Wednesday, May 2, 2018

What 15,000 Kids Taught Me About Creativity

When I walked into the Houston Convention Center a few weeks ago I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never attended a FIRST LEGO League World Championship. Walking through the doors I was in awe. 15,000 kids from nations all over the world gathered to show off their robotic and LEGO creations and compete for the title of World Champion. I heard multiple languages, adults reminding kids about how they got there and some of the craziest chants you’ve ever heard.

I thought was here to watch kids problem solve with robotics, not go to war.

But it was war. A war of creativity.

There is a lot to learn about FIRST, the organization behind the meets, what they do and how they do it. Essentially they help promote student interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through robotics and LEGO competitions. This year more than 516,000 kids from over 90 countries entered, starting in local meets to hopefully move to the World Championships.

What really struck me is the competition isn’t haphazard. It isn’t what group can create a LEGO robot that can throw a ball the furthest or a robot that can just do something basic. Not at all. The teams are given a theme, this year it was water, that they have several problems that they have to build using LEGO or other robotics to solve. Moving water from a distant well to a local community, storing the water for the long term, even figuring out how to build a working water treatment system that removes waste. (Fortunately, it was just rubber balls and not the real thing.)

Walking around for 2 days I could not get over the entirety of it all. It was loud. It was exciting. I talked to kids from all over the world about their participation and what it meant. I talked to parents about how they felt learning transferred to the classroom. And I talked to the FIRST leadership about what this competition means for the future.

See, most of these teams compete on their own time. The vast majority build and study, test and refine, outside of the classroom. They are doing on Tuesday Nights at their synagogue or Thursday afternoons with their Girl Scout troop or on the weekends with a bunch of friends because they want to win.

But, what they are doing when creating their robots for competition has a direct effect on the classroom. And, I believe if we embrace the type of authentic tasks, problem solving and collaboration that I saw at the World Championships, we’d be providing students much more valuable skills. We’d be creating an environment where creativity can flourish.

Authentic Tasks-The leadership teams at FIRST and LEGO Education spend months coming up with the theme and the tasks. They want these kids to see the impact their work can have on the real world and that is at the cornerstone of all this. Next year the theme was revealed to be Space. We don’t yet know what the tasks will be (that's a closely guarded secret) but we can guess it might be about long term space travel, colonization, gathering of resources or something else entirely. Like with water this year they wanted the kids to really look at what was happening in the world. Research the problems and come up with innovative solutions. I heard a story about the teams from Puerto Rico who used their knowledge learned through their research to create basic water treatment for their local communities after they were devastated by Hurricane Maria.

I’ve written about the need for authenticity in learning before. Students crave it. They want to see what they are learning applies to their world and beyond. They want to make a difference. They need authenticity. And they shouldn’t have to look to an after school group to find it. It should all start in the classroom.

Problem Solving- If there is anything out there that is a better example of kids problem solving I haven’t seen it yet. These kids spend a year working on the theme, researching, talking to experts, prototyping, experimenting and refining to solve the problems given in the theme. They aren’t just learning that the problems exist, they are actually trying to come up with creative solutions that can have a lasting impact. I heard a story about an all-girls team last year that used what they had learned to create prothstetics in their community for kids who couldn’t afford them. They are taking what they learned and making lasting change.

Kids don’t want to come to school, listen to some boring teacher lecture for hours and answer test questions. They want to be challenged, authentically. They know there are problems that exist in the world they might just have the solution to them. Real-world, authentic problem solving shouldn’t just take place outside of the school. It should be the basis for how we teach and what they learn. Don’t give them problems that already have solutions, let them find solutions to problems we’ve yet to solve.

Collaboration- No single participants here. Everything is done as a team. These kids work together for a year or more on these themes. They have to find a way to divide tasks, communicate with each other, work together and figure out what each of their strengths are to make a winning combination. Teamwork and collaboration are at the heart of the FIRST and LEGO missions. What is even more impressive is as teams are eliminated from competition, they aren’t. Winning teams that advance to the finals choose other teams to work with them. So everyone has a chance to be a part of a winning team.

