Every year, school districts around the country waste a tremendous amount of time and money on ineffective professional development. The traditional model of “sit and get,” where a one-size-fits-all approach is utilized, yields abhorrent results. Ask teachers from typical school districts in America their thoughts on traditional in-service time, and the feedback won’t be pretty. Professional development in many districts must undergo radical reform, from a model that’s outdated and ineffective to one that’s differentiated, meaningful and engaging.
How can school districts reform their professional development?
[Surely PD is not a one off event and should be treated as a year-long, life-long way of life – Carol]
A growing number of school districts have embraced Google Apps for Education as their cloud-based e-mail and content-management platform. But how these districts approach the effort—and the challenges and problems they encounter—differ widely.
Valuable lessons in how to implement Google Apps for Education (commonly know as Google Docs) can be learned from Crook County High School in Prineville, OR, and from the state’s Virtual School District. Two years ago, Oregon became the nation’s first such statewide Google Docs project, and Crook County High jumped on board. What started as a new e-mail system quickly evolved into a full-blown Google products rollout.
Crook County High adopted a top-down approach to implementing Google Docs in the classroom, according to Rachel Wente-Chaney, who directs the training efforts for the Oregon Virtual School District. School administration ensured that all teachers received a summer boot camp and weekly training each step of the way. The process started two years ago with the sixth grade, and this year the seventh grade adopted Google Docs as well. The keys to success have been a team-based approach to navigating through the process, which has included training and tech support offered at both the local and state level.
More than 250 teachers from Bath area schools will attend a learning technology conference Friday in Augusta in an effort to make the best use of hundreds of computers deployed within the district.
Dean Emmerson, Regional School Unit 1’s technology coordinator, said this is the first time in the history of the conference that a single district has committed so many of its staff to attending. He said sending the teachers to the conference is something he and the district’s technology committee have envisioned for several months as a way to “build momentum” around the use of technology in education. A teacher workshop day was scheduled for Friday so the district’s 255 teachers, principals, education technicians and librarians can attend the conference.
“My hope for them is that they get an opportunity to see what other people are doing across the state and also to share the great stuff they’ve been doing as well,” said Emmerson. “Everyone talks about buying more stuff — that we need more computers, iPads and projectors — but the conversation sort of stops at buying the stuff. I think the focus should be on what can we do with it once we have it.”
[What is your school doing with PD in technology?]
Today, every teacher needs to be in charge of his or her own professional development, if for no other reason than district budgets require everyone to be so much more creative. However, there needs to be a balance between the formal and informal.
Formal professional development would be workshops, conferences, and college classes. Informal learning could be attending an un-conference; following a back channel from a live professional development event like a conference; or watching videos on YouTube, Teacher Tube, or School Tube. Informal learning also might be as easy as sharing with colleagues in the hallway. To get started, here are three ways to take charge of your own professional development.
One of the most emergent and rapidly mutating forms of online and computer-based learning is “immersive environments.” As its name suggests, an immersive environment allows learners to be totally “immersed” in a self-contained artificial or simulated environment while experiencing it as real. Immersive environments can offer learners rich and complex content-based learning while also helping learners hone their technical, creative, and problem-solving skills. Because immersive environments are so rich and visual, users tend to be highly engaged.
For the most part, immersive environments are still used more for student learning than for teacher learning. Though this is changing, immersive environments for teacher pre- and in-service education are most conspicuous by their absence. Immersive environments can offer many of the same learning opportunities for teachers—development of content knowledge, behavioral skills, creativity, higher-order thinking and persistence (all critical characteristics of good teachers)—as they do for students. Though not without their limitations, which will be discussed here, the use of immersive learning for teacher professional learning, at the very least, warrants more investigation or “test driving” than is currently the case.
There are many articles on webconferencing and a lot of schools & institutions of Higher Ed have already jumped in and started using webinars to provide training to faculty. If you haven’t yet made the jump here are a few considerations that may encourage you.
In many professional development sessions at schools, you’ll find teachers sitting in a room and listening to lectures. But one Colorado school district has flipped that model upside down.
Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs is an example of one district that encourages teachers to practice blended learning for themselves, so that they can effectively bring it into the classroom.
The district just wrapped up its first year of professional development using blended learning, through a combination of online and face-to-face activities. It went so well that two fourth-grade teachers said they want it to continue next year.
“I feel like I’ve gained so much knowledge in all different kinds of areas of how to use technology in the classroom,” Janice Theda said.