Monday, October 31, 2011

Professional development using social media and peer-to-peer coaching

This weekend I've been reading the Tweeting for Teachers publication that has recently been produced by Pearson and NoTosh.   This report is not just about Twitter, but about other social media used by teachers as well.  There are many findings in this report, but I've chosen to write about a few here that I feel are important for the teachers I work with.

A large part of the report deals with professional development.  This is an area that I know many teachers feel quite strongly about.  Often they are compelled to attend PD sessions because it's a requirement of their school or perhaps the programme they are teaching, and all too often the sessions seem irrelevant and the presenters in some cases appear out of touch with what's happening in their classrooms.  Teachers don't just want to listen to presenters - more and more they are wanting to contribute themselves,  to share their knowledge and expertise with others, and the way they are choosing to do this is by using social media such as blogs and Twitter.

The report has found a number of benefits of using social media for teacher professional development:

  • keeping up-to-date with current debates in a way and at a time that suits them;
  • drawing on ideas from around the world, challenging their own perspectives and inspiring new ways of thinking;
  • connecting with others in similar positions in order to share plans and approaches and for support and reassurance;
  • encouraging them to reflect on their own practice, and to shape ideas through discussion of this practice
The report goes on to discuss how more and more school leaders are seeing the potential for improving thinking and classroom practice through a public and continuous reflection on their own teaching.  This is a valuable form of professional development and without the support and facilitation of school leaders such opportunities are often lost.  School leaders therefore should:
  • learn about and engage with the social platforms that their teachers, parents and pupils are using every day;
  • use a social media tool as part of their communications with the school community;
  • validate and support their staff in using social media tools for ongoing professional development.
Another part of the report is concerned with peer to peer coaching as there is a lot of evidence that indicates that coaching leads to a 95% transfer of skills and knowledge to classroom practice, as opposed to traditional PD which results in less than a 5% transfer.  Mentoring and coaching take time - often the existing beliefs, values and understandings that teachers have are not quickly given up, even in the light of new learning.  New understanding takes time to develop and teachers need a lot of encouragement to take risks and try new things that put this understanding into practice.

I'm currently in year 3 of what I originally intended would be a 4 year push to develop teachers' confidence in using digital technologies to transform teaching and learning at my school.   When I arrived at the school I put up a sign that said:
I do, you watch
I do, you help
You do, I help
You do, I watch
In my first year here I did all the teaching, and expected that teachers would develop their skills alongside those of their students.  In my second year I introduced the SAMR model, where the teachers were responsible for the S and A in the model (with me helping them with the A), and me continuing to push the technology forward by leading the M and the R.  Last year was a revelation to me because some teachers wanted to go straight to the M and the R parts of the model and were actually prepared to take on much more.  This year I feel we are very much in the 3rd phase - especially as at the start of the year I spent several weeks only supporting the new teachers to the school, and those who had been here for the past few years were leading their own IT lessons - all of them - with just me attending the planning meetings to discuss what they were doing (this wasn't that successful - it was clear to me I still need to be in there helping, which is what I've been able to do now that I have more time).  I'm still predicting that by the end of the year these teachers won't really need me much at all though.

Next year isn't going to be a year 4 for me - except virtually perhaps.  The teachers will all be doing, and hopefully I will be watching from afar, as they are blogging and tweeting about what they are doing using technology to transform student learning.

Image Credit:  A Conversation by Khalid Albaih Attribution 

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