Collaboration has long been talked about in the classroom. Allowing students to work together helps them see other points of view and determine their role in the creative process when working with others. It isn’t just putting desks together and saying students are working together. It’s fostering an environment where risk taking is a part of the process, where students can share without fear and most importantly it is where all ideas are considered and celebrated.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why All Educators Need SAMR And TPACK

Lately, the work I’ve been doing with teachers and leaders has centered around the engaging and effective use of technology. In addition to developing a guide for how teachers can plan better using technology and what leaders can look for when doing walkthroughs, I have had many conversations around the transformational use of technology. Specifically, what does that  look like?

On its surface technology can make learning more fun and engaging. Allowing students to create podcasts or work on websites, write blog posts or use 3-D printers certainly engages students and shows them what is possible. However, what is lacking from many of the discussions is what pedagogical impacts the use of technology can have on learning. Moreover, if there isn’t a clear understanding of what types of activities promote the most student gains, then the use of technology is just flashy and in some cases, makes learning less effective.

Sure, learning should be fun, but if it’s not effective then what’s the point?

Many districts and teachers turn to technology specific instructional models to help their understanding of the use of technology and how to use it for more than just a digital worksheet or typing an essay. SAMR is the most popular and widely understood today. However, it tells just half the story. We also need to understand TPACK.

Wait. SAMR? TPACK? What do these letters mean and why do I need both?

SAMR Model-The SAMR Model was introduced by Ruben Puentedura in 2006. The model describes the life cycle of technology integration, specifically focusing on how to enhance learning through the use of technology.

S-Substitution
A-Augmentation
M-Modification
R-Redfinition

In its simplest form SAMR helps teachers understand how common instructional tasks can be enhanced through the use of technology. Moving a written assignment to a digital document is substitution. Sharing that digital document with a partner is augmentation. And so on. Here is a simple video to understand SAMR.



In many of the districts and classrooms I’ve worked with, SAMR is the go-to model to help teachers better understand how to bump up their lessons and make them more engaging with technology. And on the surface it makes sense. Take what teachers have traditionally done instructionally and show them how, through the use of technology, they can make that learning better.

However, simply relying on SAMR doesn’t take into account pedagogy or context, prior knowledge or even an understanding of the content to be taught. SAMR is also sometimes presented as a one way “ladder.’ Teachers need to “teach above the line” in order to be engaging and effective. That is a fallacy. Some lessons might only need substitution to be effective, while others might need redefinition. Hence the reason we need something else to help guide teachers in making better decisions on the use of technology grounded in sound content understanding and pedagogical skills.

TPACK Framework-The TPACK Framework was introduced by Dr. Matthew Koehler and Dr Punya Mishra in 2009 as a way to help guide teacher understanding on the effective integration of technology in learning, focusing on 3 specific knowledges teachers must have when integrating technology.

CK-Content Knowledge
PK-Pedagogical Knowledge
TK-Technology Knowledge

It is a firm understanding of all three of these that makes for effective learning through technology. Here is a simple video to understand TPACK.


I have spent many years trying to understand and help teachers and leaders understand TPACK. In my work as a Director of Instructional Technology we focused our professional development around helping teachers better understand the pedagogical impacts that the introduction of technology can have. And if we don’t have strong pedagogy, the use of technology is going to just amplify any of those problems. Teachers must be masters of their content and their pedagogy before they can even consider using technology effectively.

So what does this all mean?

SAMR makes learning more engaging while TPACK makes it more effective.

We need both.

TPACK and SAMR must be in the same conversation. It simply can’t be one or the other. SAMR is what makes lessons more engaging. It shows teachers (and students) that technology can be truly transformational and allow them to do things they couldn’t do before. That’s what makes the use of technology exciting and engaging. TPACK is what makes learning more effective. Without a clear understanding of what content is to be taught, the desired learning outcomes, the pedagogical techniques that effectively integrate technology into learning, then how can the learning be effective?

Take for example a fun game that allows for a teacher to ask questions through a digital platform and students respond through an app or a website as fast as they can. I think we can all agree that when we see students using platforms like these they are psyched. They really get into the competition to see if they can get the correct answer the fastest. It’s easy to see that is engaging.

