Are PD days productive or totally pointless?
They catch me by surprise - every time. I’ll be scrolling through my jam-packed iPhone calendar to review our schedule for the upcoming week, when my eyes will suddenly fall on the words that most parents dread: PD day.
Growing up, a PD day, or “professional development” day, signified a day of freedom - No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks! But for parents today, those words equate to a sudden state of utter chaos.
Stay-at-home parents are suddenly stuck with the task of entertaining their school-aged kids, and working parents are scrambling to find last-minute childcare so they don’t have to use up all of their vacation days.
Frustrated and frazzled, parents start pointing fingers. They blame the system for giving teachers “so many days off,” and vent about the inconveniences that are bestowed upon them as a result. I know, because I was one of those parents too - until I decided to do a little research.
In my school district, class is in session for a total of 181 days per year. The bulk of the remainder of the year is divvied up between winter break, spring break, and summer vacation, which combined adds up to approximately 13 weeks. Of the remaining days, six are stat holidays, and only eight days are assigned to professional development days.
So what do teachers actually do on these “days off”?
In a recent conversation I had with Chris Cowley, a former teacher and President of the Ontario Teacher’s Federation, he explained that while some professional development days are designed to allow the ministry to roll out new policies to teachers, “the best professional development days are those that are teacher directed, wherein the teachers work together to coordinate sessions where they can learn new approaches to delivering programs, update their curriculums, and discover new ways to work with each other and with their students.”
Cowley also explained that PD days provide a platform for teachers to “refresh their own pedagogy,” which in the end benefits their students as well.
Under the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, there are 33 different provincial specialist associations (PSAs) - volunteer-run organizations that promote professional learning and organize conferences for teachers based on the subject matter they teach, the age level of students, and other topics relevant to their roles. This year, B.C.’s PSAs have merged to organize a major professional development “super-conference,” taking place in Vancouver - an event that is sold out with 6,000 B.C. teachers scheduled to participate.
While they may be deemed pointless by parents, professional development days serve an important purpose: to sharpen the skills of our teachers so they can create a better learning environment for our children. The extra days off may be frustrating, but we have to remember that the purpose of school isn’t to provide childcare for parents, but to prepare our kids with the skills they need to succeed in the future.