What matters in teacher professional development?

Cross posted at the SMARTBlog on Education.

What’s been your most valuable PD experience? Come on, there’s got to be one! I want you to think about what made it meaningful for you. The time where you left feeling excited to try something new and jump in feet first. You felt like you were ready to conquer the world and couldn’t hardly wait to impart this new practice/knowledge to your students.

Was it one thing? A combination of things? Was it the facilitator? Another attendee you connected with?

While I haven’t been facilitating PD for teachers for very long (coming up on 9 years), I believe there are some factors that make professional development work well and help teachers leave feeling successful. I’ve encapsulated them within three things, in no particular order.

Choice

Everybody likes choices right? Aren’t we keeping to a pretty narrow-minded view of learning if it’s only presented in a “one means to an end” fashion? Teachers need choices about what they’re interested in, passionate about, and what matches their readiness level.

These choices can be given as a traditional model of professional development, in which teachers attend a class/workshop on a specified date and time and have to physically be in attendance, or choices could be given in the form of online learning via screencasts, live webinars, or social media. The point is to offer choice and in turn allow whatever choice teachers make to be credited as a viable means of professional development.

Value

What types of learning illicit value? Fill in this blank: Learning is valuable to me when _____.  If teachers are going to invest time in professional learning, whether it be face to face or online, voluntary or involuntary, we all want to finish feeling it was valuable. When I facilitate PD, do I have a set agenda and plan in place? Of course I do. Do I ever intentionally or unintentionally deviate from the plan? Always. I am sure to let teachers know that this is their learning and I want them to feel our time together was valuable. If that means detours are taken and even some things are repeated so be it. We should want all students, regardless of age, to feel the value in what they’re learning.

Sometimes discovering the value in our learning experiences can lead to taking a self-directed deeper dive into a topic as well. Do you remember the last time that happened?

My response to the fill in the blank above? Learning is valuable to me when I understand the ‘why’ before the ‘how’.

Support

We’ve offered choices, come to understand the value, and are ready to accept the charge laid before us. Or are we? What if something doesn’t go according to plan (this never happens with technology)? If I’m in need of help where do I turn?

Teachers need multiple lifelines of support. This is a critical component of teacher professional development. Let’s say it’s the end of your face to face workshop. We need to make sure our teachers are aware of whom to contact, where to look, what to Google, etc. before they leave us. It can be an email address, the link to a backchannel, a Google Group, an Edmodo group, etc. Sure, teachers in my district know how to contact me, but I still remind them to please contact me whatever outlet I choose to provide. It can be a one way communication to you or a tweet on a hashtag. It can be both. Learn about the teachers you serve, just like we learn about the students we serve. We all need to know that support is there if we need it.

Are these the only components to making teacher professional development have meaning? No, but I think they’re three of the most important. What matters to you in making your professional development worthwhile? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford

Looking Back to Move Forward

“I don’t need to see where I’m going…….I just need to know where I’ve been!”

Name the movie. I’ll give you some wait time….if you said Cars good job! More specifically that line came from Mater the tow truck as he demonstrated his mad backwards driving skills to his buddy Lightning.

As I caught a glimpse of the Daytona 500 tonight, this reminded me of the brainstorm I had for this post. My good friend Steven Anderson will be glad to hear I had a Nascar event on the TV. Anyways, let’s get on with it.

We always talk about “moving forward” and “looking to the future” when conversations arise about making school better. You can take it a step more specific by talking about what we’re having students do with technology, design of learning spaces, or anything really that’s related to education. It is important to do that. Long term goal setting and planning is important work.  Dreaming big is really fun too and can really help getting some creative ideas stirred up.  We should always Keep Moving Forward (coincidentally enough I quoted another Disney movie in that post 🙂 ).

While we do need to have somewhat of an idea where we’re headed, don’t forget to look back on what we’ve done.  Don’t forget to celebrate those things. Teachers some times say to me, “But I only tried one new tech tool in my classroom this year. But I planned these four things and I only did two of them.” So what?!? You achieved something! Look back on this and celebrate where you were when you started and pat yourself on the back for where you are now. Talk with your students about it. Get their feedback! That’s growth! You worked to make learning better for your students! Knowing where we’ve been can be equally as important as having a vision of where we want to go.

I’m meeting with some teachers this coming Friday to continue work they’re doing with various (yes they have choices) ways to use technology to make learning better for students. The first thing we’re doing though, is looking back at their “action plans” they began at the beginning of the school year. To look at what they set out to do, what they’ve accomplished, reflect on its impact in their classrooms, refine as needed, and keep plugging along to accomplish more between now and the end of the year.

Making time to look back, can often be the best plan for help with moving forward.

I welcome your comments. Thank you for reading.

photo credit: Avard Woolaver via photopin cc

Wired for Sound

This video has certainly made the rounds in the last couple years with over 3 million views to date. It’s posted over at TED, however, it is from the  2009 World Science Festival. Take 3 minutes and give it a watch. The video features Bobby McFerrin. You might remember him from this video (but don’t watch that one right now, watch the one below…unless you really want to).

Interesting and entertaining at the same time isn’t it? Over at TED the title of the video is, “Bobby McFerrin hacks your brain with music”. He shows that by creating a “common chorus”, or finding something we’re all commonly connected by (in this case music), we can tap into the ways we’re naturally wired to produce something great.

What if we took more time to learn how to do this for our students? That is, finding commonalities that give deeper connections to learning for everyone, that tap into those ways we’re naturally wired; rather than trying to re-wire (back to a previous time period many times).  Is this just another way to say “differentiated instruction”? Or is it more than that? Will Richardson calls this “Beyond Differentiation” in his latest piece over at ASCD called Preparing Students to Learn Without Us, where he states:

For schools and teachers, it means connecting our expectations to students’ passions and interests as learners. That is both a challenge and an opportunity for educators working with 20 or 30 students in a classroom. The reality is that despite having talked about personalized learning for more than a decade, most schools and teachers have been slow to discover its potential through the use of the social web, interactive games, and mobile devices.

Would you agree that our students are coming to us being naturally wired this way? All of this technology (social networking, devices, etc.) is not just part of, or an add-on in our students’ world. It IS our students’ world. A world we as educators need to catch up to.

I had the pleasure of being invited to keynote TeachMeet Georgia a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta, where I talked about a new responsibility we (teachers) have to our students: the ability to Connect, Collect, Curate, and Create. Most of the time I was working on that presentation, in my head I kept referring to these as “skills”. I was then reminded of Howard Rheingold’s “Crap Detection 101″ , where Dr. Rheingold conveys the importance of this not just being a skill, but a literacy. We should want all our students to have these new literacies to truly empower them with the tech and devices that is their world, the “wiring” that they come to school with if you will. It must be more than consumption of information. It needs to be creating, investigating, criticizing (constructively), and sharing.

However, these literacies start with us. Teachers, Administrators, Librarians, and Parents.  We must model them and refine them. Regularly.

Which is harder: to change how we’re wired or how they’re wired?