Thursday, April 09, 2015

What's the deal with teacher Pro-D days?

What's the deal with teacher Pro-D days?
...some Q&A related to teacher Professional Development (PD)

What kinds of things do teachers do to develop professionally?
  1. Attend a conference/workshop locally.
  2. Attend a conference/workshop regionally/provincially/nationally/internationally.
  3. Attend a workshop/conference or summer institute/course.
  4. Be a sponsor teacher for a student teacher.
  5. Become a BCTF PD associate, and carry on the Teachers Teaching Teachers Tradition.
  6. Become a BCTF Program Against Racism or Status of Women Program associate, and carry on the Teachers Teaching Teachers Tradition.
  7. Become active in your local association.
  8. Becoming a facilitator, and give a workshop locally, regionally, or provincially.
  9. Begin/continue university studies.
  10. Develop innovative programs for use in your classroom.
  11. Develop an annual personal PD plan, and maintain a PD portfolio.
  12. Explore the possibilities of bringing the BCTF’s Program for Quality Teaching to your local.
  13. Form/join a teacher research group.
  14. Participate in group planning.
  15. Hop on the Internet through BCTF Online or another PD site.
  16. Job-shadow in a related work situation.
  17. Join a professional organization/network: Provincial specialist association (33 within the BCTF),  Local specialist association/Local Chapter of a PSA, International network (ASCD, MSCD)
  18. Mentor a beginning teacher.
  19. Observe another teacher, and talk together about the lesson/program.
  20. Participate in curriculum development.
  21. Pilot curriculum/program.
  22. Read professional literature.
  23. Reflect, discuss, and research for the purpose of planning individual or group ongoing professional development.
  24. Develop the discipline of reflective journal keeping.
  25. Serve as your school’s PD representative.
  26. Share with colleagues what you found at a conference/workshop.
  27. Subscribe to/read professional journals.
  28. Watch professional videos.
  29. Work on a provincial committee (MoE or BCTF).
  30. Work on the Local Ed-Change Committee.
  31. Work on your local’s PD committee.
  32. Work with a colleague to discuss, observe, and critique a lesson/program (peer coaching).
  33. Write professional articles for your local’s newsletter, your PSA’s publications, or Teacher newsmagazine.
Source: Tools for Self-directed Professional Development -

Do teachers only do PD on PD days?

No.  Teachers have a formal focus on PD during PD days but they continue this work all year long.  Teachers are life-long learners and PD is something that comes with the job along with planning and assessment even when this is above and beyond the working day.  Outside of PD days, almost all PD that teachers do is voluntary and their our own time.

Where do these PD days come from? 

Teachers have 5 PD days per school year -- these were added provincially to the year by mutual agreement (employer/union) a long time ago in recognition of the need for teachers to take the time they need to improve their practice. This is separate from inservice or training that the employer provides for things like learning required software, first aid, discussing district plans or new programs, or getting certified for tasks required by the employer.  It is also different than the yearly "Ministerial Orders day" or "Implementation Day" that is used to study and act on school, district, and provincial goals. Most districts schedule this "Admin Day" at the beginning of the year.  All of the "non-instructional days" are placed in the school calendar by school boards, usually by mutual agreement between the teacher union and school district staff.

Are all PD days the same? 

One Pro-D day in October is designated as a "provincial day" with many Provincial Specialist Association conferences taking place. Another day is usually set aside for some kind of district or regional conference. The other three are considered "school-focus" days although these can feature individual pro-d as well as mini-conferences or multi-school activities. Some districts have a mid-year "semester turn-around" day for secondary teachers but this, too, is a PD day in which teachers engage in professional learning. On all PD days, there are often a variety of PD events taking place, some planned (small group, school, and district level) and some impromptu (usually individual or small group).

Do teachers have to attend on a Pro-D Day? 

Yes, every teacher must engage in professional development on PD days, but it looks different between teachers and between schools. On all PD days, PD is teacher-directed and voluntary in nature -- teachers decide on their PD and do it. Many schools make specific plans for PD days, and while participation in these school PD events is recommended, it is not mandatory. This ensures that teachers are also free to design their own PD specific to their classroom needs and so they can attend PD events in other schools or districts.

What constitutes acceptable PD on a PD day? 

