Auburn is excited that our initial research results strongly suggest that our initiative is extending the impact our teachers are having on their students. It has prompted lots of requests to know more about what we’re doing for professional development with our teachers. Professional development is, clearly, one critical component to any school change initiative, and designing and providing the right kind of PD and support is a critical leadership role.
What professional development did we conduct with our kindergarten teachers?
Content of Professional Development – All of our PD and training has focused on a couple of topics. We wanted to expand our teachers’ skill at applying literacy best practice, and to insure that our teachers and specialists working with kindergarten students had the capacity to select and apply appropriate apps directly toward student academic needs, as well as how to manage the iPads and work within the unique demands of this initiative. We have summed this up at the beginning of each of our PD session agendas with the following goals:
- Link iPads to learning.
- Problem-solve technology-related issues.
- Discuss best practices.
- Discuss and review apps.
How did we manage professional development and support that achieved these goals?
PD for Paradigm Shfit – Although teachers can often, sometimes with coaching, apply best practice they are familiar with to unfamliliar contexts, the integration of technology at this level is often a paradigm shift for teachers. Rarely have teachers experienced learning with technology themselves, and many have received very little training with computers, let alone iPads. “PD for Paradigm Shift” recognizes that changing paradigms requires more than sharing information. Schema theory sheds the best light on how to structure professional development for large change: provide models and experiences. See it in action. Live it in action. That’s what we’ve tried to do for our teachers.
Getting Technology into the Hands of Teachers – A terrific first step for professional development is to get the technology into the hands of teachers, so they can become used to it through their own use. We made sure that every teacher had an iPad to use over the summer for this purpose. But it is important to keep in mind that this will develop a teacher’s personal use skill, not their integration for learning skill. That’s not a problem. The problem comes from thinking that if teachers know how to use their iPad that they also know how to leverage it for their students’ learning…
Modeling: Visiting Classrooms – When teachers don’t have a lot of experience with an innovation, one way to get them that experience is by having them visit other teachers who are successfully doing similar work. This can be done in person, or vicariously through videos or stories (not descriptive articles, so much as those that tell the story and paint a picture for the reader – remember, this is not about information, it’s about experience). Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of classrooms for us to visit when we got started. We have tried to make it easy for our teachers to visit each other’s rooms, and we have had teachers video (on their iPads!) and share examples of what they are doing. Now we’re working to make sure that other teachers can come to visit our classrooms so they can begin to expand their experience (although we’re trying to be careful how we schedule and manage such visits as not to distract too much from the learning that is supposed to be our first order of business!).
Modeling Effective Practices – Did we see a teacher do a great lesson? We had her model that lesson to the other teachers in a PD session. Did we learn a better way to sync or manage apps? We modeled that approach in a PD session. Did we think the press might start contacting teachers? We’d review procedures for dealing with press requests, as well as share talking points and provide them language they could choose to use if interviewed. (Our teachers’ favorite talking point: “That’s a great question! You should ask the superintendent.” I think they might be a little press shy!) :-)
Connecting with other Educators – A different approach to helping teachers and program leaders build models is to provide them opportunities to communicate with educators who are doing similar work. Networking is a powerful way for teachers to develop their own practice while helping colleagues (often in different states or countries!) to develop their own. Although few teachers have taken us up on these options to date, we encourage them to consider tweeting or blogging about their experiences, since it can help build a diverse professional learning network for the teachers who do. Our teachers are more eager to connect with teachers in more traditional ways: on the phone or via email. One avenue which has really opened possibilities for these connections was the national iPads in primary grades education conference we hosted last November. About half our participants were from Maine, and the other half from across the country (we even had one from India!). We’re already planning next year’s conference.
