The Need for a Quality, Distributed Professional Development System

Maybe you're experiencing something similar…

We really noticed it last year when we introduced iPads to first grade.

We now had double the classrooms with iPads (having introduced iPads to kindergarten the year before), but still only one Elementary Tech Integrator, had access to half as many early release Wedensdays as the year before, and had a new K-12, district-wide initiative (Customized Learning) drawing on our PD and support resources, support people, and time…

One of our team did help us implement a Workshop Model/Study Group Model approach where teachers chose topics of interest and collaborated in study groups to learn about the topic and create a video or other product to teach others what they learned. It was well implemented, yielded nice results, got good reviews in teacher follow up surveys, but still proved insufficient for meeting our training and support needs.

It was made clear again last week as we worked on planning our workshop day for the Wedensday before Thanksgiving. Teachers requested so many topics (related to both iPads and Customized Learning) and we only have a couple hours in the afternoon. We can't even afford the time to bring all the 2nd grade teachers into the same room to make sure they know how to properly download their apps (a combination training and technical difficulty we've been having lately), or the growing list of other challenges/needs we're struggling to address. And when I talked with the Tech Director about the breakout sessions he would lead, he (justifiably) responded, “Only 45 minutes per session? That's hardly enough time to get started.”

And, frankly, we face the same issue with middle school and high school where we switched from 1to1 laptops to 1to1 iPads, and they're finding the work flows are different, and we probably have to revisit integrating technology in engaging ways before students get too far down the path of using them as “weapons of mass distraction.” (Hat tip to Tom March for coining the term.)

Our philosophy is that if you are asking teachers to do things that they have never experienced themselves as students (like leveraging technology for learning), we have the moral obligation to support the heck out of them.

The question quickly becomes, if we don't have enough tech integrators to go around, and we have hardly any “everyone in the same room” professional development time available to us, and a growing list of challenges and things we're noticing our teachers don't know how to do (because we haven't taught them), how the heck do we support the heck out of them…?

So, we will be working this year on building a quality, distributed professional development system. Our idea is to build a system where teachers can get the support they need pretty much when they need it, developed and maintained by a large group of contributors, so it doesn't all fall on the shoulders of a few. We have some ideas on how to make this happen, but it's a little too early to share them (You know we will, when they're ready!).

Here's what we're pretty sure the system will need to include:

  • A professional learning curriculum & continuum – What are the (clearly articulated) knowledge and skills we want our educators to become proficient in and what scopes and sequences make sense?
  • A system for collecting and sharing examples, models, and exemplars – The system would include artifacts such as photos, articles, and videos, to help educators answer the question “But what does this piece look like in action?”
  • Learning modules built around that professional curriculum – The learning needs to be “chunked” into manageable pieces.
  • Multiple approaches to deliver those modules – Workshops, articles, videos, iTunesU courses, iBooks, etc. What ever systems we use, they should allow us to easily update the resources and push the updates to our teachers using them (things do change and evolve quickly in this business).
  • A system to “certify” teachers – The system certifies what teachers become proficient at as they move through their professional learning and keeps track of their “certifications.”
  • A system for soliciting educators to help us build and deliver the PD system – We need a team of teachers and other school leaders, both within and without our school district, to be valued contributors. We need people to help us build the professional learning continuum, the modules and related resources, and to certify teachers as they develop proficiency in the professional learning. The work needs to be developed by or borrowed from multiple people, not just the tech team.

We find it all a little scary. It does mean giving up some control. We have to trust others to help us do this work. If it is a piece that the tech integrators, the Tech Director, or I feel strongly about, then clearly we need to be part of the team that develops that piece. Otherwise, we need to trust the teachers who develop it. We can certainly review drafts of their work and offer feedback, but frankly there aren't enough of us to go around, and there is more work to do than we can actually do by ourselves.

Have any of you done some of this work? What have you tried? How'd it go? What worked and what didn't so well? What's your advice to us?

And so this chapter of our journey begins…

 

About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.
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