Simply put, good PD is something deliberate and learning-focused that improves a teacher's practice, makes him or her a better educator, and will benefit students. As a local PD committee chair, I ask teachers to consider the following suggestions: teacher study group, action research (inquiry project or learning team), attending or presenting at a conference, participating with a LSA or PSA (specialist associations), mentoring a new teacher, building curriculum, reading professional journals/books related wither to teaching or your subject area, watching professional videos (e.g. podcasts/online talks), taking a non-credit online course, gathering evidence for your own submission to an educational journal, attending or presenting at a workshop or share session, facilitating a staff or small group discussion on a relevant topic, doing a make-and-take with colleagues for a new lesson idea, visiting another school to inspect programs or review resources, connecting with a district expert in your field, have a teacher do a demo lesson for subject-area teachers, creating a learning resource for use with your students, inviting a guest to speak to a group of colleagues about a relevant topic, conducting an Ed Camp or Open Space meeting (google these), having a Critical Friends or Socratic Dialogue with other teachers (google these). Some teachers find that good PD can be finishing a curriculum or assessment project that was started but never finished, or just sitting down with colleagues to discuss what is happening for them in their classes and seeing where the conversation leads. Other teachers prefer formal activities with specific learning intentions. Teachers use professional judgement and end up with something that is meaningful for them and their students.

What does not constitute acceptable PD on a PD day? 

Teachers know that they should not use PD days for marking, lesson planning for the upcoming week, cleaning and organizing their classrooms, and parent or student meetings. Teachers avoid extra-curricular activities on PD days including coaching and tournament set-up. Teachers that need to give up their PD days (like any other working day) to coach or do something else must submit a leave application and seek a release or lieu day from his/her administrator. Teachers avoid working on school or district improvement plans during PD days because the employer should provide time for this or do it on their "admin day" or in-service time. There are also some grey areas. Teachers working on a Masters Degree, for example, will find that many of their tasks involve professional reading, research, dialogue, writing, and technology. Teachers use their professional judgement to draw the line between coursework-inspired PD that benefits their practice versus specific tasks required in a course (e.g. writing a paper or participating in an online meeting). School or department meetings can also be a grey area -- if they advance the individual professional goals of teachers and have a learning focus, they can be considered PD, but they can also eat up time that teachers might wish to spend doing PD they've designed for yourself. It's an individual teacher's call to make, not the school or department's call.  Principals do not need to approve teacher PD plans, although it is fair for principals to request information about where teachers will be and what they'll be doing, as long as it fits the description of PD. In some districts teachers build and submit PD plans to their principal, but in most districts this is voluntary.

Does PD have to take place in a school? 

It depends. PD usually takes place in schools, but some events are planned for other spots such as a conference centre, rented facility, field location, Native Friendship Centre, museum, college or university, etc. PD can take place outside of a teacher's district, but this goes through an application process with a local PD Committee, School Principal, or Board Office, and requires a leave application. With very few exceptions, PD does not take place at a location that is not intended as either a worksite or a meeting place (e.g. someone's house). Teachers use this Rule of Thumb: If your out-of-school PD activity is not an organized/advertised event within the school district designed primarily as teacher PD, you should be at your school or joining an activity at another school.

What does the BCTF say about PD days? 

See background reading at

Here is a key bit: 30.A.19 — "That the member, as an autonomous professional, determines, in concert with BCTF colleagues and/or the local union, the content of professional development activities scheduled for professional development days, and further, that professional development days are not used for school goal setting and/or School Improvement Plans, marking accountability assessment tools, or voluntary activities (e.g., sports tournaments, science fairs, music festivals, drama productions.)"

The guiding principle is that PD choices require teachers to think about what's best for their teaching practice and their students, and engage in professional learning that individual teachers have designed to improve their work with students. As professionals, teachers have both autonomy and responsibility to each other to engage in professional development, and as employees they have a duty to complete professional development activities on PD days because they have agreed to use these work days for this purpose.

What are my favourite forms of PD?
  1. Use a face-to-face get-together with a familiar circle of colleagues to "unpack, mull, and fuse" -- make sense of the professional learning and teaching stories that have occurred over the last month. Learning to trust other teachers to have a role in my practice gives me a sense of community, that I am not alone but part of a larger effort to help students develop.
  2. Use Social Media (like Twitter) to engage with a personal learning network, scan educational links and articles, or join live chats with other educators.  While I like structured workshops or activities when they are well-organized, I often get the most value when my PD time is spontaneous.
  3. Map out an educational ecosystem -- lay out a big poster and make lists, webs, and sketches of what's happening in a teaching context (class, dep't, school): values, goals, evidence of progress, schemes, unifying projects, new roles for parents, observations on inclusion and differentiation, etc.  This really helps lay the foundation for course planning and gives me a sense of purpose when I design lessons.
What does a great PD day look like?

Here's one example -- the big annual educational conference in my school district: