A PD Makeover for the Digital Age

Professional PD, Content Area PD & Digital Age Best Practices

We’ve been dealing quite a bit with professional development this quarter in Digital Education Leadership and several of our prompts have focused on how we deal with adult learners. In last week’s post, I railed against the lack of respect that is often shown to teachers in PD. Respect, of course, is one of the chief characteristics of adult education according to Malcolm Knowles – and is typically found in most good teaching. This week we’re looking at implementing “technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in learning and assessment” (ISTE). I wondered what role, if any, content played in this and how it might relate to digital age best practices as well as the professional nature of the learning programs.

To start with the last part of my question, professionalism, I thought back to one of our optional readings for the module relating to restructuring professional development. Mike Schmoker writing in EdWeek criticized much PD out there for its lack of professionalism, “The explanation [for ineffective PD] might be found in a study of professional development conducted by researches Thomas B. Corcoran, Susan H. Fuhrman, and Catherine Belcher years ago, which found that the very people who led and conducted professional development ‘were not members of an evidence-based culture,’ but one in which ‘whims, fads, opportunism, and ideology’ prevailed. ‘Empirical research,’ they reported, ‘had little do do with the professional-development offerings’ provided for teachers. This has to change.” (Schmoker). Schmoker’s lament centers around schools’ lack of serious academic research to drive PD. The report he cites claims that much of the PD schools brought in chased after trends or ideologically-driven agendas rather than what actually worked. This can be devastating for PD as it not only wastes time and resources with unsound practice, but it also demoralizes teachers who are, more likely than not, aware that they’re wasting their time and energy chasing a trend or grinding someone’s ideological ax. Professional development MUST be professional.

Putting the “Professional” in “Professional Development”

Transforming Professional Learning

http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/default.aspx

To help increase the professionalization of their PD, Washington State, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, launched the Transforming Professional Learning project (WA-TPL) with a goal of “enhancing capacity for standards-based professional learning.” Another key goal of the program was to “deepen their [school leaders] knowledge and skills around effective professional learning.” So a great deal of this project was centered around “professional learning.” To help with this, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington State (OSPI), partnered with Learning Forward Washington to establish standards of professional learning (see clip below). The project as a whole was to develop “sustainable approaches to professional learning.”

In the ensuing project evaluation by Bishop, Lumpe, Henrickson, and Crane (2016), content came forward as a necessary component of effective professional learning:

The CPDS survey [Characteristics of Professional Development Survey] includes a factor called Content that relates to teacher discipline-based content knowledge and how students learn content. It contains items asking teachers if, as a result of professional learning, they:

  1. Gained a deeper understanding of content
  2. Increased their confidence to teach content
  3. Learned how to address student misconceptions
  4. Developed pedagogical strategies to teach content.

The baseline and end of project means for Content were 3.3 and 3.58 respectively on a scale of 1-5 indicating a small but significant increase in average perceptions of participants’ professional learning experiences that increase Content Knowledge.” (Bishop, Lumpe, Henrickson, & Crane)

So content matters in professional development. But what role does it play with regard to what teachers do in the classroom?  Again, Bishop and company provide perspective:

“A teacher’s knowledge of discipline specific content and their theoretical as well as practical knowledge of effective instructional practice provide the practical foundation for the effective application of this knowledge in the skillful planning and implementation of instructional practices.” (Bishop, et al. )

Thus it is content, along with pedagogical instruction that forms the “foundation” for effective teacher instruction.  This can also be seen in the report’s recommendations. Two of the report’s recommendations for future PD relate to content:

“16. Professional learning activities should directly be linked to teachers’ content knowledge and be supported as they teach that content to students.”

“18. Professional learning focused on content knowledge and classroom application should be emphasized in order to maximize impact on student learning, classroom climate, and cognitive levels.”

The Washington State OSPI’s project on professionalization in PD and the follow-up report, conclude that content must play a key role in PD – a role which we really haven’t talked about very much in our program. Of course, our program is about digital education, so the next question lies in how we incorporate those digital best practices along with content in our PD.

