Professional Development: Who Owns the Responsibility?

Last weekend, I had the oppotunity to speak at the Association of Mathematics Teachers of New Jersey Technology Conference on my experiences with Desmos, where I shared a number of the Desmos activities and ideas I have posted here on the blog.  Conference speaking and classroom direct instruction are totally different experiences.  There a few things I need to think about in preparing for a conference which aren’t part of my daily routine:

  • How many people will there be?  Conference sessions are mini-popularity contests…I may have 5 people in the room, I may have 50.  You just never quite know what to prepare for.  Small groups are great for encouraging discussions.  Larger groups have a difference set of engagement challenges.
  • What’s the overall background of the room? People who will come to see me could be a mix of veteran and new teachers, with different stories to share, and levels of comfort with my topic.  Taking the temperature of a room quickly and finding a baseline comfort zone is key.
  • Do I really know what the heck I am talking about? I’ve offered to present because I feel I have something to share; but is my message unique or helpful?  Could there be someone in the room who knows far more about this topic than I do?

It can be a stressful experience presenting in front of peers, but also highly rewarding and a great way to make professional contacts!

Overall, I feel my session went quite well.  After all of the stragglers found their way inside, there was a full house (or lab) of about 35 folks, with a positive vibe in the room.  I think I met all of my goals, and I believe many left the session with tangible ideas for their classroom, and ideas to share with colleagues.  If I accomplished all that, then I feel successful.

For this speaking opportunity, I borrowed some equipment and recorded my talk, something I had never done before (see video below).  Upon review, there is a common theme running through the talk which has cause some post-talk reflection for me.  A few times I ask the group about their experiences with online tools, with some (to me) surprising results from the room of 30-35:

  • Only 1 or 2 had used Desmos before.
  • Only one had used Geogebra before.
  • Only one had heard of Edmodo before.

How could this be?  Here was a group of enthusiastic educators, concerned enough about their craft that they sought out professional development on a Saturday, and very few knew about these tools.  Is this small sample group indicative of all math teachers?  Should I be as surprised as I seemed in the video (really…watch my expression when I ask about Edmodo)? The good news is that hopefully some exponential growth occurs, and these teachers tell their colleagues, who then share with their colleagues…and so on….

But what of those teachers who do not seek out conferneces?  How do they find new resources?  Or are they even looking?  Do teachers have a professional responsibility to seek ro revise their ideas and practices?  I won’t pretend to have any answers in this blog post; rather I’d be eager to hear some thoughts on these questions from my readers.

And while my session has a clear technology slant, does the variation in learning experiences extend to math pedagogy in general?  Can teachers defend their classroom practices, and seek our resources for revision if needed?  How many teachers have considered how Common Core shifts will effect their classroom structures? Have teachers considered the Standards for Mathematical Practices and how they apply to their classrooms? Where do teachers go to find professional development opportunities which meet their unique needs?

And, most importantly, what are the responsibilities of classroom teachers, curriculum specialists and administrators in facilitating these reflections?  It’s a lot to chew on.

Below is video of my Desmos session.  Seeing myself on camera is at the same time cringe-worthy and thrilling…so much to learn from.  Man, do I gesture with my hands…. a lot!  Feel free to comment, share or heckle!



By Bob Lochel

HS Math Teacher. Hatboro-Horsham School District, Horsham, PA.

6 replies on “Professional Development: Who Owns the Responsibility?”

Your raise some interesting questions regarding professional development and a teacher’s responsibility to the profession. Those familiar with the Danielson model know this domain and the distinctions between just participating in professional development and actively seeking it out. I’m fortunate to work in a district that brings outstanding PD in house. It invests a lot in its teachers and therefore limits the opportunities for faculty to attend national conferences like the NCTM. But if Rick Wormeli is in town, or a local workshop sounds intriguing I think it’s my duty to attend.

Another thing to consider is teachers are at different stages in their lives. I’m at a point where attending a workshop doesn’t disrupt my family time. However outside commitments may prevent another teacher from signing up for a class.

There are a whole range of offerings out there–conferences, workshops, MOOCs, blogs, webinars, book studies, Global Math Department. There’s something for everyone.

Thanks for sharing Mary. I am glad that Danielson’s framework was used as part of PA’s teacher evaluation system. And while I certainly don’t agree with all aspects of the new eval model, I hope that it leads to increased opportunity and expectation for teacher PD.

Interesting that you mention how many people did not know about these resources. We had the same experiences at NCTM. I had completely taken for granted that people knew what edmodo and desmos were. We asked how many people used desmos and NO hands went up! About 60 people in the room. I was shocked! We plugged them hard. Come on… It’s free! Do you think everyone at HH knows about/uses desmos? I just assumed they did… But maybe not. Overall I do think we are a bit ahead of the game compared to some other places.

Most of the questions people asked us were about working with reluctant colleagues. We were presenting on Co-Teaching so that should make some sense but I think those questions are related to your line of thought here. How do you get teachers who are reluctant or unaware to continue to grow? My initial thoughts are that it starts small. One teacher maybe two, going out on a limb and trying something different. Working thought the challenges. Eventually there is a tipping point and others want to get involved after seeing the successes of others. I do believe that there is a responsibility for admin to expose teachers to new ideas, resources. The ed camp-type model (which we used this Aug) seems to be a step in the right direction. Not paying for fancy pants new programs but giving an opportunity for colleagues to share with each other. Had the chance a few weeks back to chat with Ben and Nicole about how they are running their hybrid class. That was a more productive hour, than most spent in PD. Sometimes a little inspiration goes a lot further than a lot of information.

Finally, I do think there is a professional responsibility to evolve and improve. But that will ebb and flow. As Mary mentioned, there are times when I feel I can go all in and others I can’t handle one more thing. Sadly, depends on the day.

Ps. We had a blast with team desmos in NOLA. Seriously. So. Much. Fun. Will have to fill you in on our Boston plans!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s a shame when new, worthwhile ideas seem like a secret, but feels great when you are ahead of the curve and hopefully doing the right things for kids.

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