And Today, The Secret Word Is…

We are obsessed with buzz words. 

When I was little, TV shows used to love the idea of buzz words or secret words.  Like on Pee Wee’s Playhouse (the pre-pervy years) where there was a secret word and if anyone on the show said it, everyone freaked out.  Or on that game show that used to be on Nickelodeon where if you said the secret word you got slimed.  (Or something like that.)  And what about the $10,000 Pyramid where you had to get people to guess the secret word for money?  It was like old school Taboo, but on TV.

I feel that I’m rambling.

In a nutshell, I’m sick of buzzwords.  I’m sick of buzzwords that everyone uses to talk about education but no body really knows what it means or can think of an example of where it is used meaningfully or actually making a difference.  I’m sick of buzzwords because the dirty little secret behind buzzwords is that really?  They don’t mean ANYTHING if you just say them.

A few buzzwords that I’m sick of hearing and wish that someone would actually make meaningful:
social justice

Now, I have no problem with any of these words in concept.  Social justice sounds lovely.  I think everyone should be held accountable for their actions.  And truly differentiated instruction is a worthy and wonderful classroom goal. MY PROBLEM IS when people throw these words around and a) don’t know what they hell they are talking about, b) are using them to only sound “in the know” and/or c) just use them to use them but can’t back anything up with concrete action.

Buzzwords are bullshit.

I have recently discovered a new buzz word that is floating out there: “job-embedded professional development.”

It’s a mouthful, no?

And get this, when you say it, there is no chance of people freaking out, green slime falling on your head or you winning any money.  However, there IS a chance that you will receive blank stares or adamant head nodding/agreement followed up by little to no actual action.

Job-embedded professional development is a lovely concept.  Really, it’s just peachy.  Get this, it’s the idea that current professional development should be responsive to the needs of teachers and their classroom practice and also the needs of their students.  I mean, doesn’t that just sound fantastic?  Professional development that is relevant, useful and differentiated to suit the needs of each teacher?  Sign.  Me.  Up.

However, no matter how many times you hear this word said (and as it has now reached buzz word status, you can assume that it will become more annoying than any current Top 40 hit on any radio station…Lady Gaga, I’m looking at YOU), I bet very few of us find that meaningful action is taken place.

It’s like the secret words of our childhood.  You keep waiting for the green slime, the cash prize, the ACTUAL RELEVANT TEACHER LEARNING…and it never comes. 

Maybe I’m just bitter and cynical at times,  (I know! Say it ain’t so!) but methinks that teachers are not being included when the needs of their students or current practice are being defined.  Methinks that is most likely happening according to someone else’s agenda and there isn’t a teacher as far as the eye can see.

If we’re going to have to hear this phrase buzzing around all the time, then I wish the Powers That Be would follow it up with some real, tangible action that reflects the meaning behind the buzz.  Or just throw green slime in my face and call it a day.  I have a feeling that’s what they’d like to do anyway.

I want to hear from you.  What would make your professional development more meaningful?  How could we work it so that TEACHERS feel more involved in the process?

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  • We've pushed into embedded PD this year. I was the lead teacher for it at my school. Basically I did demonstration lessons for my colleagues (with my class, not theirs) with a specific skill or concept in either reading or writing. We only did them once per month because I had too many other things going on to try to do it even bi-weekly.

    It was a lot of work for me but my colleagues and I enjoyed it. It allowed me to perfect my craft because they truly gave constructive feedback (not the "wow that was great" variety that isn't helpful at all) and some of my colleagues actually asked me after the demonstration to help them modify it down to their grade level. That wasn't really part of my role but I did it anyway so they could use the skills or strategies with their age group. I personally think it would have been more effective had I been able to come to their rooms and do demonstrations with their kids but no one asked my opinion 😉

    I can guarantee the concept of it would not have gone over well if the demonstration person was an "outsider". The fact that every demo teacher was someone who already worked in each building and knew the staff is probably what made it easier to swallow for many of the teachers.

    May 12, 2010 at 4:00 pm
  • Sunny, it sounds like you actually hit the jackpot and avoided the buzz in the buzzword! You actually got job embedded PD in it's best form! Let's hope THIS scenario spreads and not my pessimistic prediction…

    May 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm
  • When I was first hired at my current district we met monthly to share "best practices." Basically, it was show and tell for teachers. We would share an idea, product, lesson, etc that was successful in our classroom. It was by far the most beneficial use of our time.

    🙂 Jodi

    May 12, 2010 at 9:23 pm
  • I would say that it would have to be the chance to talk to other educators about what works. So often they don't trust us to make the decisions, even though we are in the trenches. We need a chance to talk to other colleagues. That is how we will get better and our PD will most benefit us.

    May 12, 2010 at 11:19 pm
  • Two things–we have to reclaim some of OUR words and stop letting perfectly good words (like, TEACHER maybe?) be dragged through the dirt.