Applying the SAMR model the use of this digital tool would be a substituted (perhaps augmentated) use of formative assessment. I can do formative assessment without technology. The use of the digital tool just makes it easier for me to ask the questions. If the teacher stops at just creating the quiz, taking a moment to explain an answer and moving on, they could be seen as weak in pedagogy.

The work of Hattie tells us that formative assessment, if done correctly, and over time, can be a huge mover in student learning. Simply using technology to ask questions and get kids excited, while engaging, isn’t effective. This is why we need TPACK. I want that teacher to see that the use of formative assessment is a powerful tool that does more to help the teacher than the student. And when we look at that data over time it can help guide our instructional decision making process. That’s strong pedagogy and a strong understanding of how these technology tools are supposed to be used. That’s TPACK.

TPACK and SAMR aren’t exclusive. They both need each other. TPACK helps us focus on our pedagogy and our content, while SAMR helps push the boundaries of what is possible with truly transformational technology integration. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Engagement Doesn't Often Mean Effectiveness

A few weeks ago I asked a group of teachers to describe a lesson where technology was used effectively to impact learning. After some thinking, one of the teachers described a lesson where students were using Google Maps to take a tour of different parts of the world. They were to visit some predetermined places, go into street view and answer a few questions. The teacher finished the story by saying the students were really engaged, the most he had ever seen them.

I ask this question a lot when I work with teachers on effective technology integration. And every time I do I hear lessons described just like this teacher. And they always end the same way.

The students were really engaged. 

Then I always ask, but was the lesson effective? And if you think it was how do you know? 

This question seems to stump many educators.

When I work with Principals on walk-throughs I hear the same thing over and over. If students are engaged, the lesson must be effective. But effectiveness doesn’t mean that what we teach is effective, especially in the case of technology. Just because we see technology being used, and students highly-engaged, doesn’t at all mean the lesson is effective.

In order for a lesson that utilizes technology to be effective, meaning that students actually learned and retained knowledge, then technology has to fade to the background and just be the tools that are used for students to collaborate, or share their work with a global audience or create new knowledge or new products. Effective lessons that utilize technology are those where there are not only clear outcomes for what students are to be learning but clear understanding of where students are in that learning and where the teacher is in their teaching.

When looking at the effectiveness of a lesson we have to turn to what is research-proven to work. Using the research of John Hattie and his Visible Learning “meta-meta analysis” of over 50,000 individual studies of factors that affect student achievement as a guide, we can find clear methods that can help educators to not only create engaging but effective lessons.

There are four key areas that have some of the largest effect sizes (meaning the more effect they can have to boost lesson effectiveness and student achievement) that can make what and how we teach more meaningful and effective.

Classroom Discussion (Effect Size-0.82) It may seem simple but stopping a lecture or lesson to engage students in a clear discussion on the topics being learned can produce meaningful gains on lesson effectiveness. Instead of lecturing for the entire class period or having students copy pages and pages of notes, we pause to ask questions, related to the aligned standards and intended outcomes of the lesson. Students are given opportunities to respond and ask questions of their own. For the teacher, it is an opportunity to discover how the lesson is progressing and what adjustments need to be made.

In the case of Classroom Discussion students can clearly be engaged and lessons can become more effective by having simple classroom conversations.

Feedback (Effect Size-0.73) Another area that can show students are not only engaged but the learning is effective is feedback. We have to be careful here however. Feedback that only praises students (like saying “good job” or “great work”) won’t cut it. The type of regular feedback that teachers and students engage in that is most effective is student-driven. Students are able to show the teacher learning through their eyes. Closely related to formative assessment, the teacher gains an understand of what students know, with timely, specific and actionable feedback, within the process of learning, not at the end of learning.

In the case of Feedback, it should be clear to the teacher that students are not only engaged but just how effective (or not) the lesson is through regular feedback with students.

Providing Formative Assessment (Effect Size-0.68) If there is one area I believe is the easiest to implement and can provide one of the best ways to judge the effectiveness of the learning that is taking place it is formative assessment. As Shaelynn Farnsworth says formative assessment acts as a GPS to help teachers understand where their teaching is going and where students are in their understanding. Without formative assessment teachers are navigating blindly when they can be making meaningful adjustments in the moment. Formative assessment also informs students what they know and what opportunities for growth there still are.

