Professional Development Anybody?


The topic of professional development (PD) seems to be a vexed issue among educators. Who should have it? What PD is most relevant to the individual? Is PD even needed? If so, how and when should it be undertaken? Who should deliver that PD?

I offer the experience below not by way of answering any of these questions but in the hope that it may shed some light on the discussions surrounding them. I have suppressed the identity of the person that prompted this post, as well as avoiding their particular area of expertise, with a view to saving embarrassment. I refer to that individual as “Q”.


Q and I have known each other for years, and we routinely exchange ideas via Twitter. He had been teaching “X” for two years when the events below unfolded, and he felt that he was in command of his subject when it started. It turned out that his knowledge was both partial and faulty, though he did not know that at the time.

The Events

What started as a direct message (DM) unleashed a tsunami of learning for Q. He was puzzled by one small thing, and he sent me a DM about it. There then followed a long exchange of direct messages, including links to educational resources. It rapidly became apparent that we needed a face-to-face session, and the date, time and location were agreed.

I then prepared a PD session using a workshop approach. This included a session plan, handouts, and generating appropriate questions to ask of Q. The first task of the session was to correct Q’s misunderstandings, followed by a gap analysis, and ending with some delivery of learning. Everything was customised to Q’s context. This established a basis for what was to follow.

The face-to-face PD lasted for two hours, and Q was exhausted at the end of it. The amount of preparation time and effort needed for that session was about the same as would be needed for any session of that duration regardless of the number of participants.

The remaining PD was via direct messages, this perhaps contrasting starkly to the factory model of delivering PD to a group of people in a room.

Q then shared some of his students’ work for my comment, and it also became apparent that he was getting a firm grasp of the fundamental concepts. We then went on to the topic of grades. The grade descriptors figured very strongly here. Where Q saw a B and and B+, I saw a B and an A. Working in the industry as I do, I immediately understood the grade descriptors in both the work context and the educational context. Q did not have that advantage. The PD had moved from the phase of understanding the content to the phase of understanding how student work should be graded.

The final step of the PD was to bring in industry considerations, something that was beyond the scope of the curriculum, but that would nevertheless help to inform Q of the type of feedback that he could be giving to his students.

Q shortly afterwards expressed great gratitude for what I had helped him to learn.

Final Comments

The above may point to some perhaps intractable problems. If Q had been asked if he needed PD before all these events happened his answer would almost certainly would have been “no”. Even if he had said “yes”, how would decision makers made the necessary PD available to him? Where would they find the funding, the training provider, and the political will? Regardless of the answers to those questions, I think it is worthwhile pointing out that Q sought out his own PD, and this has benefited both himself and all his existing and future students.

#30GoalsEDU Conference: a Presenter’s Reflection

Inspire Leader

Introduction and Background

I was delighted when Shelly Terrell (Twitter: @ShellTerrell, blog invited me to give a keynote presentation at the 30 Goals E-Conference in July of 2015 on the topic of silos and connectivism. When I sat down to start preparing slides for the presentation, I had expected to go through the usual process of doing a “brain dump”, leaving the material to organise itself as I went from slide to slide. I went into Google Slides, looked at the blankness, and realised that I had nothing to work with. Yes, I had a few personal memories, and I was aware of headlines about what the Finns were doing, but there was nothing of any real substance that I could use.

Research Time!

The time had come to dig into what was behind the headlines in the news outlets, find out what was currently happening in schools and universities both inside and outside Finland, and read curriculum documents. As a research activity, it was all fairly routine. One thing that surprised me was the degree to which headlines could be wide of the mark, with the most extreme being “Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with ‘topics’ as country reforms its education system” from the Independent Newspaper of 20 March 2015 (accessed 19 July 2015). I found the educational articles available from both the Finnish government’s web site and the Finnish universities to contain a wealth of useful information.

Organising it All

The next step was to organise all the material into a coherent whole. The simplest way to do it was to produce this document which then served as a basis for the presentation. I wrote the speaker’s notes as usual.

The Presentation

Most of my presentations include a lot of text, and I use that as a prompt for what I am about to say. This presentation was quite different: it was almost entirely images. The first rehearsal of the presentation was too short in both content and time. I did a little more research, found some extremely useful material, and added it in. The second rehearsal suffered from two issues: (1) my delivery was hesitant due to the lack of on-screen textual clues, and (2) I was focused on delivering a presentation rather than trying to “sell a message”. There was no time for a third rehearsal, so I had to trust that I would be able to do two things: (1) read the speaker’s notes, and ad lib accordingly, and (2) change my mental focus in the next 14 hours (which included a period of sleep).

Shortly before I was due to present, I was warmly greeted by Jake, Judy and Shelly: their support was extremely helpful. When the time came, Shelly delivered a wonderful introduction, and I was then “on show”. The change of mental focus worked. The writing of the document helped me to ad lib easily from the speaker’s notes. From my own viewpoint, the presentation went as well as I could have hoped. The discussion that followed suggested that I had got my message across. A recording of the presentation can be found here.

Lessons Learned

I have learned two things. The first is that I am not there to deliver a “perfect presentation” but to convince an audience. The second is to trust my own speaker’s notes.

Another day, another lesson learned. 🙂