Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Series-Who Is Responsible....

At some point we have to hold people responsible for being self-learners. In many other jobs, you keep up on own or get fired. (via @mcleod)
This quote came from a leader in edtech, Scott McLeod, on Twitter a few days ago. (You might have seen his work on the Shift Happens video series.) I have been thinking about that quote for a while now. Why is it in education, some teachers get a "pass" when it comes to Professional Development when in other professions they would be tossed to the curb?

I will give you an example. I use to be a science teacher at a fairly large middle school. Our staff was diverse with a good mix of fresh, new teachers and teachers with several years of experience. There was one teacher who had been around for almost 30 years. She taught social studies, a subject that one would think you would need to stay fresh and up on current methods and events. Not this teacher. She refused to take textbook adoptions or attend required professional development because she would have to change her lesson plans from her first year of teaching. While she attempted to integrate current events, students still read about history from books almost 30 years old.

You would think the school or district would not allow this to happen but they did! Why? She was a very powerful member of the local teachers organization and very active at the state level. The school and district were afraid of what she might possibly do if they stepped in. So in this case, instead of caring about the education of the students in her class, administration cared about public image and staying on the good side of this group.

Now, this is an extreme case but it is an example of what I am thinking about. Teachers all over refuse to take part in professional development for whatever reason. I see it every day in what I do. Teachers don't want to learn about technology because they are afraid they won't know or they don't have time to integrate the tools in their class for whatever reason.

I don't believe in forcing teachers into professional development. I only want participants in what I teach who want to be there, who want to embrace technology and see a value in it. But shouldn't teachers exemplify what it means to be a life-long learner? Our kids, starting in Pre-School come to us surrounded by technology. It is what they do all day with computers, cell phones, gaming, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, and more, yet in some classrooms and schools they walk in each day and are told to put your cell phone away, no Facebook, games are bad, and instead they "learn" with pencils, papers and books that are out of date the moment they are printed.

So what do you think? Should we have "required" professional development? Should teachers take responsibility for their own learning and growth? What happens if they don't? What would you do to the teacher in my example? Start a conversation...I would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I agree that teachers should be responsible for their own learning, but is it an administrative responsibility to nudge teachers to change or is that something teachers should do themselves? If enough teachers on a campus feel as passionately as you do that all teachers should be teaching from current texts, you can do something about it. There is nothing a union contract that states that other teachers cannot have discussions (often very passionate discussions) about pedagogy and the use of resources aligned with the content. What is the challenge when a teacher becomes accountable to his or her peers?

    Have you ever ventured into a classroom of a teacher who has been mandated to attend professional development? You'll see lots of binders and books collecting dust on bookshelves and little has changed with the way they teach. Change has to be intrinsic. The participant has to be able to make a connection between what is presented with what they can do with it immediately within the classroom. Even the best laid plans for professional development fall to the side if the participant doesn't see it's relevance. The most important part of a training is not while the learning is occuring, but during it's implementation.

  2. Teachers can be (should be?) role models for lifelong learning and, for me,professional development is a "must". How can this be encouraged? At our institution we meet with our department heads once/year to discuss our work and our PD needs. If someone is not involved in PD, the manager can ask them to develop a PD plan. My belief is that the PD plan should come from the individual and, where possible, be supported by the institution. Add to this the idea of a personal learning network. There is lots to gain through sharing with colleagues, finding information online (I love Twitter and the resources there), learning from our students (especially web 2.0 tools), going to the library, attending webinars and conferences. At our campus I work with a group of colleagues to organize lunch 'n learns, workshops, and conferences. I like being proactive :-)

    As to the teacher in your example, I don't know what strategy would work: encouragement from management, association and sharing with colleagues who teach the same subject, encouragement from teaching organizations, a culture of lifelong learning at the institutional level ...

  3. My district sets up "required" prof. dev., to which everyone must go. Whether folks are paying attention and following through, is questionable. I also doubt many of my colleagues are reading/sharing/exchanging on their own; I recently read a tweet where a teacher was thanking a group of colleagues for getting together on a summer day to "talk" about implementing new technologies in Sept. I wish I worked with folks like that who care enough and who want to learn/do more!

    I signed up for a free tech/literacy workshop (being held at local university in a couple of weeks.) I'm psyched about it, and sent the info to my colleagues. No one else signed up. I wasn't surprised.

    And those one-size-fits-all workshops that are already set up in my district (as part of the yearly calendar) result in a majority of folks who accumulate an easy 10-20 hrs a year... but they are not held accountable to really implementing any of it. I'm afraid nothing is done to really push folks to move with the times; mediocrity is tolerated as well, and I still can't get my mind around that after 19 yrs!

    So thankful for finding forward-thinking folks on blogs and twitter!

  4. Steven,
    Great insights! The problem is that we know several of the teachers you described working in our schools. In several of the schools I worked at they were the majority. I see this as the major crisis within our schools. I know teachers do not make a lot of money, but I think we have more social responsibility than most, because the next generation must know how to problem solve and critical think using technology. The students already use the technology to chat, IM, and socialize. We hear the dangers of these activities everyday and instead could hear more about the wonderful ways in which learners use these tools! Ironically, schools would rather keep up a reputation at the expense of damaging the reputation of education in general.
    Great post!

  5. While not excusing teachers from professional developmen responsibilities, an idea I am committed to, it is also true that, at least until recently with the emergence of web 2.0, it costs teachers to take classes. I worked in corporations also. Classes were encouraged and sometimes required, but they were paid for, along with lunch and transportation. Teachers get tired of paying out of their own pockets. Even those who would take advantage of the "free stuff" often find it does not fit their needs (district/building requirements instead) or are already so overwhelmed with the costly masters or Professional Certification program or National Board Certification, or whatever the state requires. They also do it on their own time, weekends, evenings. I get tired just thinking about it. I am one of those teachers who tries to provide after-school workshops, mostly on technology, and get disappointed at sporadic attendance, but plates are so full and emphasis is elsewhere these days.

  6. My belief is that teaching adults (teachers) is not that different than teaching kids. So when you mention that you only want participants who "want to be there, who want to embrace technology and see a value in it" this sound like something a lot of resistant teachers say. "I want kids who are excited about _____ (my content area) and who intrisically want to learn."

    Just like we don't get to pick our students- we also don't get to pick our adult learners.

    It is our job as teachers/PD providers to motivate and encourage our learners so that they see the need to change and embrace technology (or whatever best practice we are selling.)When we provide PD experiences that are engaging, non-threatening, and powerful- we will begin to see the buy-in.

    We need to model the same teaching strategies that we want teachers to use with their students- and sometimes the greatest accomplishment we can make in a PD session/workshop is to get a teacher excited about our topic.

    To me, that is just as exciting as reaching that kid in our class who hated reading, writing, science, etc coming in and then leaves with a love of learning.