What we need – and don’t need – from PD

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If I’m going to dedicate an hour of my life to professional development, I want one of two things:

  • Insight into a challenging part of my course content, or
  • New strategies I can use to help my students learn

Anything else feels like a waste of my time, so I try to keep that in mind when planning my own professional development workshops. It’s not easy, though, to know exactly what teachers want or need.

Do they already understand markets? Should we take the time to do the “Market in Cocoa” activity? Should I spend more time explaining elasticity — or explaining how to make elasticity manageable for students?

I remember attending a workshop several years ago where my sole mission was to learn how to explain and illustrate “deadweight loss” on a micro graph. Turned out the workshop leader didn’t know how either, so the whole day felt like a bust. (I figured it out later, with the help of Youtube.)

Worse yet was a one-day workshop where the leader kept showing us how to create graphs in Word — something I really didn’t need help with. And don’t get me started on the hours spent getting “inspired” without any meaningful strategies for doing my job better.

In contrast, one of the best workshops I ever attended was an “Economic Systems” course sponsored by the Minnesota Council on Economic Education. Having already taught econ for several years, I knew the content pretty well, and I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it. Luckily, the instructors focused on interactive teaching strategies, and I walked away with an entirely new (and improved) approached to my classroom.

Today was the first day of my combined AP Micro/Macro workshop for teachers in Pittsburgh, and I hope I managed to strike the right balance for my participants. A little bit of Econoland, a little bit of the Cocoa Market, a little bit of elasticity and comparative advantage calculations — and a lot of answering questions and talking about the kinds of mistakes my students typically make.

I’m sure I can’t provide these teachers with everything they need to be prepared for next year, and I’m sure the delivery won’t be perfect, but I hope they will reflect on this workshop as time well spent. We just can’t afford to waste teachers’ time with any more bad PD.

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