Friday, June 4, 2010

Professional Development And The Modern Teacher

My district is changing website providers over the summer. In anticipation of the change our teachers have been learning how to move their content from their current page to their new one. For most this is just another task in an otherwise busy day. For some of our teachers it is one more stressful thing to do. You see, we just changed providers 4 years ago. There was a big transition with teachers learning how to customize their pages, adding in all the bells and whistles. Some had just now, after 4 years become comfortable and were designing great pages. Then we come in and change everything again.

One of those teachers that was just feeling comfortable is at my school. She is a wonderful teacher with 20+ years of experience. But she will be the first teachers to tell you that her and technology, any kind of technology do not get along. Now, she will attend PD and and be polite and try but normally gets very frustrated and shuts down. That was the case with learning about the new webpage. During the initial session there was not a great deal of time to learn all the in's and out's of how to do everything. The teachers were just going to learn how to create a new page and how to copy the content from their old page to the new one. And again, for most it was no problem. But for my teacher it was a huge problem. She really needs things step by step by step and she was just not getting it. She became so frustrated she left saying she would not be doing a new webpage.

I talked to her after a few days and told her what if I brought in someone to work 1-on-1 with her. Would that help? Would she be receptive to that? She doubted it and she doubted her use of technology at all in the classroom from that point forward.

But I knew there was a chance. I didn't want this teacher to feel like she had failed. And, deep down, I felt like she didn't want to give up. My very good friend Melissa is our district expert in our new website so I asked her if she wouldn't mind coming out and just doing a follow-up session for my teachers. It wouldn't be required but we both would be there if anyone needed any extra help. She agreed, we settled on a date and we were on our way.

When Melissa came out to my school my teacher wanted nothing to do with the follow-up. She had really decided she was not going to learn anything. But, she walked by the room and reluctantly went in. Unfortunately for me I could not be there with them because I had another meeting but later on in the afternoon the teacher came to thank me. And then the next words out of her mouth I will remember as long as I am alive. She said that was the best technology training she had ever had and if I needed an advocate for how easy this stuff can be she was it. And if I ever needed an example of someone who was so against tech but could change she was it.

On #edchat this week the topic centered around what should be the required elements of professional development for teachers and how trainers could make PD more meaningful. It was a great discussion and I encourage you to check out the archive.

There is something to take away from this whole experience that maybe those of us who are responsible for professional development. I have been thinking about it a lot lately and have come up with my 3 suggestions for improving the quality of professional development.

K.I.S.S. Keep it simple..well you know the rest. Often, especially in technology professional development those that do the training try to cram in every little thing into a session. I can't tell you the number of sessions I have sat in on various products where the trainer tried to explain any and all details about some tool or program. Now, I love technology. I live, eat, and breathe this stuff. But most teachers are completely different. Most are content specialists. They know what they teach backwards and forwards but when it comes to learning technology they really have to take their time. And we try to pump too much information into their brains all at once the likelihood of them shutting down and not using what we are teaching is very high. If possible we have to focus on one thing at a time. I am always an advocate of looking at one thing for 6 months to a school year. We can really dive in, spend lots of time talking about the ins and outs of the tool or resource. Of course there might be people that don't need that much time but you probably know who that is by now anyway. But taking lots of time on very specific topics leads me to my next suggestion.

Reflect. Reflect. Reflect. By taking it slow and spending lots of time on one specific tool or resource we provide times for all involved to do some reflection. As a trainer what I do is never perfect. There is always room for improvement. One of the tenets of instructional design is taking time to reflect on what works and what does not. By taking it slow we get the opportunity to take a step back every now and then and see what is going well. What is working? What isn't? What do we need to cover again? What would I do differently the next time? Is there someone who needs some extra help? I never would have been able to help my teacher with her webpage had it not been for the simple reflection I did after the first training. And the reflection is important for the teachers as well. They get to really think about how this new tool or learned skill fits in to their classroom and with their kids. They also need time to soak it all in. Even if what we think we are presenting is as easy as copying and pasting there has to be some time for reflection. And reflection leads to play.

Play Everyone needs some time to let loose and play. The fact is, often, in PD there is not enough time for play. Time isn't taken for play. There is usually some time to mimic but not really play. Teachers who are learning new tech skills as part of PD desire more time to just get in and play. Not during the actual PD but afterwards. Teachers need to have time to go back to their classrooms and get their hands dirty. But they need that support of the trainer. We have to be available and offer follow-ups and 1-on-1's. We can't send our teachers back to the classroom with some new skill and not check on them or simply follow-up. Would we do that to our kids? Doubt it. Why do that with teachers.

So the time to play leads to reflection. And we would have neither had we not taken it slow and kept it simple.

There is no doubt that teachers need PD. And there is no doubt there is meaningless PD out there. But we can begin to make it better and have a greater impact on our teacher learning.

What else would you suggest? Are you a teacher that has been in a bad PD? What was bad about it? What would you change? Are you a trainer? What do you think about my suggestions? What would you add or change. Leave some comments below.
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