Putting the “Digital” in “Digital Best Practices for Professional Development”

Now that we’ve looked at professionalism AND content, let’s see how the two relate to the digital environment.  My main resource for this post is Tanya Roscorla’s 2014 post for the Center For  Digital Education.  In “5 Steps to a Digital Professional Development Makeover” Roscorla makes a point to include content. “While it’s easy to focus an entire formal training session on a cool technology tool,” she writes, “it’s more important to put an academic content area at the center of professional development efforts. Then staff members can demonstrate how technology tools can help educators reach academic content goals.” So when dealing with technology in PD, Roscorla says we should emphasize the content and use the technology as way to facilitate the learning within the content area. It’s not a case of “here’s a cool tech tool for you to use,” it’s more of “here’s some cool content, now let’s see how technology can help us get that across to our students.” This approach fits nicely with Roscorla’s other suggestions for making-over PD:

  1. Create a sustainable professional development plan
  2. Provide informal learning opportunities with the help of technology
  3. Design professional development around an academic content area
  4. Combine traditional, blended and virtual learning experiences
  5. Train the academic content trainers how to model technology use (Roscorla)

Most of these suggestions contain elements of digital age best practices. Having a programmatic approach to the PD, working with PLC’s facilitated by technology, blended learning environments, and coaching are all part of it. What I found most compelling, however, was the content piece. It’s a piece we tend to overlook – at our own peril – in our excitement to use technology.

Teachers usually get into teaching for one of two reasons: the kids or the content (well, maybe it’s the 3 months off in the summer, but I’m not talking about that group here). For many secondary teachers like myself, it was the latter. I’ve certainly become more attune to the student-centered part of teaching in recent years, and I’m confident it has made me a better teacher, but it’s hard to forget one’s first love. As teachers we are professionals – not only in how we interact with our students, parents, and administrators, but also in what we understand about our chosen field of study.  Dealing with content in PD is important. It’s part of good professional development and can go hand-in-hand with digital education if done properly…and there lies the challenge for all of us.

 

Bishop, D., Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R., & Crane, C. (2016). “Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State –
Project Evaluation Report.”  Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA Retrieved from: http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/pubdocs/2016-WA-TPL-Evaluation-Report.pdf

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Knowles, Malcolm. “Characteristics of Adult Learners.” Retrieved from: http://www.txprofdev.org/apps/onlineteaching/time/Adult_Learners.pdf

Roscorla, Tanya (August 12, 2014). “5 Steps to a Digital Professional Development Makeover.” Converge: Center for Digital Education. Retrieved from http://www.centerdigitaled.com/news/5-Steps-to-a-Digital-Professional-Development-Makeover.html

Schmoker, Mike (October 20, 2015). “It’s Time to Restructure Teacher Professional Development.” Education Week. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/10/21/its-time-to-restructure-teacher-professional-development.html?qs=its+time+to+restructure+professional+development

Something about Respect

Repeat after me, “I will watch this video…”

Painful, eh?  According to the description of the above video, it was taken during a PD session for the Chicago Public Schools’ “Office of Strategic School Support Services’ special network.” The description goes on to say, “This presenter was one of several consultants flown in from California and the United Kingdom…This is a professional development for teachers of Saturday ISAT preparation classes.” Despite what some claim in the comments, that this is merely the instructor demonstrating BAD teaching, the original poster points out that this is, indeed, a part of the instructional process for these teachers. I came across this video while doing some of the reading for our module this week on ISTE coaching standard 4 – dealing with program development and program evaluation.  It was referenced in Valerie Strauss’s 2014 piece for the Washington Post called “Why most professional development for teachers is useless” – a worthwhile examination that concludes most PD fails to connect with teachers where it is most meaningful: the point of implementation. Strauss makes her case for the futility of the current system by citing  a 2013 report on PD by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education which essentially calls the most common form of PD today, “Abysmal.” The fact that most PD is ineffective would be bad enough in just wasting teachers’ time, but the fact that we are spending around $2.5 billion  annually on the federal level (not including the $2-3 billion in state and local money) on a practice almost everyone agrees doesn’t work, is truly perplexing and frustrating (Strauss, March 2014).

