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Posts tagged with "Professional Development"

RTI for teachers

Interesting idea:
Use the ideas of RTI for teacher professional development

Tier I: Training everyone gets
Tier II: More specific , small group
Tier III : Specific IEP for each teacher

How would that work?

Seven signs of professional learning.


To be successful in professional development efforts we must plan backward, beginning with the student learning outcomes. ( Thomas R. Guskey,p. 10)

Just as surgeons see observations and coaching as vital to improving their craft, so should teachers. ( Emily Dolci Grimm, Trent Kaufman, and Dave Doty, p. 24)

We have to remember that teachers are professionals who use their classrooms as innovative laboratories and want to engage in authentic learning. (Kristen Swanson, p. 36)

Teachers have a great deal of knowledge about their practice and their students that is incredibly valuable to other teachers. (Rebecca Van Tassell,p.76)

When video recording is shared in a way that supports each educator’s intrinsic desire to improve, it can be a powerful tool for rapid, significant improvement.  (Jim Knight, p.18)

Educators must ensure that professional learning networks are more than a forum for sharing war stories or platform for promoting personal preferences about instruction. (Richard Dufour, p.30)

When professional development fails to deliver genuine, face-to-face interactions with other people, educators feel cheated.  (John Settlage and Adam Johnston, p.67)

Get the image here.

Seven signs of professional learning.

  • To be successful in professional development efforts we must plan backward, beginning with the student learning outcomes. ( Thomas R. Guskey,p. 10)

  • Just as surgeons see observations and coaching as vital to improving their craft, so should teachers. ( Emily Dolci Grimm, Trent Kaufman, and Dave Doty, p. 24)
  • We have to remember that teachers are professionals who use their classrooms as innovative laboratories and want to engage in authentic learning. (Kristen Swanson, p. 36)

  • Teachers have a great deal of knowledge about their practice and their students that is incredibly valuable to other teachers. (Rebecca Van Tassell,p.76)
  • When video recording is shared in a way that supports each educator’s intrinsic desire to improve, it can be a powerful tool for rapid, significant improvement. (Jim Knight, p.18)

  • Educators must ensure that professional learning networks are more than a forum for sharing war stories or platform for promoting personal preferences about instruction. (Richard Dufour, p.30)
  • When professional development fails to deliver genuine, face-to-face interactions with other people, educators feel cheated. (John Settlage and Adam Johnston, p.67)
  • Get the image here.

    Jul 7

    Five Reasons to Flip your Leadership

    I think that in about a year, the term flipped will morph into something else because it is becoming overused. In the meantime, we have to put up with the phrase in almost any content, in this case, flipping leadership. I think the ideas here are good, but it seems to me that this is all about good staff development, good communications and good leadership. Are the five things he mentions here exclusive to being a flipped leader? I don’t know. The five things he lists are:

    • Maximizes Faculty/Staff Meetings
    • Sets the mindset before a district meeting
    • Improves Parent engagement
    • Saves Time
    • Puts the focus on learning
    Click on the title to go to the article.

    If we create a culture where every teacher believes that they need to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

    - Dylan Wiliams

    You are from Central office, what do you know? A response to Jenn Wagner

    I was reading this entry on Facebook from Jenn Wagner about how central office people or consultants treat classroom teachers.

    "I thought I would bring this conversation here — rather than twitter - for a variety of reasons. (grins). To be brutally honest, I am becoming quite frustrated with the tone being giving to teachers especially from those who are no longer in the classroom….. I sincerely believe that if you have been out of the classroom for more than 5 years, please step back and rethink before you tell a teacher "what they need to do." I won’t go on and on about how much it has changed — but OHMIGOSH it has. And I am exhausted. I love the ideas other share with me — I need the ideas other share with me — but the condescension and the utter lack of kindness needs to diminish. For those of you who are being kind, who walk along side teachers and encourage, share suggestions, nudge when necessary, and continue to reinforce all to do their best. THANK YOU. For those of you who are haughty, judgmental, condescending, and unkind….I am not listening to you anymore. Returning to the classroom has been the HARDEST thing I have ever done…..I almost gave up 4 or 5 times this year…..it was the kind comments, the encouraging comments, the helpful comments that kept me going. THANK YOU

    I understand Jenn’s frustration. First of all, there should be no instance at all where a person “from the district” treats any other person in a district without the utmost professionalism. “Haughty, judgmental, condescending, and unkind” should never be tolerated. We are all on the same team. Central office people are there to support the schools. As Jenn says to “walk along side teachers and encourage, share suggestions, nudge when necessary, and continue to reinforce all to do their best.”

