This past week, I have the pleasure of attending Solution Tree’s PLCs at Work Institute along with 2200 other teachers, principals, superintendents, and other school leaders. My coworker did the quick math, and at $649 a head, that’s almost $1.4 million that Solution Tree collects in gross revenues just for the Minneapolis Institute alone. Attendees hailed from 17 states, however Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin seemed to show up on the majority of name badges. Our district opted to send about 60 people to the conference, effectively emptying out our professional development fund for at least the time being.
I want to be fair and give this conference proper recognition. Despite the steep price tag, the keynotes and breakout sessions have definitely delivered as far as being relevant, engaging, and dynamic. The session presenters are highly accessible for questions and have been more than willing to provide quick access to resources, handouts, and templates. The building blocks/cornerstones/pillars of the professional learning community make it very clear that failure for students can no longer be an option and success past high school is mandatory to afford a middle class adult life. I saw many excited teachers and administrators alike as they envisioned how this collaborative culture can work within their own classroom setting. Research was resonating, pencils were feverishly copying quotables.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tim Kanold’s breakout sessions addressing PLC’s and the Common Core State Standards. It was refreshing and energizing to engage in discussions around mathematics-specific tasks. I was reassured when examining Dr. Kanold’s list of additional resources as they included many of the curriculum materials I’ve included in my instruction as of late – Illustrative Mathematics, Mathematics Vision Project, Engage NY, among others.
Ultimately I had a difficult time getting past the elephant in the room, or rather, the elephant NOT in the room. If the PLC model is as effective as the research suggests (and I believe that it absolutely is) than how does this valuable information get delivered to high-needs districts who cannot afford to send district staff to a conference costing over $600 per head? If this disparity in achievement between rich and poor students is widening and failure in today’s job market is truly not an option, then how do schools who don’t have flexible professional development funds get access to the quality expertise needed to effectively implement the PLC ideals? If we truly believe that ALL students can learn and PLCs are the best chance we have to do that, then isn’t it vital that our neediest districts have the proper training to carry this out? I’m grappling with this subtle silent theme prevalent in this conference that ‘We believe that teachers need to ensure that all students learn, but we are only going to ensure that those districts willing to fork over $650 per participant have the proper tools to make that happen.” Instead, those schools, like the Chicago Public Schools are subjected to cringe-worthy professional development that makes us wonder why anyone would subject teachers to that kind of monotony.
When teachers have the opportunity to have conversations with other teachers from other districts, everyone learns. Unfortunately, there is an entire segment of teachers, representing a huge number of students, absent from the conversation. And in order to improve education for all of our students, we must include all teacher voices in the discussion.
Having sat through a myriad of PD’s during my career, I sometimes sensed that those who presented were more motivated about the pay checks they collected for their PD “expertise” than they were concerned about providing quality information to really impact learning. There were clearly times when I thought, “I could that” because I really could do that. But slick packaging and a high price tag is persuasive.