Constructivist Approach – As we thought about designing PD for our teachers, we didn’t want to just hand teachers information or resources; for example, we didn’t just want to hand them “approved” apps. We wanted teachers to have an intimate understanding of various components of the initiative they were on the front lines of implementing, including app (educational resource) selection. We decided to take a constructivist approach. For example, we had our teachers start by simply exploring apps. They had a limited budget for apps, but could also download as many free apps as they wanted. Then teachers made recommendations for apps that they thought would be the “core collection” of apps, those apps the district would purchase for every classroom. We would give teachers two similar apps and ask, “which one’s better?” to get them thinking about criteria for app selection; this eventually was developed into a rubric. Finally, we correlated apps to our kindergarten curriculum. The constructivist approach insures a deeper understanding based on their own experience.
Collaboratively Designed – I think one of our best secrets to successful professional development and support is realizing that none of us is as smart as a group of us together. We have tried to have a team approach to all design work for this initiative. Our Advantage 2014 Design Team includes central office administrators, our grant writer, a couple School Committee members, a couple parents and community members, as well as our some of our teach folk, and one of our elementary principals (and, of course, me, the Multiple Pathways Leader). We have smaller groups working on specific aspects of the program: funding, research, the Institute, and professional development. Our professional development planning group includes our Tech Director, our elementary Technology Coach, an elementary principal, one of our Special Education administrators, and myself. And even though no teacher is officially on the PD design team, in reality, they all are. We solicit their input in a variety of ways and work hard to be responsive to their needs (see the next section). Teachers helped us craft our policies and procedures, our expectations for teachers, our core collection of apps and our app selection rubric, and other significant components of our initiative.
I can’t over state this: this work MUST be a team effort. I can’t tell you how many times in the last few weeks I’ve said, “See! That’s exactly why we have a team planning this!” And not just for PD, but for lots of different aspects of this work. I don’t care how good some individuals in your district are; he or she doesn’t have the capacity represented by a collection of your staff, with various experience bases, perspectives, and areas of expertise.
Continuous Improvement Focus – We’ve tried to be highly responsive to the needs of our teachers. In additional to listening to our teachers, asking them directly, and being tuned in to situations as they develop, we use two tools. On a regular basis, we have our teachers complete one of two surveys we created in Google Docs. One asks questions about how often they used the iPad that week for various types of tasks (these correspond to our expectations for teachers that we collaborately created with the teachers, and essentially gets to fidelity of implementation). The other survey simply asks about their recent successes and challenges within the program. Although quite simple, both provide us with amazing data on what the teachers need right now. Although we plan our PD sessions in advance, we’ve been known to completely redesign a session hours before it starts based on what we’ve learned the teachers need.
Imbedded Support – Our district has three technology integrators: one for the high school, one for the middle school and one serving our elementary schools. As you can imagine, we’ve had our elementary technology coach spend much of her time working in our kindergarten classrooms. A good technology coach is really a good pedagogical coach. She can collaboratively design lessons with teachers, co-teach lessons, model lessons, sit back and observe and provide feedback, make recommendations to resources and otherwise support teachers. Although the technology coach becomes eyes and ears for program leaders, it is not an evaluative position. The teacher needs to feel safe with the coach working in her room, and we only use information from the coach to help direct resources and support.
Built On A Strong Literacy Foundation – Our teachers had been working on literacy instruction for several years prior to Advantage 2014 and the introduction of iPads to their classrooms. Auburn had been part of the Maine Literacy Project out of the Univerrsity of Maine and our teachers had done graduate level work with the Project. Adding the iPads and its apps was a logical extension of this work, and training we conducted specficially about the iPads was intended to extend this earlier work, not replace it.
Where Did We Find the Time? – We used the usual approaches: taking advantage of workshop days, after-school opportunities, and scheduling a couple days in the summer prior to school starting. But we also had the advantage of the district already having “Early Release Wednesdays” available for our elementary schools. We have used nearly every other Wednesday to provide several hours of training. Some days we met just with the “September Teachers” (the first round of teachers to get the iPads). Other times we met with all the kindergarten teachers, or just the specialists, or everyone all at once.
It’s Your Turn:
What are your best strategies for delivering professional development and support to your staff?