More often than not, I believe that teacher professional development sessions are dead in the water even before they begin, and there are two main perpetrators to blame: confirmation bias and fixed mindset. In this post, let’s take a look at confirmation bias.
Wikipedia defines confirmation bias as “the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.”
When it comes to professional development, attendees treat each session as if it’s some sort of checklist. As each point is made, in their minds they place an imaginary checkmark next to it as if to say, “I already do that!” This way, (1) they don’t have to change their practice (after all, change is hard), and (2) their work is now validated because Mr. Presenter supposedly said so.
Participant statements related to this confirmation bias may include:
- How is this different from what we’re already doing?
- This just proves that we’re on the right track!
- We already had this training! (along with a failure to realize that true change requires more than one session per topic)
Personally, I am sometimes the victim of confirmation bias when reading educational books (although I will admit to not always having been the easiest teacher to work with during district professional development days). I often times find myself reading through these books, looking for the confirmation that I’m on the right track and don’t need to change, as if I’m somehow above what the authors have to say. When I catch myself doing this, I usually backtrack and do some rereading with an open mind. This is when the learning takes place.
No matter how much you read, purposefully approach each book with a rookie mindset in order to get the most out of it.
Circling back to professional development sessions, I do think it would be beneficial for presenters to publicly address the idea of confirmation bias towards the start of their presentations. Although I have never taken this approach, I have always envisioned myself doing so by showing a few slides that contain pages from an educational book. In the margin of each page would be animated checkmarks that represent attendees going through the book (or presentation), attempting to treat it as if it’s a checklist of what they’re already doing. These graphics would then lead into a quick discussion about the ideas that (1) there is always room for improvement (while being respectful of the educators’ current work), and (2) what we get out of professional development often depends on the lens through which we view it.
When teaching content, teachers and presenters sometimes proactively discuss common misconceptions that exist to help learners in avoiding these mistakes. I think it’s time we also start to proactively address the attitudes and mindsets of these attendees to help everyone get the most out of learning experiences (or we can just blame and reprimand teachers for not behaving).
What unique approaches have you seen when it comes to starting off professional development sessions?
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