The Changing Nature of Professional Development In Education

Just posted this at Ed. Paradigms---->This blog and it's sister blog has as its focus bringing to light the game changers of 21st century technologies and globalization as related to Education and how teaching and learning gets done in (U.S.) schools. The very first posts were critical commentaries about the perceived fear and obstruction of schools in terms of adopting new and potentially transformative learning tools.

Around this time online resources were being born where like-minded teachers began to mingle online to share ideas, resources and experiences as they, too, struggled to make sense of the paradigm shifts they saw around them and how they could use new tools for better, more relevant learning in their classrooms. Some examples are Social Network sites like Classroom 2.0, The Future of Learning, Fireside Learning. Individuals emerged as leaders in the field: namely Steve Hargadon (founder of Classroom 2.0/Future of Learning), Will Richardson (of Weblogg-ed), Dean Shareski (of Ideas and Thoughts) among others.

Projects and organizations were created to dive deep into the new world of learning through technology. One example is the Flat Classroom Project. The Flat Classroom Project is a 'global Hands-on working together project for middle and senior high school students'. It was founded by Vicki Davis (Westwood Schools, USA) and Julie Lindsay (Qatar Academy, Qatar) in 2006.

At this point (May, 2009) there are literally thousands of outstanding blogs, wikis, videos, social networks, essays and articles all dedicated to the advancement of learning in networked environments. An upstream battle ensues for many brilliant, creative educators as they find resources and websites blocked in their schools. Appeals are being made to unblock the good stuff. But it goes beyond just websites and tools: As TeachPaperless says, "After all, it's not just tools and sites we're trying to get unblocked. It's attitudes and preconceptions that we're trying to unblock."

Which brings me to Professional Development. The traditional brand of professional development was to bring in an 'expert' for in-service days to teach staff about some initiative related to good teaching/learning. The topic was usually backed up by research (ie..Cooperative Learning, Standards-Based Education). The problem with this mass approach was that topics had to be general enough for teachers of all subject areas. How to go about implementing the initiative was up to the teacher which usually meant a low adoption rate. Surveys of teachers about professional development offered by districts paints dismal pictures about the relevance of in-service in schools. But that was yesterday.

The reality we have before us now is the potential 'decentralization' of professional development and the rise in the autonomy of individual Educators. All the blogs, wikis, videos, social networks, essays and articles are available 24/7 for any interested Educator to investigate, study and use. In other words, the opportunity to learning for teachers, as well as students, has exploded online. Professional development, after all, is just learning for grown-ups. When that learning is put to strategic use in a classroom by a teacher for the benefit of student learning, professional development has been achieved.

Official recognition of this type of learning is what's needed now. It will require a leap of faith for school districts to 'trust' staff members to independently pursue their own relevant professional development but that's exactly what's necessary now. Imagine a professional development day where the in-service memo indicates that "all teachers will independently find, read, investigate, and synthesize any information they may find relevant to their classroom teaching assignment and share that information on the school professional development network. PDP's will be issued once a reflective essay is published on the school's server indicating the learning you achieved and how you will apply it to classroom teaching."

That would be meaningful Professional Development, 21st century style.

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Tags: learning, professional development, teaching


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Comment by Or-Tal Kiriati on June 24, 2009 at 3:15am
That's a great post! Thanks for writing it.
I totally agree with you. I think learning should come from an inside desire to learn, and entrusting people with command of their own development should be the first step towards a change.
However, for us, people who live web and tech, read and write blogs and participate in social networking, we sometimes forget that not all find our world so accessible and even the simplest terminology isn't familiar.
This video demonstrates it:
Comment by Andrew on June 23, 2009 at 1:51pm
First: Thank you. The validation really goes a long way and encourages me to continue.

You hit the nail on the head. I think it is a fear of losing control for folks. Of course, it's the opposite of that once you "dive in". It (participation) actually forces you to confront EVERYTHING you believe about teaching/learning, social equity, etc.. which opens up a tremendous and powerful opportunity to express those things. However, I think THAT becomes 'scary', too. For example, Where to begin? And how? It's, in a word, OVERWHELMING for so many willing teachers.

Since I'm "in" and have "adopted" these modes of being/expressing-communicating via social networking, etc.. I forget (as the authors discuss in MADE TO STICK) what it was "not to know". Case in point: I started a NING network of my own about 3 weeks ago. It is strictly for Educators in the County I live in. I was inspired by Howard Gardner whose lecture I attended with other Educators. He referred to us as the 'Berkshire Education Community'. It hit me right then that, "Yes! That is so true. While we learn and teach in a diverse number of schools, we still represent something bigger. We're all connected by virtue of the fact that we're are ALL Educators no matter where we do the educating in Berkshire County.
I realized immediately-largely because of my experiences here at Fireside- that a social network could achieve the purpose of literally uniting us all. Thus, Berkshire Education Community was born. I spread the word and we were up to 20 members within 2 days. That has grown to just under 40 members.

The problem now is stasis. Despite encouraging e-mails and plenty of discussion topics awaiting replies, very few people are participating. And one member said in an e-mail: "I'm kind of quiet until I get comfortable....". It's frustrating because I see such potential to share best practices as well as basic information about what works on the local as well as national level. But I don't want to scare anyone away by demanding participation. And, yes, where and when did I start? What about you? Others here? Why are we comfortable? Were we always? I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Is it even possibly a matter of personality traits? Are we simply the kind of people more apt to reflect with or without a social network as a tool to document the reflection?? I'll have to reflect on that....;-

So, getting back to professional development as I see it 'evolving': Isn't a Social Network a form of 'study group'? If not, why not? How many hours have you expended thinking about, reading about, writing about and encouraging others about learning, teaching and how to do it well in these changing and digital times? 100, 200, 1000? Shouldn't it count if there's a way to directly tie it to student learning?

Yes, let's get some forums going on how to get others to take the first steps. Perhaps the first step is to figure out how we started. That'll be the very next thing I write about.

Super cool that, once again, we are on the same wavelength. Happy Summer.
Comment by Connie Weber on June 23, 2009 at 1:03pm
Hi Andrew,

With your permission I shared the section of this post on professional development in several different contexts. I used it in my paper on recommended ways to go about professional development. We talked about your PD plan in class. I linked to it from other discussions on Fireside, and used it at school in a teachers' discussion group. So what I'd like to say is "Yeah, go Andrew!" You're on the cutting edge. How can we get people moving in this direction?

It troubles me that people are often astonished by the suggestions put out here. They hardly have a beginning point. "Blogs, social networks, wikis?" They find it overwhelming, intimidating. I think they like the idea of being in charge of themselves, "unleashed," so to speak, and able to go out on their own to find connections and resources that will be growth-producing. The motivation is there, but the know-how, well, it's not there yet. So I'm wondering how to nurture it along.

Joining a social network is my best recommendation, because everything can radiate off from there, and you can find people who will help you with every stage, every question. I'd like to hear from others--I wonder how they got started. Hmmm. Maybe that could be a forum. What I'm seeing is that there are a whole lot of people who want to get started but are groping for HOW to start.

You've got an excellent set of suggestions here--but maybe they're advanced for a lot of people. It's just coming on now, the idea that professional development can be "gotten" from something other than "sit-and-gits" at the building level, or traveling to a conference somewhere else--and maybe or maybe not sharing the learning upon return.

So yes, I'm saying thank you for providing this food for thought, and also want to say we've got a lot of work to do. Let's keep encouraging people, welcoming colleagues into a qualitatively different kind of PD. Let's help them along. I think we need a LOT of posts like this, ones that will give people concrete beginning points. I think we need to show people the possibilities, get them started, and continue to provide guidance and suggestions as they go along.

Ideas about that? "Please, sir, can I have some more?" Should we start some forums along this line?
Comment by Connie Weber on June 3, 2009 at 11:51am
Hi Andrew,
Is it ok if I use this blog (giving you proper credit, of course) in my grad class on Instructional Leadership?
I think it's brilliant. It'll be interesting to see how the professor reacts--
Yup... this is the direction we should be going in!

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