I must admit, I’ve never had it quite as bad as what was shown in the video, but I, like most teachers, have sat through long stretches of sit-and-get PD which had little, if any, application to what I did in my classroom. In her article on EdSurge, Valerie Lewis describes how state and local directives can often exasperate the problem.  “The downside to achieving these [state and locally mandated] goals is that the ensuing sessions often resemble someone standing in front of the group and talking “at” the audience, while we all we just “sit and get”. This torture is usually coupled with endless scrolling PowerPoint slides and a manila folder, which might as well have the stamped words “You’ve Been Trained” handed to you.” (Lewis)

I’ve often sat in PD and wondered about the value being consumed during the session – not just the cost to hire the speaker or expert or whatever, but the cost of all of the man-hours invested by every member of the faculty just by their being there. The potential upside is huge. At a PD session there are so many people with expertise in various elements of the school program, so many minds potentially working together to address common problems, so much potential for growth across the board…why does it so frequently get squandered?

The Reason for the Problem

So why does PD often look something like this video? Why does it often fall so devastatingly short of its potential? The people leading PD are ostensibly education experts, if anything, they should be better at teaching than the people they’re teaching!

Part of the problem lies in the approach to teaching adult learners. The initial article where Strauss first links the video above was written one month earlier than the one included for this week’s reading. In it, Strauss introduces the video by explaining,  “It shows Chicago Public School teachers in a professional development session that will make you understand why teachers are going out of their minds and to what extent administrators have infantilized teachers” (Strauss, February 2014). I believe this “infantilization” is a symptom of a larger problem: a lack of respect for teachers.  One of Malcolm Knowles six “Characteristics of Adult Learners” is respect, which means instructors should, “Acknowledge the wealth of experiences that learners bring to the classroom. Learners should be treated as equals in experience and knowledge” (Knowles). This principle is pretty obviously lacking in Chicago Schools PD video and in the typical sit-an-get PD so many of us a familiar with. When teachers are not respected as professionals, the result is usually someone talking “at” a group of teachers. There is no sense of equality in experience or knowledge. There is no attempt to tap into a preexisting pool of resources that the teachers may possess.  It’s like they have nothing to offer. Furthermore, since the teachers have nothing to offer, they are not an active part of the PD process – in it’s design, execution, or focus.

My artifact for this week’s question on respect and PD focuses not only on respect, but also trust. I’ve discussed trust with regard to coaching before in a previous blog post and it was interesting to see it reappear here. John Ewing addressed this connection in his post “Respect, Trust, And Master Teachers” for the Huffington Post.  He discusses how efforts to empower teachers have ultimately failed due to an underlying attitudinal issue: “All these efforts to show how much we value teachers fall flat for the same reason: They claim to respect teachers without trusting them” (Ewing). This trust goes hand-in-hand with respect.  As an interesting aside, when looking up teachers and trust, most of the sources I came across all related to teachers trusting students. The predominant idea was that if teachers would only trust their students they could engage them more actively and in a more meaningful way – like in the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning (see last week’s post).  But the video we started this post with shows a disturbing lack of trust. Ewing further explains where this lack of trust comes from. “But learning to trust teachers will be hard. For decades, reformers have promoted the notion that teachers cannot be trusted. Ferret out weak teachers so we can fire them. Administer doses of professional development only to fix broken teachers. Create higher standards to hold teachers accountable. Evaluate teachers continually, obsessively, and often bizarrely, so they do their jobs. Is it any wonder the public distrusts teachers?” (Ewing). There is no small amount of irony in the idea that the lack of trust in teachers stems from efforts to fix what’s wrong with bad teachers. As a result of this focus, they’ve created an entire system which really only caters to the bottom segment. It’s like keeping the whole class in for recess because one student didn’t do his homework! Or reteaching an entire unit to the whole class because one student failed a test or didn’t pass a summative assessment. If you teach to the bottom, all you’ll ever get is the bottom. You’ll create a climate of failure and minimal achievement where no one is ever truly challenged or inspired to do better. THAT’S what a lot of PD has become.