    My school is fabulous and not your everyday school. In terms of PD we meet weekly for an hour and a half and the teachers choose the topics and plan oh-so-carefully. We look closely at children's work, we look closely at math programs and pick apart what we like and don't like and how we can supplement with things that we know work better. It's lovely.

    But I'm not bragging or anything…

    May 12, 2010 at 11:52 pm
  • eshyde – I want to go to there.

    May 12, 2010 at 11:52 pm
  • Firstly, ahhhh, Pee-Wee, how I miss thee…and Chairy and Ptery and Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis (I love you Wikipedia). Being way older, not wiser than you, Mrs. Mimi, I remember college drinking games around the word of the day.

    Secondly, Lady Gaga – have you seen this? I teach middle school students – our "variety show" is Friday and while my students are fantabulous, this was a whole 'nother level of Glee-orious".

    Okay, and thirdly, PD. I'm taking a course as a part of my doctoral program right now on professional development and teacher training. Great text = Preparing Teachers for a Changing World by a number of folks and edited by Darling-Hammond and Bransford. I'm wishing that the profession and professional development were really on the level as described in the book. Yes, like anything, job-embedded, as dreamt by the theorists and understood by the teachers sounds perfect but then gets all mucked up as too many people try to make it fit current systems in place rather than taking a look at what is wrong with the system and changing it to support best practices.

    When interviewing for my doc program, one of the obligatory questions asked was "What do you want to do with your degree?". Staying in the classroom didn't seem like a popular answer with the committee. After one quarter of classes, I understood why. Once your eyes are opened to what is wrong with our educational system, how many people have tried to change it and that somehow, it has managed to survive, unchanged, intact and even more irrelevant than it was when I was a student, a little part of your teachery Polly Anna dies inside. Fortunately, I am fine with the moral ambiguity required to continue to teach gifted children in an affluent district…Who knew that my efforts to get children to think in new ways and to communicate their ideas effectively was actually actively contributing to the inequities of our world? I am ready to change the system from the inside…I'm a change agent ninja spy. Besides, if all the Polly Annas leave the classroom, who does that leave with our youth? Okay…gotta go write a paper.

    May 13, 2010 at 2:26 am
  • We have a PD committee (mostly teachers) that put together a PD "Institute" in the summer and the winter. Basically it gives us the freedom to spend our inservice hours when we have a little more pep in our step. Most of the workshops in the "institutes" are taught by teachers in the district. These teachers submit proposals in order to teach these workshops, and receive PD credit for teaching them. It's really awesome.

    May 13, 2010 at 2:26 am
  • We don't have professional development days anymore in my California district…those were our furlough days this year. We get a little training on Thinking Maps if there's time after the monthly staff meeting.

    That said, my biggest buzzword peeve is rigor. I have an uncontrollable urge to punch someone/something every time I hear it used in association with education.

    May 13, 2010 at 2:26 am
  • I've heard there is a fun game out there…At your next inservice pass out bingo cards with buzzwords on them. When someone gets a bingo they stand up and shout BINGO!

    May 13, 2010 at 3:28 am
  • A Science Teacher – could NOT be laughing harder! Rock on!

    May 13, 2010 at 3:29 am
  • I come from the world of corporate recruiting, and the only things buzz words have ever told me is that somebody wanted to sound overly intelligent. In acutal fact, few people know what he buzzwords mean. Too often, it's just new phraseology for the same old practices.

    When I returned to school for my teaching credential, it was all I could do not to laugh out loud in methods classes when the words came up. Differentiated instruction. Yeah…any idiot can see that kids have to be approached in different ways to learn the same material. Do we really need it to be a bullet point on our resume? And does it make us seem like better teachers that we know the phrase, or are we better if we can actually do it?

    May 13, 2010 at 4:02 am
  • Was thinking about this some more today and am finding it a bit hard to believe. Not the part about people wanting to replace us – oh, I feel that in the air lately. I'm talking about having enough technology to support this in ALL schools. SOME schools have all the fancy computers and smart boards already. But imagining ALL public schools being transformed into technology centers with a computer for every child? My classroom was fortunate enough to have three computers. One worked really well. My public library has twenty computers. I think we might be a few short…dollar wise, idea wise and computer wise.

    May 13, 2010 at 4:10 pm
  • i can't even tell you how many times i have attended a "Positive Guidance" class..hell i could probably teach one i have been to so many…but no one cared if I learned anything was just to get the required amount of hours of PD that i need to have for the state….so yes if there is a class out there that i can actually learn something from….sign. me. up!!
    We have had a few PD days in our school where we learn nothing…but how to clean our classroom….what a learning experience….

    where do you find all your information? You seem to stay so up to speed on all education topics?

    May 15, 2010 at 1:13 am
  • I think the biggest thing for me is to make it personal. Honestly, I think most teachers know what they need to improve in and could choose the professional development they need.

    I think a professional development committee or something would be great. I'd love for other teachers to observe and help me grow.

    May 18, 2010 at 10:27 pm

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