Staff Development – Alternative PD

Designing professional development opportunities for teachers can be both exciting and challenging.  Historically, PD sessions have been delivered in a very traditional format.  This involves bringing a group of teachers together who have a common interest (grade, course, subject, school etc.) and delivering a common message.  A simple example is the in-servicing of new curriculum.

When the Department of Education, Early Learning and Culture (DEELC) launches a new curriculum they are required by contract to provide in-service to the teachers.  In P.E.I, the DEELC is responsible for the development of the provincially authorized curricula; it is the responsibility of the Public Schools Branch, (as the employer), to ensure this curricula is implemented.  The very nature of this structure can lend itself to an autocratic and top-down system. The epistemological assumption embedded within this structure is that the required knowledge is held by the developer of the curriculum, (DEELC), and it is the responsibility of the developer to impart this knowledge to the teachers. One of the unintended consequences of this can often be autocratic and top-down in-services and/or professional development (PD).

The challenge presented by the structure is real; and is exemplified when the subject matter is as diverse as Career and Technical Education (CTE).  To provide some context, CTE programs in P.E.I. range from culinary arts to autonomous robotics, from grade 7 wood shop to preparing students to write apprenticeship exams in welding, and from architectural drafting to career exploration.  The idea that the required knowledge is held by the developer is impractical.

My current role as the CTE curriculum specialist for the DEELC has provided me the opportunity to develop and deliver a number of in-services over the past 12 years.  Some were better then others; some were autocratic and top-down, others were more constructive and pragmatic.

I believe the true centre of knowledge in education is not located within the bureaucrat structures of school governance, but rather in the schools themselves and more specifically, within the teachers.  I am not dismissing the role of curriculum, principals, students, parents, or the litany of specialists we lean on within our schools, rather stating that the teacher, and their pedagogy, is what forms the necessary connections to make the system function.

This is why I found the alternative PD structures in this artifact so interesting.  It challenges teachers to take back their professional learning and recognize what they have to offer each other.  As a curriculum specialist, this has also challenged me to consider ways to empower teachers to share in the ownership of the curricula.

John Hattie describes collective teacher efficacy as having the greatest influence on student achievement.  “Collective Teacher Efficacy is the collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students” (Hattie – website).

As I reflect on my work through this lens of alternative PD structures, I can see where I have drawn on some these structures past in-services and PD sessions.  I have incorporated peer mentoring, blended learning, and elements of voluntary piloting; however, I would argue that I have came to these unintentionally.  The challenge moving forward will be to make some these structures more intentional and challenge teachers to be active centres of knowledge within the curriculum and leaders of their own pedagogy and professional development.

Further Readings & Articles

HARD Goals; DUMB Goals; SMART Goals

As a curriculum specialist for the Department of Education I have had the opportunity to be involved in many seminars, meetings and strategic planning sessions.  This may not sound like the most exciting way to spend a day, and it is true that a number of times I have left meetings wondering why that was necessary.  However, I have also left meetings feeling a sense of accomplishment, an sense of synergy, and a sense of empowerment.

One particular meeting, revolving around school goals,  I was finding myself slipping into the cynical, unfocused state of mind that typically leaves me questioning a particular agenda item.  I was having a difficult time reconciling the concept of SMART goals with the critically important school Wellness Goals.

It was there that I first started to question SMART goals as a systemic means by which a school sets goals.  I turned to Google to see if others were questioning and exploring this issue.  I came across two other goal setting acronyms that were intriguing: DUMB Goals and HARD Goals.


Of the three models, I find myself drawn towards the HARD goals as defined by Mark Murphy.  The model strikes a balance between the highly motivational DUMB goals and the potentially limiting and data bound SMART goals.

HARD goals accept the challenge.  HARD goals force us to examine what we truly value and provide direction to help us achieve them.  Because HARD goals are connected to emotion (Heartfelt), the motivation and determination to achieve them becomes intrinsic.  This provides the stamina that is need to face the challenge.  Hard Goals are connected to a vision and and designed to address a required need.  This allows them to be very supportive of strategic initiatives such as Jeff Clow’s “Moving and Imporving” vision and action plan.

I believe we can sometimes become paralyzed by the goals we set and I agree with Brendon Burchard when he says that goals not tied to vision (Dream-Driven) can lead to an increase in busy work.  Critical pedagogy is key to examining school goals as it helps to expose potential marginalization of particular demographics and to avoid silencing voices.  The goals we set for our schools should be considered against a variety of goal setting models thus ensuring that our goals do not become the victims of a bad acronym.  There is a place for each of these types of goals within our work in schools as there are times when we need to focus on specific and measurable tasks, but there are others when we need to focus on the “moon-shot”.

