Reflecting on PD: Exemplars?


If you haven’t seen Dean Shareski’s (@shareski) post It Takes All Kinds: Teachers, you should go now and read it.  If you don’t have time to read mine and Dean’s then check out Dean’s post.

Dean includes a great video, The Myth of the Super Teacher from EdWriters on Vimeo that I include here as well because it’s just, well… GREAT!

If you’re still here reading my blog, thanks!

If you read my last post, you know that I delivered a PD session to two different sets of teachers yesterday.  I was excited about many new topics and tools and wanted to share them with some great teachers.  At the end of each of the two sessions, there were some positive remarks and comments.  I was fairly happy with the day but had a feeling that something was amiss.

Last night I was browsing my Twitter timeline and found a couple of Tweets from Chad Lehman (@imcguy).  One of them was about the post I mention above by Dean Shareski.  So, I took a couple of minutes to have a look at what Dean was saying.

As I read, I reflected (some more – see my previous post) on my day and my presentation.  I realized that my presentation was structured in such a way that the teachers attending might very well suffer from the “Super Teacher” syndrome that Shareski suggests.

I shared many great and useful web 2.0 tools, gave them hands-on time, and introduced some ideas that teachers might find useful as they create a framework for their own technology integration.  All in two hours!

While I didn’t say that any teacher should do all of this (or even most of it) at once – I neglected to say they shouldn’t!  What example did I set?  What message did I convey, by omitting an important part of the message? How many of those teachers are stressed today because they think it would be right to start incorporating all of that into their classroom?  Or, how many have disregarded everything we did in that session as being totally unrealistic and unattainable?

When we have professional discussions about assessment and evaluation there is often the suggestion (often stronger than suggestion) that teachers use exemplar workpieces to illustrate “good work”.  Teachers are told they should gather and collect (as if teachers need to be told to collect and gather anything) good work by students so they can use it with other classes/years to illustrate a Rubric-4 or a Rubric-1.  Where does that leave the student who knows they can’t achieve work that is as good as “that” for a variety of reasons – many of which may not be of his own doing or under her control.  Some of those students will just give up and not put any effort into the work… they will end up achieving a Rubric-1 when they could have been a Rubric-3.

This business of exemplars can be messy.

I started Tweeting almost a year ago.  As a result I follow some fantastic educators who have shared some great resources and ideas.  I feel that I’ve grown and learned tremendously in that time.  Now I find myself excited about sharing some of that information – that’s good.  But as I reflect on my delivery yesterday, I wonder if I might have implied that following people on Twitter and reading various blogs is the way to become a great teacher?  It’s not.  As Dean points out in his post, “There are many teachers doing good work. They don’t blog, they aren’t on Twitter.

Dean goes on to say that we need to find great teachers whose names aren’t common within the Twitterverse – those who are not the Shareskis, Lehmans and Shrocks of the profession – and use those teachers as exemplars.

Expectations have to be realistic.  While there are real-life (as opposed to the fictional “Dangerous Minds” movie-type) Super Teachers out there (I know one or two locally) it is not realistic to use them as the exemplar for others.  If we only look to those Super Teachers for our inspiration, we’ll set unreal expectations for ourselves and become unhappy and frustrated because we can’t achieve them.  Teachers are under  increasing pressure to do a multitude of things, many of which are not directly related to teaching their students.  To add more pressure by using unrealistic examples isn’t fair to them.

In Dean’s conclusion, he mentions that “it’s a fine line between sharing outstanding teaching practices and shaming others“.   We all most be sensitive of this fine line and ensure we don’t cross it.

Thanks again Chad for being the messenger who brought Dean’s post to my attention. Thanks Dean for providing another timely post that allowed me to do double duty in reflecting on my recent PD delivery!