methodology

The PD Tree of Life

By Carolina Castro

After a few years facilitating professional development for teachers, my trainings changed a lot as a product of all the feedback received, that I was happy to embrace openly and used it as the amazing learning tool it is, to continuously grow as a professional and as a person. However, my idea of what a "good" PD should be was still abstract and complex. I realized that I needed a concrete description of which are the success factors for a successful PD and most importantly the ones that influence the most on teachers' practice to be able to be coherent and consistent with my PD designs and teaching practice. After tons of lists, sketches, reading what research says and revising of the feedback I had received so far, I could synthesize all into what I call the "PD Tree of Life".

After a few years facilitating professional development for teachers, my trainings changed a lot as a product of all the feedback received, that I was happy to embrace openly and used it as the amazing learning tool it is, to continuously grow as a professional and as a person. However, my idea of what a "good" PD should be was still abstract and complex. I realized that I needed a concrete description of which are the success factors for a successful PD and most importantly the ones that influence the most on teachers' practice to be able to be coherent and consistent with my PD designs and teaching practice. After tons of lists, sketches, reading what research says and revising of the feedback I had received so far, I could synthesize all into what I call the "PD Tree of Life".

There are four main branches of the PD tree that are essential for it to be alive, meaning, have a real impact on teachers' practice:

1. We learn from each other: I understand my pd trainings as unique opportunities to learn from each other. Teachers are experts in different areas of their trade and have personal experiences that the others have or have not had, so their skills and knowledge usually complement each other. Putting the stress on a group of 6 to 12 minds sharing has always a greater value than just one spitting knowledge and the others receiving, especially when we talk about improving practice, not just theory. The trainings boast with many different class dynamics that continuously instill sharing and questioning practice. I provide resources, tools, coaching, space and time to do so.

2. We build a community: Beginning a course with just content is like doing just half the job. You won't have a safe and bonded community in a class with total strangers unless you work on it. Learning flows much easier if people get along and know each other. I use team building activities from the start and work on a safe and respectful environment, then we can learn.

3. We take care of ourselves: Using things like a daily gratitude journal or setting rules for respectful feedback protocol really helps in setting a positive environment and intra and inter personal empathy. Usually teachers have to face a lot of criticism and it is a job well known for being highly stressful. These techniques can be of use for them and for their students.

4. We follow up: Research has been telling us for ages that a once off PD has little or no impact on teaching practice. The lack of investment of institutions on long term training and coaching makes it very difficult to access. I propose to defy those obstacles and participate in a communal follow up, where the facilitator as well as the participants check on each other to give support, ideas and to pose new questions.In my trainings I am available during 3 months after the training and participants have a follow up assignment that will receive feedback from a community of practice.

These four elements are the pillars of our teaching practice and course design to achieve highly efficient outcomes and have a real impact on the teaching practice of the participants, which is our main goal. It also serves as a model and quality control structure to continue improving and evolving.

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