    I agree 100%. But…(and don’t you hate it when there is a “but?”)

    On the other hand, any relationship takes both sides to make work. A marriage requires both spouses to work together or the marriage falls apart. A business requires the customers and the business to work together, or the managers and the workers. A football team requires the coaches to work with the players.

    I know that there are bad staff development and bad staff developers. Someone droning through a powerpoint presentation is not necessarily helpful. I wrote about ways to make bad PD good PD here.

    I have been in professional development (and at the district level) long enough to have observed a lot of negative behavior on the other side of the fence as well, teachers working against the central office. Sometimes even working against them before the training even begins.

    Let me give a few examples of teacher remarks that completely dismiss a training within a few minutes of it starting:

    How many teachers do you know that have said this at a staff development session:

    "We tried this before." (or it’s variation: We did this ten years ago and it didn’t work.)

    "We don’t have time." (or it’s variation: When do you expect me to do this?")

    "This is a waste of time."

    "This doesn’t apply to me."

    "This won’t improve my scores." (or its variation: My scores are fine, I don’t need this.)

    Or the all inclusive, all dismissive: “This is bullshit.”

    Now I am not saying that every teacher in every PD session says these things. In fact, over the years, the vast majority are open to new ideas. I have seen however these behaviors by teachers during staff development:

    Reading the paper
    Surfing the web
    Grading papers
    Doing Crossword puzzles/Suduko
    Talking on a cell phone
    Texting
    Reading a book
    Taking a call and getting up and leaving during a PD session
    Not coming to the PD with the papers / handouts/ materials they were asked repeatedly to bring

    (I once even had a teacher actually turn around and leave when she saw there were no morning snacks for her to eat.)

    Of course I am not saying everyone does these, but they are common enough for me to have noticed. And as trainers, just like teachers do, we sort of focus on when things go wrong as opposed to when they go right.

    In my speciality of ed tech, I cannot count the times a teacher comes into a training and the first words out of their mouths are the dismissive “I am not a techie.” That person has tuned themselves out of a training (In many cases that took the trainer hours to prepare) before the first words were uttered.

    Could central office do a better job of making all training relevant? Of course.
    Could central office make training more time sensitive so teachers don’t have to feel they are wasting class time by having to attend a session that was poorly scheduled? Certainly.

    But we also could use a hand.

    So let me rewrite Jenn’s original paragraph from the POV of the trainer:


    “To be brutally honest, I am becoming quite frustrated with the tone being giving to trainers especially from those who have been in the classroom for more than five years….. I sincerely believe that if you understood the requirements of our jobs, which includes training teachers and making sure that mandates that we have no control over are understood and carried out, please step back and rethink before you tell a us “this won’t work.” I won’t go on and on about how much the requirements for training have changed — but OHMIGOSH it has. And I am exhausted. I love sharing new ideas with you — I truly believe that I have something good to share with you — but the immediate dismissal and the utter lack of open mindedness needs to diminish. You tune me out before you even allow me to utter a single word.For those of you who are being kind, who walk along side trainers and encourage, share suggestions, nudge when necessary, and continue to reinforce all to do their best. THANK YOU. For those of you who are haughty, judgmental, condescending, and unkind….I still have to train you. It is my job. But just like a student who won’t listen, you make my job more difficult and like any human, I get irritated. Training adults when I was educated to train children may be the HARDEST thing I have ever done…..I almost gave up 4 or 5 times this year…..it was the kind comments, the encouraging comments, the helpful comments that kept me going. THANK YOU.”

    It takes everyone to make a team. The central office and the campus must work in sync. So work with us. I promise it will be so much better if you do.


    TL Virtual Cafe

    The TL Virtual Cafe is committed to creating conversations about teacher-librarians, educational technology, and collaborative connections to facilitate meaningful and lifelong learning skills. No need to register for our events - just show up! 8pm EASTERN US Time bbcollabpurple.pngHow to Connect! These conversations occur during FREE Webinars utilizing Blackboard (formerly Elluminate) generously donated by Steve Hargadon of We Collaborate!a super cool Ning & social media hub that takes the place of learn central. To check that your computer is ready for Blackboard Collaborate, please click here. “Step 1” will indicate if you have a version of Java that is compatible, and then “Step 2” lets you actually go into a test session. TLchat640.jpeg#TLChat Live on Twitter! Also join us every SECOND Monday for TLChat Live!

