Like many of my colleagues working in NSW public schools, Term 3 is about to begin. For many of us this means school development day (SDD). SDD is a day where teachers, staff and parents engage in professional learning to further enhance student learning. SDD occurs at the start of Term 1, 2 and 3 and then on the last two days of Term 4. I value SDDs because it is a day where I can solely focus on my learning in order to better teach my students. Students do not come to school on SDDs so teachers can focus all of their efforts on learning. There are no relief work to set, no guilt over not being able to teach your classes due to attending professional learning and no classroom issues to follow-up from a day of being absent from your classes.
I greatly value the effort and commitment from the teachers who put together SDDs. It is a tough gig. I know so because I have coordinated SDDs in the past. It is extremely challenging to put together over 5 hours of professional learning that is relevant and engaging to ALL teachers. However, I have always felt something is missing from SDDs.
I guess I have always been an active learner in my professional learning. I don’t like to wait for someone to tell me what I should know. I am constantly reviewing what I need to learn and when a learning need arises, I seek out that learning almost immediately. This does mean a lot of hours spent searching and seeking help from my professional learning networks in my own time. This in turn also means I have explored a lot of things that are presented in SDD. For example, my school’s SDD last term was on literacy. I was presented with ideas and resources that I have known and used for several years. While many teachers at the school found the SDD useful, I was left feeling I wasted 5 hours of my time. I don’t want this to make me sound unappreciative. The SDD coordinators did and always do an awesome job.
What I would like from SDD is a more personalised experience. In NSW public schools, there are five SDDs in a year. It would be so awesome if just one of those SDDs allowed teachers to propose a professional learning experience that they would like to do. This could be visiting other schools, other educational institutions, collaborating with other teachers, reading educational literature, the list is endless. I visited the University of NSW during the school holidays to connect with university academics that I know can contribute to the learning of students at my school. I visited the Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences and learnt so many new practical activities that I can do with my students. These site visits are perfect examples of personalised professional learning activities for SDD. I recently learnt about a book called “Independent science challenges: fascinating science projects to challenge and extend able students“. I would love to spend a SDD reading parts of the book and putting together a plan together to implement the strategies in the book.
Some people might say that all schools have professional learning funds to release teachers to do personalised professional learning like attending subject-specific conferences, etc. However, this is during teaching time and many teachers do not like to miss out on teaching time. SDD is different. It is a time where every teacher is learning. There are no students. Your learning is not distracted by a casual teacher calling you to help with your class. I might be the only teacher who feels this way, but it seems that if teachers can differentiate and create personalised learning experiences for students, why can’t teachers themselves have personalised professional learning experiences. Just one SDD.