Bored teacher

Some Solutions

I would like to conclude my post by identifying quick and easy ways for teachers and administrators to work together to build respect and trust. I’d like to, but this is about relationships and labor relations and professionalism and so nothing will be quick or easy. As Ewing points out, “Rebuilding trust requires action, not words, and the process may take years” (Ewing).  His approach involves finding teachers who don’t need fixing (“Master Teachers”) and let them start to drive the process. An interesting approach that would let the initial steps towards trust be taken by the most trusted, but it’s a but unclear what that would mean for everyone else in the meantime.  Other suggestions to build trust and respect tend to be a bit more broad, but often include some elements of PD. For example Stephanie Hirsh proposes,”five actions that systems can take to demonstrate their respect and support for educators, support them on their journeys to achieve excellence, and encourage them to see the learning profession as one worthy of a lifetime commitment.” (Hirsh)

  • Give teachers the feedback and support they need to increase their effectiveness.
  • Give teachers access to colleagues who share the responsibility for the success of a select group of students.
  • Give teachers time during the work day to collaborate, problem solve, and learn with colleagues.
  • Give teachers time to implement new initiatives with accuracy and fidelity.
  • Make the teaching and learning profession attractive to those willing to make a lifetime commitment.  (Hirsh)

All of these suggestions (except maybe the first) involve empowering teachers to make more decisions and allow for teachers to be contributors to the educational improvement process.  A similar sentiment is expressed by Valerie Lewis in one of our assigned readings for this week. Her piece on “Why Most Professional Development Stinks – And How You Can Make it Better” for EdSurge echos some of the same ideas.

  • Offer teachers some choice throughout the year in things they want to learn about. 
  • Observe, in order to differentiate, then decide what the group needs. 
  • Be clear and transparent about why something can’t be done. (Lewis)

Offering teachers choice in what they learn and providing differentiation will help avoid some of the pitfalls already discussed and will help foster a climate of trust and respect.  In addition, it should allow teachers to be more effective and thus produce better results in the classroom – and it would even mean the $4-5 billion dollars spent annually would be well-spent instead of dumped in a bottomless pit of ineffectiveness (see video above).

So, to recap, Educational PD that is based on respect and trust for teachers is a win for the students, a win for the teachers, a win for the admin, and a win for the taxpayers!  What’s not to like?

I’ll close with another quote from Lewis on the potential of PD. “Professional development sessions” she writes, “should not be met with frowned eyebrows and a scrunched up face, but instead with a growth mindset and opportunity to improve teaching and learning–yet or even better, as my colleague Dorian stated, PD should make you ‘fall in love all over again.'” (Lewis).  “Falling in love again” may be a bit over-optimistic. For many, it will be an improvement to have PD which merely makes them “somewhat like” learning again. It’s a small step, but how can you truly be in love if you don’t feel respected? Ewing was right, it will take time.

 

 

Ewing, John (July 6, 2016). “Respect, Trust, And Master Teachers.” Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-ewing2/respect-trust-and-master-_b_10775176.html

Hirsh, Stephanie (May 5, 2014). “Five Ways to Respect and Support Teachers.” EdWeek Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_forwards_pd_watch/2014/05/teacher_appreciation_week.html

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Knowles, Malcolm. “Characteristics of Adult Learners.” Retrieved from: http://www.txprofdev.org/apps/onlineteaching/time/Adult_Learners.pdf

Lewis, Valerie (Oct 25, 2015). “Why Most Professional Development Stinks – And How You Can Make it Better.” EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-10-25-why-most-professional-development-stinks-and-how-you-can-make-it-better