    Cool Tool: Smithsonian Online Education Conferences

    Teachers, looking for a way to expand the walls of your classroom? Students, looking for a way to connect with Smithsonian experts and other classrooms around the world?

    With a wide range of topics, the 2013-14 Smithsonian Online Education Conference Series provides an online space for students to engage with Smithsonian experts–from historians, art educators, scientists, anthropologists and more—and make connections from textbooks to today’s world.

    In each online conference in the series, you will join with students and teachers to interact with curators, researchers, and educators from various disciplines at the Smithsonian. Special sessions will be dedicated to teachers in a “virtual teachers’ lounge” to highlight Smithsonian learning resources related to conference topics and offer an opportunity to discuss them with fellow teachers. And be sure to check out the Resources page for other activities and learning opportunities, including the Smithsonian Quests™ program, for use before, during and after the conference sessions.

    This looks like a very interesting series of webinars, and teachers can earn electronic “badges” for taking these as professional development opportunities.

    A quick look at the listing seems to have a heavy social studies/history emphasis. There were a few astronomy ones as well.

    Here is a list of all the current webinars that be accessed at any time.

    May 2

    The Era of Hand Holding PD is Coming to an End. Get Over It.

    I have noticed something over the years that I have been in Instructional Technology: There seems to be some kind of common misconception among many staff developers that professional development has to be done face-to-face in order to be effective. That teachers somehow need to have their hands held throughout a process in order to “get it.” It is almost as if these staff developers are saying “If you are teaching a 2nd grade teacher, you have to be treated like a second grader.”

    I understand where they are coming from: They are in the business of holding hands while teaching There are in the business of making sure that the students understand completely before moving on. I also know that this attitude is wrong.

    I have heard these phrases from technology TRAINERS most of whom were teachers prior to becoming staff developers:

    "They won’t get it if we aren’t there to show them." "They will get lost." "They need someone over their shoulder." "They don’t even know how to turn on the computer.How do you expect them to learn a complicated program?"

    From the teachers, I still hear phrases like: “I am not a computer person. You need to show me.” “I don’t use computers that much.” “I forgot what you showed me.”

    Enough already!

    We expect our students to live in a 21st century learning environment, why don’t we expect our teachers to do the same?

    Connected Learning

    We need to expect our educators to be at the very least as connected as our students:

    • Self directed
    • Connected
    • Collaborative

    The training we provide needs to be at least:

    Relevant to their jobs Rigorous According to adult learning theory, adult learners are:
    • are internally motivated and self-directed
    • bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
    • are goal oriented
    • are relevancy oriented
    • are practical
    • learners like to be respected

    No where does it say that professional development requires the trainee to sit in the lap of the trainer and hold their hand while the mouse moves across the screen.

    Here is why I think we need to cut the proverbial cord for most professional development in technology and move to virtual presentations, be it video conference, webinar, or blended learning:

    Time have changed:

    We are not living in 1986 anymore. Excuses about not knowing technology should no longer be acceptable to anyone. Technology, specifically digital technology, has been a part of the everyday living and learning experience for decades. If someone has ignored it, that is their fault.

    Professional organization after organization have written into their position statements that digital learning is just simply part of the deal. Most even have online training on their websites. The NETS-T standards from ISTE specifically state that: "Participate in local and global learning communities to explore creative applications of technology to improve student learning." You simply cannot handhold your way through a global learning community. That has to be done online, specifically without being face-to-face.

    There is hardly a professional organization in education that does not have learning / online learning opportunities as part of their professional development. What do they know that others do not? Perhaps they have figured out that reading a lot of people at a very little cost just makes more sense than reaching few people at a large cost.

    We Have Advanced Degrees:

    Most if not all of the people that we do professional development for have advanced degrees. Bachelors, Masters even Doctorates. That means, if they were paying any kind of attention, that they have the ability to learn on their own. They received advanced degrees from an institution of higher learning ALL BY THEMSELVES. And if they did use their friends, then that is a collaborative learning skill that needs to be applied to their current situation.

    What does it mean when someone that has a Master’s degree cannot be self motivated enough to figure out a tech tool or how to use a tool in their classes?

    We are expecting the STUDENTS to live in a 21st century classroom, where one of the tenets is “Self directed learning” and another is online blended learning. How could we possibly accept for ourselves standards that are lower than those for our students? It is like the fat PE coach: Really not a good role model.

