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

The Other End of The String – Thoughts from this week’s EdChat

Some thoughts and tips from this week’s EdChat, having a positive digital footprint

This past week’s EdChat was about best practices for increasing parent/teacher communication. Lots of great tips, resources, and ideas were shared as always. How effective is the digital communication between school and home? How great is the digital divide in your school or district? I need the proper PD to do this well, I don’t want to do it half way. These were just a few of the topics that came up during the evening edition of EdChat. If you weren’t there or haven’t yet had a chance to read the archive, check it out here.

Teacher ambition is always so high during the infancy of  implementing a digital communication tool. I know some districts, such as my own, offer teachers space on the web server to store their classroom/team/department/grade level web site. I realize this is not the case in every district. If you do have this option though, I recommend taking advantage of it and invest in the initial training necessary to create a web site for your classroom. Not only is it an excellent way to communicate with parents, but it can also provide resources for review, remediation, and enrichment to supplement the instruction that occurs in the classroom.

No matter which way a teacher chooses to communicate digitally with parents, choose one tool and stick with it. Consistently update it. If you post something that’s relevant for November, don’t still have it posted in February. Decide how much time you want to invest up front. Quite often the ambition quickly fades to update and maintain a classroom web site. Which, of course, easily happens with the one million other things that classroom teachers have on their plate at any given time.

If a district hosted site is not an option, blogs and wikis can be of use nicely and are easier to maintain when it comes to content and overall design. There are also many free web services that will walk you through building a professional looking site. I recently tweeted this resource, “45 Web Builders to Create an Insanely Awesome Free Website“. Definitely check out the tools there.

Our students also need to know about creating and communicating a positive, professional presence on the web. I call it “having a positive digital footprint”. I spoke this week to students at the Missouri FCCLA State Conference about this very topic. I wanted to help students understand that the way they communicate on the web now can either have a positive or negative impact for when they enter the workforce after college. I shared with them tools and strategies that will help them have a positive digital footprint. Universities are starting to look at a student’s web presence when determining whether to accept or deny entrance into the school. Potential Employers are certainly looking at a job candidate’s web presence when deciding whether to hire someone or not. I shared this recent study by Microsoft in regards to why your online reputation matters. Be sure and check out the statistics and watch the video “What does your Online Reputation say about you?” Whether we like it or not, teacher or student, Google is quickly becoming one of the “silent references” on our resume.

Creating any kind of classroom website, blog, wiki, or Twitter account can be a great way to keep in communication with parents. Some of those allow for two-way communication, but some don’t. The teacher has to evaluate and plan exactly what type of information and resources they want to provide to parents via the web BEFORE any creation starts.

Thank you for reading.