I just spent last week with the teachers I have been working with for the last three months on my hybrid/blended PD (my most recent post in the series was Feedback (Part 3) on Hybrid PD). I also spent the last part of the week at the Texas Computer Education Association 2012 conference in Austin, TX, where I met with myriad of teachers from all different disciplines and talked about technology and mathematics. In both experiences, I was surrounded by teachers excited about technology, excited about using technology, and teachers who were so excited to engage and provide opportunities for their students to get their hands on learning, whether it be mathematics, science, social studies or English. But...what I also heard was frustration about their ability and access to provide those experiences to their students due to such mundane things as the software not being downloaded on the computers, or the sites they want to go to being blocked by the school firewalls.
This had me thinking back to a Twitter #connectedpd conversation I participated in a couple weeks ago (my first such attempt at participating in a live Twitter discussion and boy...it takes some getting use to! Everything goes so fast!). A few responses related to getting innovations and new strategies integrated into practice from James Tiffin (@JimTiffinJr) have sort of stuck with me the last couple of weeks. In the context of talking about standardized testing and how that often inhibits teacher's ability and freedom to change their practice and integrate new strategies or technologies, Jim pointed out the importance of administrators responsibility for cultivating that environment where teachers can learn and change. He also asked the question "in a high stakes testing environment, who takes the first step towards connected PD - administrators or teachers?" My initial answer/response was both. But after this week, I think I want to amend my thoughts - I think it takes the entire village, not just those on the front-line (i.e. administrator and teachers), so to speak.
Let's take the most familiar situation - the teachers I have been working with in the hybrid PD. These are teachers who are definitely taking a first-step to improve their instructional practice and integrate technology. This is completely voluntary participation in this PD and they are making the effort. The administrators (from the curriculum director to the math coaches to the principals) also took a first-step by providing the opportunity in the first palce, from providing the software, the time and location for trainings, and the extra support in the classroom. So, after three months, where's the frustration point? Access to the actual software in the schools for the students and access to the student websites online.
Both of these are hampered by the technology specialists not pushing the software out to the computers, the school/district firewalls blocking the site that students need to access, or even the inability for the math teachers to get permission or access to use the computer lab. We have have gun-ho teachers ready to change their practiced but stymied by miscommunication, inaccurate information about the software or the websites, and limited access in general. This is NOT an isolated case - from my own personal experience as a teacher trying to fight over computer lab access, and as an administrator trying to convince the technology coordinator that yes, in fact, the license for the software was for every school and every math teacher, and every computer lab, this lack of coordination amongst all the relevant parties is a very common occurrence and hindrance to many initiatives.
Similarly, at the TCEA conference, one tech coordinator I spoke with said "Oh, we have Sketchpad, I purchased it a couple years ago for the math department. But no one uses it because no one knows it's there and no one has trained any teachers". She made the effort to purchase something she thought would be great for math teachers to use (and it is!) as part of her responsibility to the village, but the rest of the village was never told. In the case with the hybrid PD, the math leaders and teachers are completely in agreement that this technology will really engage students and help them teach mathematics to match the Common Core, but no one informed the technology leaders about it, and even now that they know, bureaucracy is holding up access.
This all just solidifies for me that we need to take a village approach to innovations and professional development if we want to in fact change instructional practice and improve student learning. It shouldn't just be the math teachers and the district leaders making the decision about what software to buy to improve math, or the English teachers and social studies teachers with access to computer labs, or the tech leaders and school administrators deciding what tablet to purchase or which apps to use (just some specific examples that came up this week). Rather, everyone should have a part - it should be a collaboration among all those connected to the instructional well being of students - administrators, teachers from all disciplines, curriculum leaders/coaches, tech coordinators, parents, and students. A village approach would help eliminate much of the miscommunication and lack of information that seems to pervade initiatives and perhaps even create a cross-curricular learning environment that is so often lacking. Everyone should be involved in the choices made, the professional development required, the technology and resource support needed, and the consequences of those decisions.