We've all been in those sessions: 100+ people in a room with varying backgrounds, needs, student populations, grade level, expertise and 1 speaker at the front of the auditorium attempting to engage each of us with a broad statement or strategy. For some, this model works. They take what they need and modify what the speaker has offered to match what their require for their own environment. For many, however, this is unproductive and feels like a waste of time. For those on the fridges of the audience (because of their subject area or grade level, for example), the time is used to covertly check emails, grade papers, or search through Pinterest to find something that might be useful to their students. You want to look like you're paying attention because you want to be respectful to the speaker, but you struggle to pay attention.
Now let's reverse all of that. What if, instead of being in a room with 100s of people that have a huge variety of needs, you are comfortably seated in your own classroom chair with a small group of people of similar interests? What if the person "speaking" is one of your own colleagues who happens to have an expertise in a certain area, say using Google Docs with 4th graders? And what if, you were getting "trained" that day because next week you wanted to use Google Docs to write pen pal letters to a partner classroom? Maybe, then, this would be relevant to you. Maybe, then, you'd put away your smart phone and engage in discussion with your fellow teachers, face to face. Maybe, this would be professional development you could use and wouldn't feel like a waste of valuable time.
I am fortunate enough to work in a school district where a model of "just in time" professional development is being implemented. There are four full-time teachers on special assignment that work out of the district office who have been charged with supporting the staff of the district in developing their own skills. We have specialists in english-language arts, mathematics, differentiation (including GATE populations), and STEM (which happens to be me!). At any given time, we can be found making appointments with teachers to help them plan a lesson or unit or to help them develop a skill (like using Google Docs in the above example), teaching demonstration lessons in a classroom, providing temporary substitute coverage to a classroom so that a teacher can observe her fellow teachers for a short period of time, working up help documents that are posted to the district website or emailed out to teachers, or developing the professional development plan that involves whole group and then small group sessions and planning.
Maybe, just maybe, we should practice what we preach: Differentiate!