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

Awesome Empowerment

First, a great story to share about an email I got from a couple of kindergarten teachers this morning. They had emailed me to share exciting news. But first some back story. I have partnered with these teachers many times over the last few years to help them with various instructional technology topics. Last year, they had found a video on YouTube that was produced by another kindergarten class (not in our district) on the life cycle of a butterfly. They decided they’d like to re-create this project for teaching this important science topic. I helped with the “talent” (kindergartners), camera work, and worked with them as they learned the editing and finalizing of the video. I was also lucky to get to attend the video’s premiere at a parent night. The teachers and their students did a fantastic job with their production of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”.

Now back to their email they sent me earlier this week. The subject of their email was “Look what we did!”. When they say “we” I knew they meant that in reference to their students, not them. They had attached the video of this year’s version of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”. I watched the video while smiling ear to ear the entire time. The students did a fantastic job acting out all the different stages of the butterfly life cycle (how can you not smile at them?!?) and the teachers did all the planning, preparation, and video production work on their own this year. I am really proud of them and told them how lucky their students are!

Being an Instructional Technologist, I always strive to empower teachers, not enable them. What I mean by that is, it doesn’t matter if it’s one teacher or a group of teachers; no matter if it’s the first time they’re learning about a topic or it’s part of the continual support I offer, I will not “do it for you”. By enabling, or making it easy, doesn’t empower someone to step out of their comfort zone and learn something new.  I will teach, re-teach, and always be there for support for any teacher that wants it; without fail. I always make sure teachers know this. Teachers need to know this. Our students need to know this. My goal is to equip with the necessary tools, resources, and knowledge base to increase comfort-level and success rate.  Doesn’t project-based, authentic learning lend itself nicely to empowerment? Shouldn’t we want this for all learners, regardless of age?

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”–William Arthur Ward

Edcamp KC – What to expect and what to bring

We are just one month away now from the 2nd annual Edcamp KC (Kansas City)! I am really excited that we were fortunate enough to again have another Edcamp KC this year. I cannot believe how quickly the time flies. I believe we were one of,  if not THE first Edcamp to happen in the Midwest. I’m proud of that! I am also very proud to be part of something bigger that is the Edcamp movement happening all around the country. I need to give a big thanks to folks like Josh Allen, Steve Moore, and others that have helped to plan another great day of learning and networking as well as all of our fantastic sponsors. If you’re not familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, everything is 100% sponsor driven. We do not charge anything for folks to attend, and any logistical cost associated with putting on the event comes completely from sponsor donation. For us, this is how we covered costs such as liability insurance. Through generous sponsor donations we are also able to provide some small giveaways,  a light breakfast,  and lunch for everyone! Yay sponsors! If you haven’t yet signed up to join us please do so now and please share with people in your school, district, and community about this great day of learning and conversing about all things education. Teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community members are all welcome!

What to expect

An Edcamp isn’t your traditional conference. In fact, there’s really nothing traditional about it at all. Our sessions for the day are not published, or even known, ahead of time. That’s right, you’re going into the day not quite sure what you’re going to learn about. Stay with me here, don’t back out just yet! 🙂 Since the day is 100% driven by you, the attendees, that is where the session (conversation) ideas come from. You (plural) are our leaders (facilitators)! What does this look like you ask? When you arrive in the morning we’ll begin with breakfast and some networking time (meet and greet). On the wall you’ll notice a very large piece of chart paper. This will have on it our shell of the day’s structure. You’ll see what classrooms we’ll be using as well as the different session times for the day.

Do you have an idea for a session you’d like to lead or a conversation to facilitate? Simply head up to the chart and write it in for the classroom and time slot you’d like. It’s as simple as that. In a very short amount of time, the session board will be filled with an entire day full of sessions. As Josh Allen calls it, it’s an “old school wiki” at its best!

Now, don’t worry if you don’t have a full blown presentation with slides, handouts, and the like ready to go. That’s not necessary. If you do, great! If you don’t, that’s probably better. There will be a projector in each room for anyone to connect their device to if needed for showing supplemental material. Just because you added the session/topic to the session board doesn’t mean you have to be the only voice during that entire time slot. In fact, we don’t want you to be. This needs to be a learning conversation around a particular topic. We need you to facilitate and give us focus and let the other folks in the room take it from there. Throw together a wiki of information resources as you learn together or build a Google doc. As a group do whatever you need to do to make the learning relevant during the time (and to help make it stick after the time).

So you might be thinking, what if I start in one session and after a few minutes discover it’s not for me? Here’s what you do: vote with your feet. If you’re not getting out of it what you need, go to another session. That’s OK to do during an Edcamp! Traditional conference settings this is usually frowned upon or seen as rude. Not here! We want you to get the most out of your day of learning. It’s your day. If you need to, go revisit the session chart and head somewhere else.

You’ll likely see conversations continuing during lunch and throughout the day. Some may carry over into other sessions, some folks may skip a session to head to the commons area to continue a conversation. Again, while informal and non-traditional, it’s all acceptable.

What to bring

Here are some things you might want to bring with you:

1. An open mind

2. A laptop, tablet, smart phone, or other preferred device. These come in handy for needing to email, tweet, blog, Google doc, etc. during a session.

3. Your passion for education and desire to make it better for kids.

4. A plan for sharing what you learned. We must take these new ideas, information, and conversations back to those that weren’t at Edcamp KC.

5. A friend, colleague, or an administrator! The more the merrier! 🙂

Whether you’re attending Edcamp KC or attending another Edcamp closer to you, I hope you find this information beneficial to get a better understanding of what an Edcamp typically looks like.

Get registered and additional info about Edcamp KC here: http://edcampkc.wikispaces.com

Find out even more about the Edcamp movement here: http://edcamp.wikispaces.com (lots of great resources and help here from my Edcamp Philly friends)

Other Edcamps happening around the Midwest:

Edcamp STL (St. Louis) February 11, 2012

Edcamp Omaha  March 24, 2012