I’ve attended approximately 90 professional development days in my career as a teacher to date, but can honestly say that only 5 of them have had a positive, lasting effect on my practice. You don’t have to be a mathematician to see that those odds aren’t good.
Some have been memorable for other reasons…..like the time one of our speakers played the piano for the majority of the session, and barely spoke about teaching; or another presentation where a speaker read us student ‘journal entries’ that were a decade old, which prompted all of us to write ‘journals’ to colleagues in the audience that were (ahem) less than professional.
I honestly don’t think that this is a problem that is unique to my school board; I have colleagues and friends who work in school boards across the province and country, and they all have the same reaction when we speak of PD days (cue eye roll).
If you think of teachers like a classroom full of students with their own interests, strengths, weaknesses, subject knowledge and teaching styles – it really is impossible to run a PD session that will connect with all of them. School boards are doing their best. And to give our board in particular credit, PD days are improving. The five sessions that have impacted my practice have all taken place in the past 3-4 years.
Nevertheless, there is one style of PD sessions that can offer teachers a level of independence and authentic learning that would complement all of their learning needs: Genius Time.
What is Genius Time?
Simply speaking, Genius Time is a concept that derived from the tech industry that offered employees time to work on passion driven projects that would benefit the company. The idea has seeped into education, and many classroom teachers are now offering Genius Time to their students as a method of encouraging innovative, critical thinking and self-directed learning. See my blog about Genius Time in my classroom: here.
Why Genius Time for Teachers?
Most teachers that I know have a genuine interest in improving their craft. After all, many are ‘A’ type personalities, and this is really part of our nature. We want to learn more, achieve our goals and challenge the status quo.
Despite our desire to constantly improve and serve our students needs more effectively, the sad truth is we often don’t have time to do this. Whenever we come across a great new idea or strategy, the first question we ask ourselves is: when am I going to have time to try/create/learn about this? Between classroom prep/planning, supervisions, marking, coaching/volunteering and administrative duties little time is left for professional development.
We do have PD days, though – there are 7-8 a year; that’s time. The problem is that PD days aren’t serving many of us. Genius Time could change this.
What would Genius Time as PD look like?
I see Genius Time as PD looking very much like it does in my classroom, but with the principal in the place of the teacher and the teachers in the place of students.
Teachers would be educated by their admin regarding the concept of Genius Time, then given some ideas of possible projects or ideas. After some time to collaborate and share ideas with colleagues, teachers would be asked to submit a proposal to their administrative staff and conference with them about it. I’ve updated my classroom project proposal to give an idea of what this could look like for teacher PD: here.
The following 5 PD days of the school year would be spent working on individual ideas or projects, as well as consulting with colleagues and administration or board consultants when necessary. Clearly, many projects would also end up taking place as trials in the classroom, so the bulk of PD days may be spent doing research, reflection or assessment of progress.
At the final PD day of the school year, teachers would share their project/experiences with their home school staff, and each school could create a Google Slide show of projects and then share them board wide. If so desired, there could also be a larger sharing activity at the board level as well.
It’s all about control…
The biggest hurdle to allowing Genius Time to flourish in my classroom has been letting go of control. I can see this is an impediment for Genius Time as PD for teachers as well. How will school administrators know their teachers aren’t hiding in their classrooms updating their Facebook status or online shopping ?
The honest answer is they won’t. Mic drop. But, to be honest – this is happening anyways. When I look around at PD sessions both in-house and at the board level, many teachers are otherwise occupied on their technological devices….some sleep…..some mark…..others talk in hushed voices. Genius Time would actually diminish the problem of inattention and buy-in.
With a regular PD session, teachers don’t own the experience – especially if they can’t connect to it. Genius Time changes this: if teachers construct their own meaningful, authentic learning experiences they are suddenly connected; they are now responsible for their learning and to share their project.
Teacher PD: The Next Generation
Like our students, teachers want authentic learning experiences and enjoy exploring learning at our own pace, based on our own interests, subject areas and student needs. Giving us the time and independence to do this would only increase our confidence in the classroom, and in turn benefit our students learning and success.
Moreover, allowing administrators to act as guides in this process would encourage and develop relationships between teachers and principals, just as Genius Time encourages relationships between teachers and students.
This type of PD would also encourage TLLP’s (Teacher Learning and Leadership Programs) to flourish organically as like minded colleagues could work together and explore teaching methods and experiences. For example, I know that during this school year many other teachers in my school board are playing with Genius Time in their classrooms, but we’re all so busy we’ve had little to no time to connect and share ideas, resources and reflections.
Finally, by school boards offering Genius Time as PD, they would be ‘walking the walk’ that is preached to teachers about 21st century learning: risk taking, innovation, collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking. We are pretty perceptive people; this would be seen as a great attempt of leading by example and in my opinion would certainly encourage buy-in regarding 21st learning in classrooms.
What do you think about Genius Time as PD for teachers? Would you like to see this implemented at your home school or school board? Comment below!