to be a core component of the learning experience. Without it, there was disengagement and isolation.

    Connection was highest in 1:1 or small groups. Not whole class. So, I really like how you’ve worked to connect and engage Camp Power staff. That needs to model the expected connection building in the program: 1:1, small group, and choice so kids can learn collaboratively. Whole group should be limited and very intentional.

    I do wonder about “cameras on”. Again, cameras on proved to increase connection and engagement. What norms will CP staff create about having cameras on?

    One shift Program has made is to build much our PD in The Hub so it is available as an on-demand course as well as an in-person experience. The downside is the reduced connection inherent in an asynchronous course, but we try to mitigate with 1:1 office hours on Teams. Love to know your thoughts on the approach.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Bill! You’ve given me a lot to think about, and I appreciate your perspective as someone who’s navigated the online environment all year long.

      Your comment really reminded me about the importance of relationships. We know that relationships/connections are the cornerstone of Self-Reg, and you make it clear here that they are equally valuable for staff and students. We need to prioritize them. This also makes me think about Camp Power, and getting kids engaged and returning each day. While exciting activities can help with engagement, students and staff telling stories, sharing ideas, and really building an authentic relationship online will be the key to good attendance, I think. It’s what I saw when we went remote this year. Kids want to come because they care about each other and their educators, and they know that the educators feel the same way about them.

      I completely agree with you about the benefits of small group learning. I’m glad that we can facilitate this for our staff, but also explore ways to support these small groups and 1:1 times online. You’re making me wonder what else might be possible here. Our class numbers are larger (around 20 students), so finding ways to connect can make a big difference. When we were remote, I found that “playing/making together” in the virtual classroom, even in bigger groups, made a difference. Kids started to talk more with each other and with us, and with it being less of a question/answer format versus a more authentic discussion, the connections were stronger and the learning seemed richer. Now we had connections with our students before we went virtual. The key here is going to be building these strong relationships from the very beginning. A challenge, but a valuable one I think.

      I agree with you about “cameras on” for staff and for students. I know that the privacy component sometimes makes enforcing this harder. With bigger groups and different Internet connection speeds, cameras can also be problematic at times. This is why small groups are so valuable, once again. When we can see students, we can also use non-verbal cues to help with planning and engagement. I wonder if a look at “creating environments” online might help. What’s a good space to work? What will people see and hear with the cameras on? When can microphones be turned on, and when might they be better off? This again gets into some connections with Self-Reg and even mindful listening. Co-creating some norms/understandings together can be really valuable. I would prefer this to hard fast rules. Then everyone is invested in the plan, and it works for all those involved. Those that might be more reluctant to turn on a camera in a big group, might feel better in a small group or 1:1 time. I wonder if this is something else to consider. I know that our playdate conversation is going to also include a discussion around cameras.

      The other side to this “camera on” discussion is that when young students can see an educator, sometimes the only person that they talk with is the adult. When we were virtual, turning off cameras (and explaining to students that we were doing so) had them engaging more with each other. This allowed for some great oral language opportunities around listening and speaking, some wonderful problem solving, and even some combined reading, writing, and math talk. The key for educators was knowing when to appear again, when to chime in, and when to just observe. It’s kind of like the idea of standing over to the side and watching in the classroom, or even getting to a different height (be it up high or down low on the floor) to see the room from a different perspective and watch and listen a little bit more.

      As for the on-demand courses, I’ll admit that I didn’t tend to access them. I find just listening and watching to be a lot harder, but I loved the Office Hours and the ease in reaching out to Program personnel even through MS Teams. Another focus on connections, I guess. Different school hours and responsibilities make it virtually impossible to have “live PD” that works for everyone’s schedule. As I write this though, I wonder if I would feel better accessing an on-demand course if I were to do so with my teaching partner. Then we could talk and make connections as we watch. Maybe a way to get that social component while also listening and observing. Hmmm …

      So much to think about here!

  5. I’ve always said… practice what you preach!
    If doing a Pd session or teaching adults/ teacher candidates etc, we should be putting our own practices from the classroom into action.. The adults in the room are like our students in the room. Do with them what/how we would do with our kiddos. Or think… how would I best like to do pd.? There’s nothing worse than going to a pd session on engagement with the leader doing a lecture style presentation!!! (I don’t know how many times I’ve been in situations like this!) we should be putting our teaching learning pedagogy in place when teaching leading learning with every learner!
    When I do pd sessions with adults I work incredibly hard to find ways to have them ‘learn what they are doing by doing what they are learning’. It’s not easy to wrap your head around that one it essentially… if I’m working on assessment with a group of people, they are DOING assessment during the learning… not just practicing it in isolated situations but assessments are part of their learning during the pd.

    • Thanks for your comment, Joanne, and sharing what you do! I love how you focused on “practice what you preach.” It would be great to hear some different ways that educators and administrators do this during PD sessions. I remember in my earlier days of teaching, going to some different Kindergarten PD sessions, and having to partake in various song and movement activities. I hated it. I questioned why I was being treated like I was a kid when I was an adult. I wonder though if partaking in these experiences while simultaneously breaking them down and reflecting on them, has value. Then we are not only experimenting with approaches that we could use in the classroom, but thinking about how these approaches might work for us and for our students and why they might be valuable. Hmmm … you are giving me more to think about here.


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