An off hand comment by Miguel Guhlin has been niggling at me for the past week or so. In response to my blog entry about using Web 2.0 tools to foster Professional Learning Communities, he suggested: I like your list, but I think you need to be more subversive about it.
I thought I was being subversive by embedding these new technologies into staff development activities in non-technology related areas. Here's why...
The old adage says that teachers teach the way they've been taught. But I believe it is more accurate to say that teachers teach the way they themselves learn. And unless teachers have had the opportunity to learn in new ways, it is unlikely they will teach in new ways.
So by helping teachers learn with the help of technology, the likelihood of them using it with students increases. My real goal is not to help teachers themselves learn by using technology, but to get them to use it with their students after they realize the benefit as learners themselves. (Real goal does not equal stated goal = subversion.)
It's my perception that learning opportunities for practicing teachers still primarily take the form of classes where lecture, or at best lecture/discussion, is the primary means of teaching. Too often staff development opportunities still resemble boot camps of a week of summer classes. Too often there is but a single method that is acceptable of how teachers can learn and narrow range of what is considered acceptable to learn. Too often technology skills are taught in isolation. All the same traditional methods we use with kids, we also use with adults.
Here are my modest suggestions for improving staff development in all areas, not just technology training:
- Clearly articulated expectation of teacher competencies. We have worked on clear, high standards for students. Why not for adults as well? The ISTE NETS for Teachers standards are a good start, but they need to be made more concrete, more readily assessed. The CODE 77 rubrics do this. (These will undergo revision this summer to reflect new Web 2.0 skills.)
- IEPs for teachers to meet those competencies. Every teacher is different both in learning styles and in the skills that need to be acquired. Therefore every individual teacher needs his or her own learning plan - or professional growth plan. One model can be found in the second half of this article from Leading and Learning.
- Project-based learning activities. Teachers need to experience project-based learning, learning by creating an actual useful product, if they are going to ask students to do this.
- Authentic assessments of teacher work. In the past, we have asked teachers to create portfolios that contain examples of the work they have produced using technology along with reflections about their experiences. Which leads to greater self-assessment, recognition of growth and other nice things.
- Accountability. The principal or other supervisor needs to take staff development seriously and hold all teachers accountable for the successful completion of what ever plan they've designed. We've designed our program so that teachers do not get new computers unless they agree to complete training. Simple as that.
- Work in teams. Professional growth plans should be able to be not just individual efforts, but reflect group goals. All good strategies that go into designing successful classroom group work need to be used here as well.
- A chance for reflection. This may be the most exciting thing about professional learning communities when they are set up correctly - that they encourage constructive reflection about educational practices. (As well as a venue for group work.) This is where blogging seems to fit so well.
We can talk about constructivist-based education, inquiry and information literacy units, 21st century skills, problem-based learning, formative and authentic assessments, etc. ad infinitum. But until we give teachers a means to experience these methodologies to increase their own learning, I don't anticipate much change in the their classrooms.