Strauss, Valerie (February 28, 2014).  “A video that shows why teachers are going out of their minds.” Washington Post. Retrieved from  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/28/a-video-that-shows-why-teachers-are-going-out-of-their-minds/?utm_term=.119cd8023082

Strauss, Valerie (March 1, 2014).  “Why most professional development for teachers is useless.” Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/01/why-most-professional-development-for-teachers-is-useless/?utm_term=.dd58e14ed69c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What’s Good for the Goose…” – What PD Looks Like in the 21st Century.

Teachers as “Students.”

For this quarter in our Digital Education Leadership (DEL) program we are looking at programmatic needs assessment and professional development.  Our focus for the first module is ISTE standard 4b which says we should, “Design, develop, and implement technology-rich professional educational programs that model principles of adult learning and evaluate the impact on instructional practice and student learning” (ISTE).  When contemplating this topic, I immediately wondered how these “adult learning” principles differed from those we are to be utilizing in our classrooms with our students. Are they the same? That seemed like a loaded question. I’ve been in enough PD sessions and worked with enough teachers to know that…well…we can be a tough crowd. No one is a bigger critic or more difficult to teach than someone who thinks they already know everything. I’m not saying this is all teachers, but let me describe a scenario and see if any of this rings true:

It’s a professional development day at school. You’ve been teaching all week (or maybe only 2 or 3 days) and now you’ve got a full day dedicated to improving your craft as a teacher. You’re tired from already working part of the week and you’re thinking about all the assignments you have to grade and how you’re going to cover that last unit before the end of the quarter, but this is going to transform how you teach, darn it!  You dutifully assemble in the auditorium or gym or library or wherever, and someone you’ve never heard of or seen before – someone who doesn’t work in the school – comes in and proceeds to tell you how to do your job better. You sit in increasing discomfort over the course of the day, trying to soak in all of the information being presented to you – often in the most “efficient” form of presentation, some sort of lecture; usually accompanied by a Powerpoint or some handouts (this is especially ironic when the topic is a new, engaging method of instruction that will get us away from traditional lecture-style teaching in the classroom). There may be breakout sessions to discuss the topic and the occasional table-talk break or group assignment, but at the end of the day the PD instructor goes back to his or her company or university and is usually never head from again.  What has it accomplished? The best case scenario is that some teachers may have picked up a new “trick” to use in the classroom. The typical scenario is that most teachers put in their time and listen to someone’s grand, new, transformative idea about teaching and then go back to doing what exactly they were doing before. Anyone who has ever been at a PD session for teachers has heard lines like, “that’ll never work in my classroom,” or “that would be nice, but I just don’t have the time to do it,” or the classic old-timer’s line, “I’ve seen ideas like this come and go before. There’s no point changing anything because someone else will come along soon with their ideas and the whole thing will change again.” Yeah, teachers can be a tough crowd and when PD doesn’t connect, it can be a colossal waste of time and resources.

Breaking Through

So back to my question, are teachers really that different from students when it comes to learning?  Probably not, and if anything they may be tougher (though usually not as disruptive…usually). Given this assumption on my part, my question for this module centered around what techniques that we already employ (or should be employing) in our classrooms can we utilize for PD?

Currently, my school, as well as the Washington State OSPI, is encouraging the implementation of the four “C’s” of 21st Century learning: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication, and Collaboration. This approach is also reflected in almost all aspects of the ISTE standards for digital education leaders.  More specifically, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning also sets standards for Professional Development. Among these standards is a call for PD that “Encourages knowledge sharing among communities of practitioners, using face-to-face, virtual and blended communications” (Partnership). This approach calls for building the same skills and implementing the same approach for teachers in PD as it does for students in the classroom.  Another concept implicit in 21st Century Learning and highlighted specifically as one of the “Life and Career Skills” is self direction. This is particularly relevant given the current push for differentiated instruction in education. My school has been particularly emphatic in its support for this approach.

