By Rob Mancabelli, CIO Advisor
Mission statements are inspiring, but to understand a school’s priorities, look at its schedule. After all, schools allocate time to what they value. Similarly, we may want to improve learning outcomes through the use of technology, but to test our resolve, we need to look at how much time and money we have dedicated to professional development (PD). Infrastructure, hardware and software are essential, but PD ensures results in the classroom.
The problem is that PD is messy. It’s more complex than any server configuration, and it needs more traffic management than any network. Done right it involves multiple stakeholders agreeing on content, delivery, time, compensation and lots of other issues. Sometimes the path of least resistance is to buy the technology, provide online instructions and skip the PD conversation entirely. But that rarely results in real changes in how students learn.
So let’s help each other out by talking about our most successful technology PD efforts. Over the years, I have found at least five key characteristics of successful PD.
- Riveting Content: Make it meaningful and mind expanding. Many teachers don’t like PD because we schedule “the boring basics,” such as the new grading program or email training. Sure, they’re necessary, but not spellbinding. Instead, focus on exciting technologies that teachers can use tomorrow in their classroom to improve student outcomes.
- Social Learning: Build those networks! Introduce your teachers to the vibrant conversations about learning that take place every day on the web via Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks. Talking to other teachers from around the world will spark ideas for their classes and ensure that learning doesn’t stop when the “PD day” is done. It also lays the groundwork for you to deliver increasing amount of you PD online (more on that in the next post)
- Real “Teachers”: There is no better salesperson for classroom technology than a teacher using it successfully. These tech advocates can explain the instructional benefits, discuss student outcomes and give troubleshooting tips. If it’s your own teachers, that’s even better.
- A Learning Buffet: Offer a selection of topics and let teachers choose the ones they like. The list doesn’t need to be huge, but it should have enough variety to appeal to different learners and various subject areas.
- Varied Time Commitments: Weave together a mix of short mandatory PD with longer voluntary classes. I’ve worked with schools to set up half hour information sessions in which teachers share what they are doing in their classrooms or even five minute videos from teachers talking about their use of a new tool. Some of this can be face to face, but it can also take the form of teachers participating in online activities. Either can be followed by longer voluntary sessions where teachers can return to the topics that excited them.
An effective technology PD program builds excitement and momentum for learning in new ways. In part two of this post, I will talk about how to find time and money for PD.
Rob Mancabelli is the co-author of Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education. Let him know if you liked this post by going to http://www.mancabelli.com/category/blog/.