Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rethinking Professional Development

I'm not a big fan of formalized educational planning, especially what appears to be "planning for planning sake". It becomes ritualized hoop-jumping (see: CSIP, teacher portfolios, SIAC, among others)

Not that any of those are bad, but many schools are doing those to check them off their list. And given the length of the list, maybe understandably so.

Perhaps it is my bias as someone in professional development, but I see a big difference with the state's Iowa Professional Development Model. That planning is a central component to professional development, and indeed, a good thing.

At the heart of the plan is the central belief that professional development is ongoing, systemic, and intentional (Guskey). You wouldn't move forward with professional development until using data to see what your needs are, and then setting specific measurable goals to address those needs. From there you put together the learning process in an ongoing method of introduction, theory, training, feedback, and coaching until change is implemented, all the while gathering data to use for you next round of reflection and needs assessment.

The good news is that most district leaders I work with get this. The bad news is, it is harder to implement this in practice than in theory. There are limits with resources for coaching and feedback, and there are slots of inservice time to fill. Nowhere is this more obvious than in technology professional development, where sit-and-get is still the norm.

The biggest problem with technology integration PD is that there isn't a "bigger picture" framework in place. The premise for PD about Google Docs is that "Google Docs is a 21st century tool that can help out in the classroom". But that premise is worthless if there isn't a bigger picture about how we teach in the 21st century and why we need to use collaboration. And most importantly, what is the end goal for this professional development? When teachers see the big picture and districts supply ongoing support and accountability to measure effectiveness, they implement it.

So, while I will, from time to time, offer ideas for professional development (both to curriculum directors and on this blog), all of those ideas are housed as steps in the bigger picture. Some "bigger pictures" to consider:
  • Identifying what "teaching and learning in the 21st century" is, how it is implemented, and how it is measured.
  • Understanding the pedagogy of sound assessment, including different methods for implementation
  • Developing a teacher's Personal Learning Network to use as a primary device for teacher improvement (as opposed to the traditional "top-down" approach)
All of these provide a good framework for professional development. If a staff sees the needs and the desired outcomes for these, they will see the applicability and the need of the 21st century tools provided.

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