Connected Videos – further viewings

Video – Brendon Buchard (DUMB Goals)

Video – Mark Murphy (HARD Goals)

Video – SMART Goals

and my personal favourite

TED Talk on Moon Shots!

Connected weblinks/articles/books – further readings

HARD Goals – Mark Murphy

Achieving Your Dreams Through D.U.M.B. Goals

Leadership and Change

Many years ago I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on  a 42′ ketch with 4 other men all of whom were more than twice my age (and in some cases almost 3 times!).  The depth and range of knowledge on board was impressive; airline pilots, engineers, navy officers, navigators, mechanics, and me…an newly qualified shop teacher with an over-zealous sense of adventure.

One of the crew members, George, was retired from the Navy where he worked as a navigator on submarines.   George and I hit it off instantly.  His stories and experience at sea were amazing, he loved to tell them… I loved to listen to them, and we had 30 days at sea to enjoy them!

George took the time to explain and teach me everything from how to properly drink port, to proving to me that the World is definitely not flat!  One particular evening as we were both on watch, George taught me how to balance a sailboat.  Now I knew how to trim sails for optimal performance when it was speed we were after, but balancing a boat is more about direction than speed.

The essential idea is this…first, you determine your desired heading.  Once your course is set, you trim your sails so the boat will move 5 or so degrees off course when you let go of the helm.  If you have set the sails right, the forces acting on the boat will redistribute and the boat will begin to correct it’s course.  The boat will continue to act as a pendulum, constantly moving 5 or so degrees above, then 5 or so degrees below the desired course, without the helmsman needing to touch the helm.  Intervention is only needed when a big wave, wind shift, wind increase, or other such unexpected force hits the boat.

What does this have to do with change and educational leadership?

The boat is in a constant state of change.  It is not holding to a steady course, but rather to a balanced course with eyes on a destination.  Because the boat is already in a state of change, it is easier for those responsible to adjust when an unexpected (or expected) force knocks the boat out of balance.

Schools are also in a constant state of change.  Each new year brings new students, new curriculum, new ideas, and new staff.  Instead of viewing schools as entrenched institutions that do things the way they’ve always been done, perhaps viewing schools more like a ship on an open sea, that works constantly to balance the forces that effect it while striving for it’s destination may be more effective.

An object in motion tends to stay in motion!

This line of reasoning is in line with the research around growth and fixed mindsets.  By establishing the normal state within the school environment as one of balanced change it will better prepare staff and administration for challenges and opportunities as they arise.Image result for growth mindset

Building a growth mindset culture in a school where staff and students feel empowered and safe to take the risk to fail is a critical part of developing teacher efficacy and student efficacy.  Educational researcher and thinker John Hattie ranks both teacher and student (self) efficacy among the most effective and influential factors that lead to increased student achievement.

One particular afternoon during the voyage across the Atlantic we encountered a significant breeze and high seas.  We had been monitoring a low pressure system on the weather charts and radar for a couple of days and had adjusted our course to sail around it.  Our timing had worked out well and we had a beautiful blue sky, a solid 25 knots of wind and waves that we estimated to be about 18-20 feet.  Fortunately the distance between the waves was large allowing us to effectively sail down into the troughs and then up the crests with relative ease.  Of course this got me thinking, “I wonder if a 42′ boat can act like a surfboard?”.  Seemed like a reasonable question, so I started experimenting.

As the boat rode up on a wave I would tighten the rig and head up into the wind; as the boat began to crest I would loosen up and bear down into the trough.  Low and behold a 42′ boat could surf!  I was having a blast.  It was after the forth or fifth wave that George joined me in the cockpit.  He casually sat beside me and opened two beer.

“Having fun?”, he asked?  The look on his face told me my best response was no response.

“I’m going to tell you this once…when you are sailing up wind the crew will break before the boat; when your sailing down wind the boat will break before the crew.  Now slow this boat down and join me for a drink.” He may have added in a few other choice words for emphasis.

As educational leaders it is critical that we learn to monitor the rate of change, and potential pressure points this change may cause, closely to ensure the system continues to run smoothly for the betterment of both students and staff.

Connected Articles – further readings