Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted as “We Need a Shift in PD” on David Lockhart’s Big Guy in a Bow Tie Blog on March 5, 2018.
How do we change professional development (PD) for educators to be personalized, equitable, and effective?
Our current methods of PD don’t check off all of these boxes at once and because they don’t, we are always throwing new things at teachers hoping something will stick.
What if we changed that? What if we took the best of what’s out there in PD and created a paradigm shift? With a new approach to PD, we could create consistent change that elevates learning to a new level.
Current Approaches to Professional Development for Teachers
American teachers tend to have one of six different PD experiences. Unfortunately, none of them really create sustained instructional change.
1. Planning Period PD
It is incredibly difficult for a teacher to put aside the concerns of a day in their classroom and get the energy to learn something new. Educators don't have enough time to absorb new information and formulate how they can add it to their practice during a planning period.
2. District Professional Development Days
These are the most equitable of the PD experiences, and they take teachers out of the everyday concerns of their classroom while learning. The issue is districts tend to waste these on one-time presentations that don't allow much time to create a plan and put it into practice.
3. Education Conferences
Conferences are just not equitable. They can be great avenues for high flyers to find ideas, but they will never lead to sustained instructional change for a wide variety of teachers.
4. Weekend Professional Development Camps
This category includes things like education camps and summits. Like conferences, these experiences are also not equitable. Many educators with families just cannot give up the time to attend a weekend camp.
Coaching is the most likely way to develop sustained change, but it is difficult to build a quality relationship with every staff member within a school. For this method to be successful, coaches must initiate the process of change by sparking a flame in teachers and providing consistent guidance to make a difference.
6. Digital Platforms and Online Training for Professional Development
Digital platforms can be great resources, but require engaging work and some type of motivation to prompt educators to really dive in. It can also be difficult to get every teacher on board with online training as a learning experience.
The biggest issue with all of these experiences is time. We have to give teachers time to change and improve practice at their own pace. That also means we can’t overwhelm them. How much better could education be if we only asked teachers to focus on one goal at a time?
Teachers also indicate that science experiments can be reinforced by allowing students to better visualize a complex concept than they could on their own without the aid of VR. AR is sometimes used as a way for students to present the information learned or to help nonverbal students with communication.
A Better Method of Professional Development
How do we fix experiences to make PD personalized, equitable, and effective?
Start with a district PD day that is a goal-setting session. Begin with an inspiring keynote presentation showing what teachers are doing and what educators as a group can strive for.
Teachers then move into a work session aligned with broad goals that will make demonstrated improvements to the class experience. These are not presentations, but strategy planning sessions. Facilitators, or coaches, who are experts in these topic areas/goals run the sessions and help educators over any bumps they might encounter.
Goals and topics could include things like:
Giving students choice
Making real-world connections
Student advocacy and voice
Presentation of content
During this session, give teachers a vast library of resources and time to develop a plan based on what works for them, their class, and their content. Teachers should leave these work sessions with a plan for implementing a single, focused change to their instruction.
After work sessions, both coaching and digital platforms come into play. As teachers start implementing their plans, have a coach available to help them along the way. The coach can come into the classroom to coteach and model, always ensuring the instructional methods are aligned with the selected goal to develop consistency.
A digital platform teaches the nuts and bolts of tools and resources that help educators reach their goal. Digital platforms can include, but not be limited to, district-based tools like devices, learning management systems, office suites, and other ed tech programs. A digital platform also acts as a touchstone before the next district PD day by issuing micro credentials for every training completed and goal accomplished.
The next district PD day is a goal check-in:
If educators reached their goal, it is time to start the process again with a new goal.
If educators implemented a change but were not consistent, a coach will support them by developing a plan to drive consistency.
If educators did not attempt to reach their goal, a coach helps determine the pain points that stopped them or they develop a new goal that may work better.
This style of PD gives teachers ownership and promotes creativity, which is everything to the learning experience.
If we are consistently moving every teacher just one positive step forward, educational change will happen quickly. What we are doing now isn't working. Let's simplify and personalize.
David Lockhart is an ed tech presenter, speaker, advocate, coach, and blogger at bigguyinabowtie.com. For more than 10 years, that meant stepping into a high school social studies classroom and delivering instruction in a way that was different. His students learned in a historical newsroom concept where they created everything from social media accounts to news broadcasts. In 2014, Lockhart left the classroom to become an Education Technology Specialist with the Iteach Center at Kennesaw State University. Lockhart works with a metro Atlanta school district to personalize learning for students with the aid of technology. He has also presented on numerous education technology topics at ISTE, FETC, GAETC, AETC, and more. Follow David Lockhart on Twitter at @bigguyinabowtie.
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