In the case of Formative Assessment the teacher will not only see that students are engaged but will know whether or not their lesson is effective.

Meta-Cognitive Strategies (Effect Size-0.53) When we use meta-cognitive strategies, teachers help students think about their thinking. It would be easy to believe that our lessons are effective if every student gets all the answers correct on a quiz. But what do they really know? When students can articulate their thinking, describing in detail, not only what they know, but how they know what they know, teachers can gain a clear understanding of the effectiveness of what they are teaching. Students shouldn’t just memorize facts or events. They should be able to speak to their learning in a way that tells the teacher how effective that lesson is.

In the case of Meta-Cognitive Strategies, students must be engaged in order to clearly speak to their learning and the teacher will clearly be able to determine the effectiveness of their lesson.

Going to ASCD in Boston next week (March 23-26, 2018) and want to learn more? Join me for my session Key Indicators of Highly Effective Technology Use, BCEC, Level 1, Room 109A from 1:00-2:00pm to talk about this and much more!

Monday, February 19, 2018

New Course Offering: The Tech Savvy Teacher

Do you struggle with effectively integrating technology into learning?

Do you wonder how your pedagogy must change to respond to the technology choices you and your students make?

Do you wonder what tools are out there other than what you’ve heard about on Twitter or read on blogs?

Influential educators Shaelynn Farnsworth and Steven W. Anderson introduce a course where you can find the answers to these questions and more. In partnership with Participate explore what it means to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher.

From Shaelynn - In 2008, the district I worked in adopted a 1:1 Laptop Initiative. Through this initiative, every student and staff member in grades 9-12 were given a laptop. Students and staff members were not only able to use technology in the classroom but were able to bring their computer home with them each night. Ubiquitous technology shifted the educational landscape in our building. Along with reimagining learning, I also quickly learned that traditional and evidenced-based practices looked different in the classroom. Every day brought a new opportunity to provide my students relevant and engaging learning. It also helped me become a better educator as I analyzed and reflected upon my classroom and craft.

From Steven - When I was leading a large technology program in NC as Director of Instructional Technology we invited a group of teachers to spend an afternoon talking to us about a new Bring Your Own Device Initiative we were undertaking. What my team and I wanted to understand was what teachers believed would need to change when the devices are the smartest in the room? We thought we’d hear questions about how to teach or was to incorporate the technology more seamlessly. What we got were questions about the latest apps or websites that were flashy and fun.

Using technology today isn’t just about what app to use or what new website looks like fun. Technology use in the classroom requires a pedagogical shift from the traditional methods of teacher-driven learning to modern day student-driven discovery. Not only do educators need to understand how to choose the best technology for learning but the research behind the collaboration or student reflection or formative assessment. Once we understand the why of learning, the how, layered with appropriate use of technology, because fundamentally easier.

Shaelynn and I are pleased to offer a new course through Participate. This course focuses on 6 Areas of Development we have identified on having a high impact on student learning and teacher professional learning when integrated with intentional technology.

Course: The Tech-Savvy Teacher
Length: 8 weeks
Start Date: March 5, 2018
Cost: $79
Audience: Educators, Coaches, Administrators
Benefits:
  • Specially designed tasks blending high-impact technology with each component
  • Research supporting each of the 6 Areas of Development
  • Examples and stories from our own classrooms
  • Collaborative, reflective tasks to help you connect with other educators while engaging in low-stress, professional learning
  • Feedback from Steven and Shaelynn
  • Access to collections on the Participate Community
  • Badge upon completion of the course
We understand the needs educators and administrators have when technology is integrated into the learning environment. Our focus isn’t on the tool, it’s on the reimagining of learning and teaching. Each we week we will explore the research related to specific aspects of pedagogy and discuss what the effective integration of these tools really look like. While there will be tool and resource exploration each week, the main focus is on pedagogy and how best to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher!

Monday, February 5, 2018

4 EdTech Ways to Differentiate in a Student-Centered Classroom

Co-Written with my friend and business partner Shaelynn Farnsworth

In all the work that Shaelynn and I do with teachers across the US and beyond we see educators creating amazing learning environments for students. From the use of 1:1 technology to enabling students to learn authentically, these really are incredible times to teach and learn.

