Monday, January 16, 2012

Professional Development for Teachers - Engage, Collaborate, Support

I have been writing lately about my plans and experiences with hybrid/blended professional development, specifically with technology.  In my most recent post, I shared ideas for the next face-to-face meeting with my two cohorts.  Perhaps because this is foremost on my mind, I find that I am running across others' blogs and articles that are speaking of similar experiences or offering great advice about professional development and the need to rethink how and what we offer teachers in terms of professional development..  I wanted to share a couple that I have run across that I found very interesting.

Mark Brumley (@markbrumley) wrote a short blog post the other day called Educating Educators Part 1 that talks about the importance of generating excitement in teachers about new technology BEFORE bringing them into any training.  I liked his ideas about creating almost a PR campaign to get teachers excited and interested in the new technology so that they come to any professional development with a desire to learn.  I agree wholeheartedly, and feel it is one element that is often missing - a reason, a purpose, and a connection of the new technology (or new strategy) that cause a desire in teachers to learn.  How many times have you teachers out there attended a professional development experience without even knowing what it is about, or leaving a professional development experience without ever understanding how this new technology (or new anything) is going to be of benefit to you in your teaching situation? 

Darren Cannell (@dcannell) put together a nice summary for developing a community of inquiry in an online environment, which fits nicely into what I am doing. His blog entry is entitled Using the Community of Inquiry in Online Learning Environments.  In particular, I found his description of the importance of  teacher presence on the the perceived learning and satisfaction of the online participants particularly relevant to my situation.  It is one of the things I struggle with in this blended environment I am trying to create, because on the one hand, I want the community of teachers to support each other and develop a bond without me, yet don't want them to flounder. It's a constant balance between encouraging engagement and motivation as well as fostering interdependence and knowledge development.
 
One very important part of professional development I think is lacking if we truly expect teachers to change their practice is this idea of a community of inquiry.  Collaboration among colleagues as well as support from administration ties into this as well. A benefit of the blended approach I am working with now is it's ability to foster this community of inquiry through long-term support, both from the teachers within the cohorts, but also the district leaders who are actively involved as well.  Teachers are being given the time to get to know each other, know the new technology slowly, try it out in their classrooms and get feedback and support from others going through the same experience.  Through the online components that occur between face-to-face meetings, they have time to share ideas, share experiences, and reflect on how this new technology and the strategies they are learning are impacting their teaching.  This sense of learning together and knowing that others are in the same situation and that there is support from others is important for teachers as they try to change their practice. Change only happens over time and with support.

This leads to the last blog post that I want to share today from Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) entitled No Chicken or Egg Choice.  Whitby speaks directly to the need for creating relevant professional development that truly addresses specific needs and courses and is not just a mandate from on high.  I love the line 'experimentation needs to be encouraged' - something that is sorely lacking in many professional development experiences. Especially with new strategies and technologies, being able to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes with the support and encouragement of colleagues and administrators - is the only way to truly reform instructional practice.

All of these blogs/articles may not seem connected, yet to me, they bring together some key points that need to be considered when thinking about teacher professional development. There must be engagement and purpose, there must be collaboration and a community of support and learning, and there must be relevancy to what teachers are actually teaching and experiencing in their school and classrooms.

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