Do As I Say, Not As I Do

What happens to educators when they leave the classroom and move up the ranks of school administration?  Is there some sort of “amnesia ray” that is beamed into their minds to erase all that they have learned about pedagogy?  Why do we teach educators using methods that would be woefully inadequate for students?

from Chloe Dietz (flickr)

I asked myself these rhetorical questions this week as I was “trained” in the use of our district’s new professional development component.  Blaming the high cost of hiring trainers and providing substitute teachers, our very large school district has purchased licenses for a new web-based PD product.  The entire website is based around teachers viewing video clips and then reflecting what they have learned from them.  Many of the clips are simply digitized versions of decades-old instructional videos that weren’t all that helpful in their original, analog, form.

Right now, this service is being presented as a supplement to existing face-to-face workshop opportunities, but how long will it be before this is the model for all future professional development?  I cringe at the thought that the advent of easy internet video streaming and pressing financial woes might inflict this type of boring, passive, meaningless education on professional educators.  But, that’s just the beginning…

Worse than my personal disdain for this method of educational delivery is the hypocrisy that it represents.  Why are we classroom teachers expected to use student-centered, interactive, inquiry-based instruction, with its proven effects on learning, if those who supervise us can ignore this research and force us to endure lecture-style lessons that wouldn’t have cut the pedagogical mustard fifty years ago?

The salt in my wounds, however, is my district’s reluctance to give professional development credits for the ongoing education that is taking place every day in my PLN.  With the help of my many colleagues online, and some innovative communication tools, I am engaging in meaningful learning that enhances my performance in the classroom like no flash video from 1972 ever could.  Despite my best efforts to convince the Powers That Be of the professional development value of my Personal Learning Network, they refuse to accept it as legitimate continuing education.  How much sense does that make?

Cost to my district: $0
Value to the students of my district: Priceless.

2 thoughts on “Do As I Say, Not As I Do

  1. Enjoyed this piece, Paul….and I couldn’t agree more—when a district fails to see the value of regular interactions that we engage in digitally, they fail to see how learning is changing. What a dangerous message to send to teachers.

    I’ll never forget one of my favorite moments in education. About ten years ago, I realized that my license was up for renewal and I was a few technology credits short. Being as how I’ve always been out in front on technology, I asked permission to do an independent study on moviemaking in the classroom.

    The response: Nope. You’ve got to take one of the courses we’re offering.

    So I checked the course listing only to find that the only two courses being offered in time for my renewal were “Getting to Know Your Computer” and “Getting to Know the Internet.”

    Realizing that these courses would do nothing for my own learning or to improve the learning in my classroom simply because they were beneath my skills, I called back and asked again for permission to design and document an independent study. The conversation went like this:

    “I won’t learn anything from the courses you’re offering.”

    “That’s too bad, Mr. Ferriter. You need to take them.”

    “So this really isn’t about whether I learn anything?”

    “No Mr. Ferriter. It’s about keeping your license.”

    “But how does that make sense? Wouldn’t it be better if I actually learned something while keeping my license?”

    “Take the courses, Mr. Ferriter.”

    “Even if they’re beneath my skill level?”

    “Take the courses, Mr. Ferriter.”

    Crazy, isn’t it? But the message was clear: Filling the required obligations was more important that my own professional growth.

    Now, I don’t hold this against my district or even the person I was talking to on the phone. There ARE requirements that teachers have to meet and there ISN’T much flexibility in how those requirements are to be met.

    But I do hold it against policymakers who are unwilling to have an open mind about what learning for teachers can look like. The messages sent to teachers when requirements are more important than learning are ironic at best and downright moronic at worst.


    PS: I took both courses. Learned what a mouse was and how to create Word documents. Also learned about this nifty little thing called “The World Wide Web.” Have you heard of it? Remarkable stuff.


  2. @Bill – Did you hear they have the Web on computers now?

    @Paul – Great points, and ones that I’ve faced … not always successfully … in my transition into administration. But you’re right to point out that the most powerful education systems are ones that will embrace methodological integrity as a core value, from teacher PD to classroom instruction. Sorry to hear you’re not getting credit for your PLN experiences — they are so valuable!


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