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August 1, 2015
Vol. 57
No. 8

Road Tested / The Millionaire Method to Powerful PD

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I remember when I first tuned in to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in 1999. The format of the show was intriguing: a high-pressure situation, the opportunity to win lots of money, an open contestant pool (despite the number of times I called, I never got invited on), and some enticing "extras" thrown in for good measure.
Those "extras" included lifelines in which contestants could "Ask the Audience," "Phone-a-Friend," or use a "50:50." Each of these options was designed to help contestants use their brain power to choose the correct answer. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but it almost always pointed players in the right direction (though I do recall some disastrous "Phone-a-Friend" situations).
In my current role, I'm deeply focused on curriculum and professional development (PD). A big part of my daily work involves creating, revising, evaluating, and helping others structure professional learning. As I was reminiscing about the TV show, I made an intriguing connection: Millionaire and PD have a lot in common. Well, maybe a lot is a bit of a stretch. But the "Millionaire Method," at least as it relates to the three lifelines, can be used as a template for designing powerful PD.

Ask the Audience

In every successful professional learning scenario I've been involved in, the leaders and learners actually wanted to be there. The facilitator, school, district, or agency-at-large had asked what stakeholders were interested in learning. Regardless of whether the end result met everyone's needs, everyone (and I mean everyone) had a voice.
We can never underestimate the power of expression, as buying-in is often akin to speaking out. When we feel we've been heard, we're more likely to go along with the final decision. That's why we started holding yearly professional development summits to discuss the initiatives on district leaders' plates. This helps us structure the professional learning we offer throughout the region and gives us a better understanding of how we can help districts pursue their goals.

Phone-a-Friend

We all need strategic advisors—nodes in our network who can honestly critique our work. It makes no difference whether these advisors are colleagues, companions, or confidants. What is important is that we can go to them to discuss anything at any time. I recently sought advice from two regional assistant superintendents about a workshop design, and the conversations we had solidified some ideas and implanted others.
How is this different from "Ask the Audience?" This lifeline is about reaching out to a targeted few people with questions you would not ask the stakeholders at-large. Quality PD should start with ideas that interest the audience and later develop deeply with insight from friendly phone calls or face-to-face meetings (I always find these discussions are more meaningful in person than through e-mail, Twitter, or text).

50:50

Powerful PD is all about meeting needs and fostering growth despite a finite amount of time and resources. The best PD developers understand that we must prioritize. In a recent meeting, members of our curriculum and instruction department were planning for a series of teacher learning days. With a limited amount of time to devote to this work, we prioritized around what would have the greatest anticipated outcome on teacher practice and student learning. We then created a schedule to allow for teacher choice, deep immersion, and action research to ground pedagogical change. By removing a few needs, we gained better insight into what was most important.
I find that the best way to prioritize PD is to use a thinking process similar to the Understanding by Design® methodology. Start with the ideal end result and then work your way backwards, focusing only on what needs to happen to get there and the simplest process to make it happen.

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Would you like to write for the next "Road Tested" column? Visit www.ascd.org/educationupdate for submission details.

Fred Ende is director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for the Putnam/Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) where he is responsible for supporting and leading the development of curriculum, professional learning, and innovative educational initiatives, and is liaison to the New York State Education Department regarding curriculum and instruction requirements and regulations. He previously served in this same organization as the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services as well as regional science coordinator and director of SCIENCE 21. Before that, he worked for 10 years as a middle school science teacher and department chair in Chappaqua, New York.

Ende is one of ASCD's emerging leaders and currently is a board member in ASCD's Emerging Leader Affiliate. He has written and reviewed manuscripts for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), Heinemann Publishing, Corwin Press, and ASCD and has been both a national and regional presenter for both associations. He is an avid writer who blogs monthly for SmartBrief and has also written for Edutopia.

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