Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Scoop on PD Days

With the October Pro-D day approaching, this is a good time to remind ourselves about the expectations for professional development that takes place on Professional Development (PD) days. I thought I would use the FAQ approach -- scroll down to see if any of these questions are relevant for you.

Q1: Where do these PD days come from?

A1: We 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 (which should occur during instructional time or paid time), and different from the "Ministerial Orders" day (Admin day at the beginning of the year set aside for school, district, and provincial goals). The placement of these days within our calendar is also by mutual agreement in the district.

Q2: Are all PD days the same?

A2: Generally speaking, one is set aside for a Zone Conference, and the one in October is designated as a "provincial day" with many Provincial Specialist Association conferences taking place. The other three are considered "school-focus" days although we sometimes see district mini-conferences taking place. Some consider the late January/early February NID to be a "semester turn-around" day for secondary teachers but this, too, is a PD day and should be treated as such. 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).

Q3: Do I have to attend a scheduled PD event?

A3: On ALL PD days, PD is teacher-directed and voluntary in nature -- you decide on your PD and do it. Schools (or Families of Schools) may make specific plans for a staff PD activity -- these should be organized by mutual agreement between staff and principal. However, participation in these school PD events, while recommended, is not mandatory. There are many benefits to joining in on a school-wide PD session, but don't feel guilty if you have planned to attend something else.

Q4: What constitutes acceptable PD on a PD day?

A4: Do something deliberate and learning-focused that improves your practice, makes you a better educator, and will benefit your students. Consider: 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, create 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 was started but never finished, or just sitting down with colleagues to discuss what is happening for you in your class and seeing where the conversation leads. Other teachers prefer formal activities with specific learning intentions. Use your professional judgement and do something cool.

Q5: What does not constitute acceptable PD on a PD day?

A5: Avoid marking, lesson planning for the upcoming week, cleaning and organizing your classroom on a PD day, and parent or student meetings. Avoid extra-curricular activities including coaching and tournament set-up. If you want to give up your PD day (like any other working day) to coach, submit a leave application and seek a release or lieu day from your administrator. Avoid working on school or district improvement plans (the employer should provide time for this or do it on their "admin day"). 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. Use your professional judgement, to draw the line between coursework-inspired PD that benefits your practice versus specific tasks required in a course (e.g. writing a paper or participating in an online meeting). Do not put "working on my Masters" on the PD Intention Form that some principals use -- describe a PD activity that anyone could do, regardless of whether they are taking courses. School or department meetings can also be a grey area -- if they advance your individual professional goals and have a learning focus, they can be considered PD, but they can also eat up time that you might wish to spend doing PD you've designed for yourself. It's your call, not your school or department's call.

Q6: Does my principal have to approve my PD or can he/she ask me to submit a plan?

A6: No, although it is fair for your principal to request information about where you will be and what you'll be doing, as long as it fits the description of PD. Having an active PD plan is a great idea, as is sharing with colleagues and your principal what you are doing, but is not a contractual requirement. It is also a good idea for administrators to have and share their personal PD plans. We (all of us) should not be shy about celebrating our professional learning and being accountable for the use of our PD time. The main purpose in dialogue between admin and teachers about where they'll be on a PD day is to establish safety (so that you're whereabouts are known) and provide support (if your admin knows what you're doing they can suggest resources or offer additional opportunities related to your goals). Principals should not be evaluating your PD plans (unless you've invited them to). Ideally, principals are part of your learning network and they will have valuable contributions to make towards your professional growth (goes both ways). If they think your choice of activities does not constitute "valid" PD they can engage in respectful dialogue with you about that and they are also welcome to talk to the PD Chair (currently me) about valid PD.

Q7: Does PD have to take place in school?

A7: 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, Friendship Centre, Exploration Place, UNBC, etc. PD can take place outside of the district, but this goes through either the PD Committee, School Principal, or Board Office, and requires a leave application. With very few exceptions, PD should not take place at a location that is not intended as either a worksite or a meeting place (e.g. your house). 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.

Q8: What parts of our collective agreement talk about PD days?

A8: See
Section F Article 20.1 -- (summary) PD is voluntary but participation in planned events is encouraged
Section F Article 22.1 -- (summary) Non-Instructional Days other than the "District Day" (Our Zone Conference Day) are to be used as mutually agreed between staff and admin, in other words the whole staff should agree what activities are planned on which days. In recent years, we've formalized the pattern. The first NID to be the admin's day for curriculum implementation, Ministerial Orders (a focus of some kind mandated by the provincial government), and work on school-wide goals. The next 5 NIDs are teacher PD DAYS, one of which is the Zone Conference, and the last day of the year is an Administrative Day where principals can again direct activities (typically it is a staff breakfast or lunch plus a year-end staff meeting). In short, the shape of all NIDs (including our 5 PD days) should be the result of collaboration and inclusive decision-making.

Q9: What does the BCTF say about PD days?

A9: 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.)"

As you'll note, the guiding principle is that your PD choices require you to think about what's best for your teaching practice and your students, and engage in professional learning that you or others have designed to improve your work with students. As professional we have both autonomy and responsibility to each other to engage in professional development, and as employees we have a duty to complete professional development activities on PD days because we have agreed to use these work days for this purpose.


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