On our call the other day, I heard everyone say in different ways that valuable PD involves connections.

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In the course of our conversation, I heard people say over and over in many different ways that we need to connect PD to our subjects, other teachers, our students and to ourselves in a meaningful way to be valuable.  

This looks like keeping students involved in the process, collaborating with other teachers, making it relevant to us and to our students, providing opportunities to participate in the planning and learning process, taking some initiative, and keeping it interactive.  


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Photo of Ariel Raz

What a fascinating insight Valerie! It makes me wonder about the different players involved in PD, and how the actual receivers of professional development view the the value of the experience differently from those who plan and implement PD. 

Have you heard of an un-conference? It's a self-organized way for structuring a conference that prioritizes connections. The structure might offer good ideas to build off of .

Photo of Valerie Swangren

I have participated in a couple of unconferences.  I like the format a lot.  It's a little bit hit or miss, but the one with less restrictions was much more valuable to me than the one where I felt I was being 'encouraged' to participate in certain topics and that some topics were taboo.  
Ordinarily, when I participate in PD outside school, it is much more interest-driven.  Often the PD offered in the school district PD days are not at all relevant to me.  I am a teacher-librarian and lots of the PD offered has nothing to do with any of my subject matter and I don't manage classes and grades or have other duties that classroom teachers do.  I often present rather than just participate, and may miss the PD that I would have liked to explore a little more.  
The unconference model works well because hearing other teachers talk about topics I am interested in builds understanding in a way that 'programmed' PD doesn't.  Also, it is easy to make personal connections in the unconference model.  Unconferencing wouldn't work for all PD.  Obviously, if your district got a new system that everyone needs to learn, a direct instruction model would be more appropriate.  
PD really needs to be flexible.  Building understanding, networking and interacting on several levels is so much more valuable to me.   

Photo of Ariel Raz

I love your last point about building understanding and networking on multiple levels. Not to belabor the point, but from my understanding the structure of an unconference came from an insight that the most valuable parts of a conference are the in-between conversations before structured sessions. 

I wonder if there's a way to a slight amount of structure to an un-conference so the needs of the district were met. It would be interesting to interview an administrator (or superintendent) to see how they view the purpose of PD, and to find a balance between their needs and what teachers see as valuable.

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