Getting the Guest List Right
In education we talk a lot about having tiered instruction for our students and taking a variety different learning preferences into account, but we don’t extend this same thinking to educators. Instead, they often file into auditorium rows for one-size-fits-all, "sit-and-get" professional development sessions. I have observed as teachers sit in a workshop on the topic of differentiation in a completely undifferentiated space. This irony continues to baffle me, but unfortunately it happens more frequently than we would like to admit.
If we want to make a stronger impact with our professional learning experiences, we need to create the right space, which begins with excluding the right people. We often design over-lengthy guest lists for a whole host of different reasons. While I want everyone to feel included, this doesn't mean that they are included in every single space - there's a distinction there.
We want to give people an opportunity to learn, but we also don't want to force them into a space that they're not ready for or that isn't ready for them. We get bogged down with the constraints of credit hours and consistent messaging, and in the process, end up shoving a square peg into a round hole. Then we wonder why people self-sabotage, as well as sabotage others, in PD sessions. It just doesn't fit.
So what do we do? Anytime we exclude someone from the "guest list," we also have an obligation to provide an alternative. We need to be able to say, “You know what, I don't think this is the right match for you, but let's discuss these two or three other experiences that may be better aligned. Let's be thought partners together and select the one that's going to be best for you.”
Second, we need to get comfortable designing more than one professional learning session. It simply needs to happen the same way teachers design small groups, tiered instruction, and differentiated assessments. I don't pretend that it's easy; it's really hard work. That's why I wrote a whole book about it. If we expect teachers to design different learning experiences for students that are meeting their needs, then we have a responsibility and an obligation to start designing different professional learning sessions for teachers. What a teacher needs in year 20 is completely different than what they need in year 1, and what one might need as a 3rd grade teacher is completely different than a 10th grade teacher.
Until we start coming to grips with that and meeting those individual needs and excluding the right people from the right sessions, we're never going to get where we need to in terms of teacher growth, or even leader growth.
As leaders we need to put more thought into getting the guest list right for our professional learning experiences. We need to create anticipation for these events and get educators excited about attending. We want them to feel like they are accountable to this space to be a true collaborator, and not just someone who steps in the door.