Sunday, May 22, 2011

Professional development within the community

This year I've been asking myself how to deliver more support in using technology within the school community (last year I spent more time developing my own professional learning network, this year I felt it was time to put some of this learning back into the community of educators I work with on a daily basis).  I tried several different approaches such as before school sessions, scheduled and drop-in sessions at lunch times and after school, working with one teacher per grade level who could act as a mentor, organising an outside consultant to come and and give PD, and writing a blog so that teachers could explore new things at their own pace.  At the end of the year as I reflect back on these I'm not really very positive about their impact.  One of the biggest challenges I have faced is time - everyone is so busy that it's hard to add something else to the day.  I think the most meaningful support I have been able to give, the one thing that has led to the most change in what the teachers are actually using, the skills they have in using the technology with their students and the way they view technology, has been working one-on-one with teachers in their classrooms.

Here are some other ideas I've heard about from friends in other schools as to how they deal with professional development within their school communities:

  • Visits to other classrooms and learning from observing colleagues - I know I have learned so much from being in classrooms or having the homeroom teachers in the labs and seeing some different instructional approaches.  It's great to observe colleagues who are doing things that we want to know more about or who are experimenting with new ideas and who also value our feedback.  I believe this approach was tried very successfully in our Middle School this year.
  • Sharing best practice at staff meetings - teachers showcase what they are doing and what is working well.  I've seen these done as "speed-geeking" sessions as well as something more along the lines of an EdCamp where teachers choose what they want to learn more about.
  • Walkthroughs - I tried to do these on a weekly basis during the first half of the year - I was focused first on whether the new technology in the classes was working and then later on how it was being used.  Walkthroughs could have many different focuses.
  • Peer coaching so teachers can try out new skills and strategies with support.
  • Being part of a professional reading group to discuss and share ideas based on books we read together
Outside of school I have found the following the most beneficial for my own professional development:
  • Networking - finding teachers with a similar vision about teaching and learning.  There are teachers around the world that I follow on Twitter, educators whose blogs I read and comment on, educators I skype or email with regularly, many of whom I have never met in person.
  • Joining with teachers in another school on a collaborative project.
  • Attending and presenting at conferences
  • Online courses and webinars
My reflection:  time is what is needed to do most of these things.  Schools need to commit to giving teachers the time they need to learn and develop.  Some schools I've worked at have given this time, either to the whole staff through late start/early release days, or by releasing teachers from duties and/or clubs.  If teachers are seen as the leading learners in the school, the students will surely benefit.

Photo Credit:  Master Learner (SMART) by Josh Allen AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 


  1. Like you, I'm not totally sure how to assess my effectiveness this year. I've been helpful, for sure. But effective?

    Just last week we were presenting next year's PD focus to the entire staff. My focus is to move away from a reactive model, by coming in to help when needed, and towards a proactive model, by focusing on 1:1 mentoring using fortnightly meetings (set on the calendar!) and (hopefully) blog-based portfolio reflections.

    I think walkthroughs can be very effective but I'm not sure what the focus should be. Teaching practice? Tech integration? As we move to adopting and implementing NETS for students and teachers throughout the school, I think this can form some of that focus. I also think that the SAMR model could be a focal point as well. What did I see in my 5 minutes in the classroom? What kind of foci do you use in your walkthroughs?

  2. Thanks for your comments Clint. I like the way you distinguish between helpful and effective. I think all the teachers I support find me helpful - but what I really want to do is to empower them so they can eventually move forward without me. As I mentioned I did more walkthroughs at the start of the year - this is because all classes from Grade 2 upwards were fitted with SMARTboards and teachers had a lot of practical questions, so at the beginning I was looking to see if everything was working and if the teacher was able to use the board. Later on I started to focus on whether or not the students were using them, how they were using them and so on. We also have iTouches and I was interested to see how they were being used too. I tried to use this information when giving recommendations to the lower primary classes as to their tech requests for this coming year. However in the second half of the year I haven't really done many walkthroughs and have focused more on spending a longer time with each of the teachers with the aim being that they can support more student choice in how they use technology.

    I really like the SAMR model as a way of moving forward - now I need to make sure the teachers themselves are confident in leading the M and the R aspects of this model so that the technology is used to transform the learning environment, not just to enhance the activities they are already doing.