Framework-copyrighted

Tools to Help

In my search for answers on how to really reach teachers (as we would our students) in PD, I came across David Raths’s 5 Tech Tools That Help Personalize PD” in The Journal. Raths starts out by making the seemingly obvious connection between teachers and students as learners. “Students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from differentiated instruction. Teachers, too, have individual strengths and weaknesses, and they need different types of professional development at specific points of their careers. So why clump them all together in the same PD courses?” (Raths).  A good question indeed!  He goes on to contend that technology is the gateway to more effective and meaningful and lasting PD. “Some school districts around the country are finding new ways to use social media and online offerings in combination with professional learning communities to empower teachers to develop their own personalized PD plans and reflect on how that PD is affecting the work they do in class.” (Raths). Several of the pitfalls of traditional PD (one-size-fits-all, the “get-it-all-done-now” approach, and lack of follow-through) are avoided in Raths’s suggestions by his emphasis on personalization, differentiation, and reflection. To achieve this, Raths suggests the following:

  1. Turning to Twitter
  2. Experimenting with Digital Badges
  3. Using Online assessment data to spark PLC’s
  4. Creating your own PD channel
  5. Online surveys to help target PD resources

Raths’s focus is on making PD meaningful and lasting. These suggestions are hardly the drink-from-the-fire-hose for 8 hours approach many of us have experienced before.  They are designed for teacher engagement and involve the “four C’s” of creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. If it works for the students, why wouldn’t it work for teachers? If anything, one might argue that teachers could benefit from it more. Their buy-in to this approach will make it easier for them to implement it with their students. Furthermore, it is technology that will facilitate the entire process.  Technology is key to making it happen.

The importance of the role of technology in PD is part of Nate Green’s piece for EdSurge where he argues that ultimate goal of every EdTech department is to be so good a facilitating PD through the use of technology that they render their own existence as a separate department unnecessary! “These departments,” he writes, “don’t need to be a permanent fixture. Their ultimate goal should be to make themselves obsolete” (Green). This is done largely through the collaborative and communicative elements, but it also leads to personalization. “Peer-to-peer technological integration also requires personalized PD by teachers for teachers” (Green). This overlaps nicely with Raths’s contention that PD is not one-size-fits-all. Both authors also agree that PD conducted in this manner is “empowering” to teachers. Again, hardly the passive souls sitting for 8 hours being lectured at. But it also comes back to this, if it’s good for us as teachers, why wouldn’t we do this with our students?

What’s Good for the Goose…Is Good for the Gander

Ultimately, better PD is better for everyone – teachers benefit, students benefit, and administration benefits. And just like in our classrooms, a more personalized, meaningful, and longer-lasting program facilitated by technology can make this possible. We shouldn’t be surprised at the overlap between what works for teachers and what works for students. Learning is learning. Take a look at the following quote from Green about the use of technology in PD and replace “schools” with “teachers”, “teachers” with “students” and “professional development” with “learning.”

Schools [Teachers] can empower all teachers [students] to try new things by creating the time and space for peer-to-peer conversation, by highlighting success and by acknowledging the ongoing nature of technologically based professional development [learning].” (Green)

At the end of the day, it’s what we want for ourselves. Shouldn’t we want it for our students as well? And if school administrations want it for their students, shouldn’t they want it for their teachers?

 

Green, Nate. (2017, December 11). “Why Every School’s Edtech Department Should Make Themselves Obsolete.” EdSurge News. Retrieved January 08, 2018, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-12-11-why-every-school-s-edtech-department-should-make-themselves-obsolete 

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2016, January). “Framework for 21st Century Learning.” Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework

Raths, David. (2015, February 4). “5 Tech Tools That Help Personalize PD.” The Journal. Retrived from https://thejournal.com/Articles/2015/02/04/5-Tech-Tools-That-Help-Personalize-PD.aspx?Page=1