However, among all the flash and pageantry there is struggle. Educators are looking for ways to personalize the learning environment for every student while trying to find ways to differentiate; it can become paralyzing. On the one hand, they have the traditional methods of accessing content and assessing what students have learned. On the other, they have rooms full of technology but aren’t yet taking full advantage of that that technology can do for each student.

Carol Ann Tomlinson said it best:

“At its most basic level, differentiation consists of the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom. Whenever a teacher reaches out to an individual or small group to vary his or her teaching in order to create the best learning experience possible, that teacher is differentiating instruction.”

Differentiation isn’t just something that some students need or some teachers have to do, differentiation is responsive teaching and a part of every classroom. Each student comes to the classroom with a variety of past learning experiences, prior knowledge and individual learning needs and styles. Whether it is to help a student who struggles to understand basic content, a student who just needs a little push to go deeper or a student who far exceeds our expectations and needs the opportunity to go further, differentiation should be and must be a part of every classroom.

Differentiation comes in many varieties. Teachers can differentiate in four classroom components based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:
  • Assessment – Understanding what students know and still need to learn
  • Content – What the student needs to learn or how the student will access the information
  • Process – Activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content
  • Products – culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit

(There is also some evidence that differentiation of the classroom environment, the design of the learning space, furniture used, etc, can also help with differentiation. If you want to learn more learning space design check out the work of Bob Dillion.)

When we layer technology into these 4 components, the process of differentiation becomes less daunting and more accessible to each student. Here are 4 Edtech Ways To Differentiate In The Student-Centered Classroom:

Assessment-Sometimes seen as a four-letter word in the world of education, assessment, if done correctly, can provide a mountain of valuable information that can help teachers determine where students are in their learning and where the teacher needs to go in their teaching. Particularly, formative assessment is the driver of differentiation of assessment. Formative assessment acts as a GPS, providing valuable information both the teacher and the learner. It provides timely feedback to inform instruction and make adjustment. When assessment is used to adjust instruction it crosses over into the “formative assessment” realm. This crossover helps teachers and students to see it, not as a test, but more as a process.

Technology isn’t necessary to do any type of formative assessment. However, if we layer in the effective use of technology into formative assessment we can not only reach students where they are in their understanding but look at trends over time and respond accordingly in our teaching.

Some Of Our Favorites:
Poll Everywhere
Quizziz
Nearpod
Flipgrid
Recap App

Content-When many teachers consider differentiation they look to content as the way to do it for most students, and rightly so. Content is the foundation of learning and skills are applied. Therefore, if we can provide a way for students to access that content at their level, we can better meet their learning needs. Each student is (and should be) held to high standards. But we know not every student is on the same path for their learning. Through the differentiation of content we can level the playing field for each student.

Technology has made it much easier and frankly more possible to differentiate content in new and exciting ways. In some cases, students can be given the same content, however it is tailored to their individual needs either through raising or lowering the reading level, providing more visualizations or still meeting standards but providing content that is interesting and exciting for students.

Some Of Our Favorites:
Newsela
CK12 Flexbooks
MyOn
The Kid Should See This

Process-Differentiation of the processes by which students learn is another traditional way that teachers provide different learning paths for students. For many students the instructional practices are outdated and do not meet their needs. If we want to create an environment where each student can find success no matter their learning profile than we have to look beyond traditional pedagogy and meet students where they are at and how they want to consume information.

Technology makes the differentiation of process easier. Accessibility tools built into modern devices make it easier for us all to use those devices more effectively and efficiently. And many of those tools can benefit all students. In addition, the idea of gamifying learning is gaining steam to provide an environment that is familiar to students, but also is fun, challenging and rich with varied learning opportunities.

Some Of Our Favorites:
Breakout EDU
Duolingo
CommonLit
Read & Write For Google Chrome

Product-Ultimately, students need to demonstrate their holistic understanding of the content. Traditionally that is done through a summative project. However, this method is flawed when we produce a list of items that students must include, the specific font to use, the number of cited sources, etc. That isn’t a project, that is a recipe. And recipes don’t belong in the classroom. Students need freedom of choice in how they demonstrate their understanding. That doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. We can provide creativity, choice and freedom within boundaries.

