UbD for PD

20130907-134551.jpgI was fortunate to attend the first annual EdCampSC event in Rock Hill, South Carolina this weekend. I am a big proponent of the edcamp “unconference” model for professional development, as the discussions are such a powerful learning experience for me.

Sometimes, though, the conversations at edcamp help me to craft my own ideas into a clearer form. This weekend, during a session about the weaknesses of most teacher professional development, I had an epiphany. I was able to pull together my ideas about improving PD in just a few minutes of discussion with other colleagues (most of whom I’d never met before EdCampSC). And the idea is simple:

Why don’t we apply the principles of Understanding by Design to our professional development planning?

Imagine a world in which administrators and district leaders begin with outcomes in mind. They look closely at the skills and awareness that they want their teachers to have. These might come from district initiatives, school improvement plans, or even (gasp) teacher surveys. Leaders create a list of essential questions that all teachers should be able to answer to show that they are capable and ready for the future.

Then, these leaders create assessments that measure teacher mastery of these essential questions. This might mean projects or other products, such as lesson plans. Or, it might be as simple as a quiz that teachers take when they are done learning. If we truly want to model good teaching, we would also create formative assessments that would provide feedback to teachers while they are learning.

Then, and this is a critical step, research multiple ways for teachers to develop the necessary skills/awareness. Give them choices that might include online learning, traditional classes, or blended experiences. They might be trainer-centered; or the teacher-learner might be able to seek out her own learning experiences. Provide scheduled events for those that need them. Give the educators adequate time and resources to pursue these experiences before they take the assessments.

The key is that twisting arms and cajoling adult professionals would become a thing of the past. It would no longer be the administrator pitted against the teacher or the central office against the school. Teachers seeking to pass the assessment and demonstrate their mastery of the required skills would bring their own motivation. In this system, the ownership and control are in the hands of the adult professional. Just think how empowered teachers would feel and how less stressful the relationship between teachers and their administrators would be. In so many ways, this is superior to the “one size fits all” system that is almost universal right now.

It seems like a no-brainer, especially with the push for teachers to conduct their own classes in similar ways. Clearly, I must be missing something, right? If so, set me straight in the comments.