I’m an adult. Thanks.

So, we have a new textbook this year and with that comes mandated workshops to teach us about our textbook and how to…for lack of a better phrase….use it.

Yes, you read that correctly, we have mandated workshops to teach us how to use our print and online textbooks.

For the past two days, I attended PD in which I was not an active participant. We were told to close our laptops so that we could pay attention to someone talk at us for hours on end. We did not interact with much of the information presented to us. And when we were given time to talk, we were told to “talk to your elbow partner” or “talk to your shoulder partner.”

Since when has it been appropriate to talk to adults as if we were children? Oh, some may say that the presenters are modeling a strategy for us, but I have never uttered the phrase “talk to your elbow/shoulder partner” to my students. Maybe that phrase works for young children still learning about body parts or who may find elbow partners a neat idea. But in my circle of educators…nothing turns us off more quickly than to be told to talk to our elbow partners.

Now, in my district, the term elbow or shoulder partner is something that the majority of presenters or facilitators say, but that phrase is not exclusive to my district. At a regional conference two years ago, I was told to talk to my elbow partner. To be clear, one of the facilitators yesterday was from the textbook company–she was not from our district–yet, she also used that term with us. So…yeah, it’s a bigger problem than I thought.

Do you want to know a quick way to get adults to shut down during a workshop or meeting?

Tell them to talk to their elbow partners.

I wonder, is this phrase uttered at administrator meetings? How about school board meetings? Has anyone in higher education been subjected to this condescending directive? Or does that phrase exclusively live in K12 education? Is this somehow connected to Mehta’s (2014) notion of the (de)professionalization of K12 versus higher education?

In my research on professional development, I have come across numerous reports and studies (Avalos, 2011; Borko, 2004; Darling-Hammond, Hyler, & Gardner, 2017 ; Desimone & Garet, 2015; Matherson & Windle, 2017; Penuel, Sun, Frank, & Gallagher, 2012) that have investigated best practices for professional development. In fact, for my dissertation, I used Desimone and Garet’s (2015) work, which stipulated that effective professional development consisted of five components: content-focus, active learning, sustained duration, coherence, and collective participation. When I designed my intervention–a peer-to-peer coaching model–I incorporated all five of those into my 8-month study. And from the quantitative and qualitative data, the participants were satisfied with the level of support and design of the intervention.

It’s not rocket science.

Trust me, my husband is a rocket scientist. And he laughs at the absurdity of the phrase “talk to your elbow partner.”

If you have ever…EVER…sat in the audience of a workshop, I guarantee that you already know what makes a PD effective or not.

What I went through the past two days was exactly what PD should not be. And yet, it was. And these people are educators. They call themselves teachers…but if they taught their classes as they facilitated the PD, then their classrooms were definitely teacher-centered.

This is what gets me. We are told to make the learning engaging for our students. To put the onus of learning back on them. To let them do the work. So why is it different when it comes to the learning for teachers? Why are these basic elements of effective learning ignored when it comes to adult learners?

Is it that these presenters like being spoken to in a patronizing manner? Do they enjoy being treated like a young child? What gives?

Did I mention that I have three more full-day sessions (on how to use this new textbook) in my future? #sigh


Avalos, B. (2011). Teacher professional development in teaching and teacher education over ten years. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, 10–20. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2010.08.007

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (with Espinoza, D.). (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-prof-dev

Desimone, L. M., & Garet, M. S. (2015). Best practices in teacher’s professional development in the United States. Psychology, Society, & Education, 7, 252–263. doi:10.25115/psye.v7i3.515

Matherson, L., & Windle, T. M. (2017). What do teachers want from their professional development? Four emerging themes. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 83(3), 28–32. Retrieved from http://www.dkg.org

Mehta, J. (2014). When professions shape politics: The case of accountability in K-12 and higher education. Educational Policy, 28, 881-915. doi:10.1177/0895904813492380

Penuel, W. R., Sun, M., Frank, K. A., & Gallagher, H. A. (2012). Using social network analysis to study how collegial interactions can augment teacher learning from external professional development. American Journal of Education, 119, 103–136. doi:10.1086/667756

*not an exhaustive list of studies and reports

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