Wicked Problem: PD

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As a teacher heading into her second year of classroom teaching, it surprises me how the professional development sessions I have been to are conducted. Many times the PD is delivered through direct instruction, it lacks collaboration or conversation, and rarely invites teachers to share their best practices or give examples from their own classrooms. How do you make PD engaging for everyone involved? Why do we seem to use the worst ways of engaging educators during PD even as we’re discussing the best practices for improving student engagement?

My group concentrated on this wicked problem as we contemplated how to reinvent everything in education. We sent out a survey to educators in our PLNs and found that the majority of educators had their PD delivered by an administrator or outside presenter, through traditional lecture or powerpoint, and received between 0-3 hours of PD a month. What does this tell us about the worth of PD? If administrators and educators are not willing to put the time and effort into creating engaging PD and getting teachers to actively participate with a scholarly mindset, then it will be very hard to make PD effective.

The wicked problems group made up of Alicia Sansing and Joie Marinaro and I spent a great deal of time breaking down our initial problem, reinventing everything about teaching. Below I will share our video response to the problem and the thought process we went through to reach our conclusion.

Our process:

Here is a copy of our mind map of possible problems/ways to reinvent everything about teaching. Wicked Prob Mind Map

After we established that there were a variety of directions we could look into, we tried to find a solution that would touch on several areas at once. This is how we settled on communication through professional development.

Storyboard of ideas for video:



While we storyboarded, we also came up with a script of what we wanted to address in our video. It took a while to get a unified vision of how PD and communication should be addressed in order to make a real difference in the workplace.

Script for wicked problem video:

When we first imagined Reinventing Everything about Teaching, we quickly realized that the “wicked” part of the problem was rooted in the immensity of HOW much we could reinvent. So, we took a step back and thought about how we could maximize change in all areas by affecting something specifically. That something was Professional Development.

Professional Development (PD) is defined as relevant and  job-oriented, additional training. When PD is done well, teaching and professional practice is improved, which then in turn maximizes student mastery and success. Since that is the ultimate goal of this field, it is a good place to start our problem solving. However, in reality, Professional Development is not always executed successfully. In our research, we found that:

51% of our sample group acquires 0-3 hours of PD per month, and 33% get 4-6 hours. The majority also reported that their PD was usually done via traditional lecture and delivered by administration.

Last, of this same sample group, 37% reported that they neither agreed nor disagreed that their PD was effective, but 45% stated that they thought their PD was ineffective. The implications for this are HUGE. From evaluating the data we found that it suggests a communication gap that is stalling the professional growth of our educators. To solve the communication gap it is necessary to have a place to raise awareness, start conversations, realize hidden problems, find collaborators, change minds, and make a difference.

The better use of each individual’s professional learning network might offer these factors. A professional learning network is a curated collection of relationships that benefits the collector professionally. These can include peers, colleagues, mentors, and even superiors. This network can be curated face to face, or electronically.

These collected resources are an invaluable source for PD because this becomes a reciprocal relationship that works organically to crossover between benefactor and beneficiary. This network feeds itself in a way, and adapts to suit the everchanging needs of the users. James Paul Gee, a well known researcher, describes what he terms “affinity spaces”, a space where groups of people are drawn together because of a shared strong interest or engagement in a common activity. This can be virtual or physical, where informal learning takes place.

Our question is, why isn’t Professional Development created in an affinity space? PD should not be relegated to the formal means that is evidently constricting its effectiveness.

In the end, it all comes back to communication. Educators have a wealth of information and support available to them through their Professional Learning Network and the technology used to reach out to their PLN but if that communication gap is not bridged, all of those worthwhile voices and available tools are rendered useless. The breakdown in communication exists between who is in charge of designing professional development and the educators who are receiving this PD.

Because this problem isn’t wicked enough, we thought of an extension that would be great for consideration while Professional Development is being addressed. Why don’t we make PD and mentorship programs actually matter? Whether it is PD accomplishments or mentoring achievements, there is not currently a fully functional model of assessment that capitalizes on the current needs of educators. The current model of feedback is either non-existent, not applicable, not easily applied, and rarely individualized.

What if PD was flipped on a regular basis and delivered through a multimodal menu of choices? What if you were given actual formative and summative assessments based on your work through your mentoring program? What if you formed a scholarly, professional, and academic mindset as a district through this process? What if…

We felt it was important to end with the questions, inviting the watcher/reader to consider the problem and think of the extensions in their own practice. There are many ways to reinvent everything about teaching, but starting with communication and professional development would enable districts to have a strong base to build on in the future.


Gee, James P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era . New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

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