Saturday, June 25, 2011

What are the key factors that make PD successful? #edtech

How would you have answered the above question?

I came up with four key factors that need to be addressed.

Teachers/Administrators have to be aware of what tools are available. If they aren't aware of the tools it is hard to get them into PD. Everyone is so busy if there isn't a hook then there isn't a reason to give up time. If they have a basic idea of what their kids can do with a specific tool, then they will make more of an effort. We have to find ways to create more awareness of what is available.
Here is how we are trying to address this: We have built a better social media presence. We want to use marketing to our advantage and take the information to the masses. There are so many different networks and everyone has their own favorite. We want to get our message out there in whatever medium they are using. We are using a blog to post daily tech tips, as well as advertise services. Our blog posts feed into our Twitter and Facebook accounts. We also use YouTube to post video announcements, screencasts, and workshop recordings.

Have you ever heard how teacher's can eat faster than anyone else? This is because they have such crazy schedules during the day, they hardly have time to eat lunch! And at the end of the day they want to get home to their families just like everyone else. So the question is: When do they have time for PD. You can pull them during the day and cover their class with a sub. But there are already so few days of instruction in our age of high stakes testing.
Here is how we are trying to address this: We are trying to offer PD through multiple mediums. We are still doing face-to-face workshops, but we are trying to offer more workshops at different locations to make it easier for different groups to attend. We are recording as many sessions as possible and making them available via YouTube. We are using some of those recordings to help build online courses through Moodle. And we are just now working to allow virtual attendance to workshops/meetings through Big Blue Button.

Just like our students want to know why it is important for them to learn a topic (ie. Geometry), so too do our teachers. We have to take time to show them how a tool can benefit them in their classroom. And what their students can create with it. I think in technology we often get tied up in the stuff (the devices, the tools, etc.) rather than the skills. We tend to create workshops on specific devices rather than what these devices allow a student to learn/achieve. We tell our teachers that they shouldn't be teaching the technology, they should be teaching with the technology. But I fear too often we don't follow our own instructions. Some of us really need to actually see a lesson that has the tool built in. Or at least see an example of what students can do with it. We also need to show how the standards are tied together, and how the technology supports the other standards.
Here is how we are trying to address this: We are trying to do a better job of breaking down the Technology Applications TEKS and making everyone more aware of how the tie into everything else. We are trying to make our PD about skills rather than stuff. Instead of teaching a session on how to use Google Docs, we are teaching a session on collaboration where Google Docs is just one of tools covered. By focusing on the skills I think we also pull in a bigger audience. Someone might not know what Google Docs is, but they may know they want to get better at collaborating. We are also trying to work more closely with our curriculum counterparts in order to present more of a unified front where everything is aligned and supported in example lessons. Here a link to our summer PD advertisement.

We need to properly support our teachers/administrators after we train them. With all of the budget cuts across the nation this will become harder and harder. So we must innovate, and find a way to still provide support. Part of support is also building the right type of environment for them to work in. It is often noted that kids aren't afraid to break technology and that is one of the reasons why they are so comfortable with it. They are willing to try it and if they fail, they try it differently the next time. They aren't worried about breaking it. Many adults are worried they will break it. And they don't want to fail. So we must build a supportive environment where it is ok for them to fail. Another aspect of support, is the support that students can provide. Students are our best resource! We shouldn't be afraid to let them help us!
Here is how we are trying to address this: We are working to build a team of teachers at each campus that will be part of a support team. This team won't be focused as much on tools, as it will on skills. But they will be the primary support team for the campus. They won't receive a stipend or any rewards other than recognition for being a leader. We want them to be passionate about what we are doing. We believe passionate people will make our message contagious. By having a group instead of a single contact (as we have had in the past) we hope to give teachers multiple options to find someone when they need help. In our professional development sessions this summer we hope to encourage failure! Yes, we want people to fail. We want them to understand that it is ok to fail with us. And that we will be there to help them out and give them some options to try the next time. We are also working to bring in students to help present in each of our workshops. We want our teachers to see that our amazing students can teach us too!

These are the key factors that I see affecting PD. I am sure I have missed many others.

What are your thoughts?