Technology is truly transformational and students should be able to demonstrate understanding through a variety of transformational ways. This differentiation of product can look different for each student, however, at the heart are the same learning goals. Through the effective use of technology students can do incredible things while still demonstrating what they know and how they know what they know.

Some Of Our Favorites
BookCreator
Instagram and Snapchat
SeeSaw
Canva

Want to learn more? You can grab a copy of our resources from our FETC 2018 Presentation or inquire about a workshop on EdTech Ways to Differentiate in the Classroom by contacting Steven, http://www.web20classroom.org/contact

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Work With Me! Enhancing Leadership For Administrators and Teachers

Last week I had the honor to work with educational leaders and teachers from Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. Our goal was to examine the role of technology leadership in and out of the classroom and to better understand how technology can enhance learning. It was a unique opportunity for me because normally when I do professional development like this I work with one group or the other. However, over the course of 2 days I was able to meet with just leaders, just teachers then bring them together to facilitate conversations and provide guidance so they can continue to grow.

There were four main areas of focus for our work:

Key Indicators of Highly Effective Technology Use-I’ve been working for nearly 5 years, in my former role as a Director of Instructional Technology and now as a consultant for schools and districts across the country, on how leadership can better understand highly effective, high quality technology use. However, it’s not just leaders. If teachers can plan lessons that use technology appropriately, they can make their jobs not only easier but gain more depth in learning from their students. If both leaders can see and teachers can use technology to create new knowledge and products for a global audience or provide choice in what technology students use, than the learning that takes place has the potential to be more high quality and more impactful.

A Deep Examination Of The ISTE Standards-What came as a surprise to most of the participants was the existence of the ISTE Standards. During our time together we did an in-depth look at what the standards mean. But more importantly, we embarked on a period of self reflection. Since I had both leaders and teachers from the same schools and districts together we were able to look at what standards they were meeting. Moreover, they had to be able to show how they were meeting them (just as we would want from our students). Then we looked at the barriers they faced in meeting the standards and how they could overcome them. We used the collective wisdom of the room to come up with action plans they could continue to work on for the rest of the school year.

Tech-Savvy Administrators and Tech-Savvy Teachers-One of the more important things I have found in my work with leaders and teachers and their ability to understand high quality technology use is if they aren’t modeling effective use for their students or each other, it makes it difficult to know how to use it with students, or evaluate its use on a walkthrough. For leaders we looked at technology through their lens. How can they use technology in their role (the same technologies they might see in the classroom) to build stronger School:Home Relationships or be more productive. This builds on the work found in my book The Tech-Savvy Administrator. For educators, we looked at the 6 Areas of Development for Tech-Savvy Teachers. Better understanding the use of technology in areas like collaboration, formative assessment and reflection can go along way to understanding more fully how to embrace the higher quality implementation of technology in the classroom for learning that students deserve.

Distributed Leadership-In order to grow leadership both from the front office and the classroom there has to be an understanding of true distributed leadership. Both leaders and educators have to understand that everyone is both an expert and novice. Or that everyone has to know the vision, buy into the vision and share that vision often. Or, like just in the classroom, assessing what is working and what isn’t (formative assessment) and reflection should be a routine part of the process.

But don’t take my word on all this. Here is a great write up from the local paper:

Educators Learn About Leadership, Technology

Or here is a spot from the local news:


Are you interested in having your educational leaders or teachers enhance their leadership ability, better understand high-quality, highly effective technology use or in helping them be more Tech-Savvy? Maybe it’s something else? Get in touch with me and let’s plan some awesome PD!

Friday, January 5, 2018

3 Ways Leaders Can Support Ongoing Professional Development

When I was leading an Instructional Technology program, one of the hurdles my team had to overcome was the lack of involvement from our leadership on the professional development we were delivering. In the feedback we would get from teachers we would hear that the learning was good, but that their Principal, AP, Curriculum Director, whom ever, didn’t know what they were learning, or why they were learning it. Even worse, when leadership came to do walkthroughs or evaluations, they didn’t know what to look for to ensure the professional development was effective and implemented correctly.

We can’t just throw learning against the wall and see what sticks.

One of the best ways to judge the effectiveness of professional development by leadership is to conduct regular walkthroughs of classrooms to specifically look for what was learned and how it was implemented by teachers. However, if the leadership doesn’t know what to look for, because they weren’t involved in the professional development, then how can they truly judge the effectiveness? Or worse yet, if they aren’t involved in the professional development planning cycle at all then how do they really know what type of professional learning needs to take place in their building or their district?

The key is for school and district leaders to be involved in the complete process of professional development. At every step of the way these leaders need to come out from behind their desks, open their doors and participate, not only in the student process of learning but in the educator process of learning as well. In order for professional development to be seen as providing a value to the learning all educators must do, school and district leaders must be involved in the cyclical process of learning.

Professional Development should impact every single staff member in a school and district to improve overall learning targets. From the Superintendent on down there has to be not only buy in but involvement from Curriculum Leaders, Technology Leaders, Principals, etc, to ensure that professional development is carried out is a systematic and cyclical way. If we want professional development to be effective then leaders need to be involved so that everyone can continue to hone their craft and develop professionally.

Here are 3 easy ways for Leaders to support ongoing professional development.

Be Involved In Planning-School and District Leaders, at all levels, need to be involved from the very beginning in professional development planning. Ultimately, the Superintendent should know the learning needs of the district and provide a guiding hand in to how ongoing professional development will look each year. This is then replicated at the building level. Taking cues from the Supt., the School Leadership Team needs to be directly involved in the plans for professional learning for their teachers.

This was important when I was working with my schools. I could have easily created a district-wide, technology-learning plan for educators that touched on what I wanted them to learn but we know that learning needs to be individualized and tailored for the learner (In this case, teachers). I needed my principals to meet with me on an ongoing basis to look at where their teachers were and where they needed them to go. What specific needs did the teachers have that my technology program could help them meet? How was the professional development we were going to provide align with their School Improvement Plan and help them meet their overall learning targets?

The bottom line is, school and district leadership needs to be involved from the very beginning of the ongoing professional development planning process to ensure the learning is going in the right direction and stays on track throughout the professional learning cycle.

Be Involved In Learning-The biggest failure by leadership I see in supporting ongoing professional development is the lack of involvement in the actual learning. I saw it all the time when I was leading professional development and still experience it to this day. How can a leader best evaluate the use of technology or a literacy program or implementation of a specific pedagogical technique if they weren’t somehow involved in the same learning the teachers participated in? This doesn’t mean leadership has to learn how to use the Chromebooks or Flipgrid or PBL to the same extent as the teachers but they do need to have an understanding of how they are used and implemented with students so they can identify strengths and gaps.

Teachers also want their leaders to not only be involved in the same ongoing professional development that they are but they want to be led by their leaders as well. I hear this time and time again, school and district leaders are a valuable source of knowledge and experience and staff needs them to take the lead. Time needs to be set aside for them to lead specifically targeted professional development that brings everyone closer to their goals.

The bottom line is, school and district leadership needs to be involved in the participation and delivery of high-quality, ongoing professional development that shows educators their understanding of what they are learning and their capacity to lead these programs.

Be Involved In Reflection-In order to make professional development truly effective there has to be opportunities to reflect and evaluate its overall impact. Those that deliver the professional development need to be open to the comments on feedback forms and evaluations to learn and grow. Equally important is the reflection done by the participants on their own learning during and after the professional development sessions have ended. School and district leaders must lead and participate in these conversations to ensure learning is on track and on target but to also decipher where the learning will go next. These reflections should help determine next steps (either additional resources, or the next aspect of learning) thereby making the the professional learning cyclical.

These conversations might ask questions like:
  • What are our strengths now that we’ve had this learning and are implementing it in the classroom? 
  • What weaknesses do we still have? How do we overcome them? 
  • This professional learning will be successful because...
  • What support do we still need? 

The bottom line is, school and district leadership needs to be involved in the reflection process of professional development to ensure that educators and leaders alike are doing what is best for their students.

There is no doubt the role of school and district leadership is tough. And considering adding “one more thing” might not seem appealing. However, if we want professional development to be ongoing, meaningful and something teachers look forward to then leaders need to be involved in planning, be involved in learning and be involved in reflection.