    Most tech tools that are shown teachers are not that complicated. Really, they aren’t. No coding needed. Drag and drop. Most do not have to use the advanced features of the program (Do you really need to know about all the settings in Word in order to write a paper or a letter? Of course not.)

    Teachers can do it. Really they can. Yes, some programs do have advanced features that maybe 1% of users will use, but for the most part, if a 2 year old can figure out an iPad, why can’t a professional with an advanced degree whose profession is learning figure out how to create a blog, or a websites?

    My guess is that Richard didn’t have too much professional development.

    Have you seen the orangutans using iPads:

    I say, if an ape in a zoo can use technology without any professional development, we have to give our teachers more credit than we are giving them.

    Getting Advanced Degrees Online: Your Argument is Invalid

    Some say that complicated and computer intense courses have to be taught face to face. Bunk. You can get online degrees that are 100% online. Not just Bachelors, or Masters, but Doctorates And not from fly-by-night diploma mills with bad reputations. Look at this Doctorate from Boise State or this Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Temple University. The point is, if someone can get a DOCTORATE completely online, without having to have someone sit with them, then surely the vast vast majority of whatever schools train teachers on can be moved to an online environment.

    Online training is just as effective as face-to-face training.

    Research has shown that online training, when don’t properly, is just as effective, if not more so than face to face training.

    "The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face."

    Edweek says: “Online learning has the potential to transform teaching and learning by redesigning traditional classroom instructional approaches, personalizing instruction and enhancing the quality of learning experiences. The preliminary research shows promise for online learning as an effective alternative for improving student performance across diverse groups of students.”

    And what about teacher professional development specifically? One recent study found that student achievement is similar for both teacher online and face-to-face training:

    "The result, said Fishman, is compelling evidence in support of the emerging body of research on the effectiveness of online professional development. "When it’s designed properly, there really is no difference," in the outcomes of online and in-person professional development, he said."

    It is time to start treating teachers like 21st century professionals, and for teachers to start understanding that in order to learn something new, you have to move out of well established comfort zones.

    What do you think? Should teachers get more online training and less face to face?

    How Teachers Are Learning: Professional Development Remix (EdSurge Guides)

    From the article: A new era of personalized professional development is sweeping into schools. We’ve created this guide to capture the extraordinary changes in PD tools and in the cycle of learning. We look here at tools that support how teachers engage with colleagues; that help teachers learn or find support for implementing fresh strategies and approaches; and that measure how that learning impacts practice in the classroom. Even better: some teachers and schools are beginning to combine tools to brew their own personalized professional development. Some might choose a combination of Twitter, video libraries of best practice, and a social network for badging. For others, a path to personalized PD might involve in-person coaching and online courses, combined with video feedback tools. Looking for recipes? Check out our field reports, tool box and analysis. And please share what you’re doing by weighing in at the bottom of the guide. We want to hear from you. Whatever the concoction, teachers should accept no less than personalized and empowered PD. Click here to DL the report

    10 uses for a teacher blog. What can you use a blog for? Here are ten possible uses. From the series: 10 in 10 from EPISD.

    Apr 8

    You Don’t Have to be Here to Present Here. Five Ways to Present Virtually

    I just put out a Call for Presentation for a conference that will take place in El Paso in September 2014. This year for the first time, I am going to actively encourage that my out of town professional learning network members try to attend and present virtually.

    I like the idea of having virtual presentations taking place at the same time that face to face presentations are happening. But where do you start? How do you present if your audience might be1000 miles away? Here is a short list of five possible ways to present in a virtual environment:

    Skype/ Facetime:

    Probably the first thing that most people think of when they get the idea that they could present virtually is to use Skype. Skype is great for allowing one to one presentations. You need to have a Skype premium account to do any type of document sharing.

    There are simple ways to overcome the Skype for free limitations: Use Today’s Meet for the backchannel chat that both sides can access and if your conference does not have a place where files are stored online, set up a public Dropbox where they can access all of your materials.

    If you have access to Apple equipment, you might consider FaceTime which I think has superior video and audio than Skype. Sadly, neither one of these can easily show your presentation if you have a Powerpoint or Keynote.

    Webinar:

    Webinars allow you to not only present virtually and live, but they also, in most cases, allow for slides, chats, video and more. We use Adobe Connect for a lot of our webinars and it is perfectly serviceable. (There are a lot of webinar packages available. You can host your own, or you can ask the conference organizers if they have access. Either way, webinar is a nice way to present virtually.

    Most webinar software allows for recording, another feature that is great for conferences, especially if someone could not make it to your session. AND most allow you to embed handouts right in the webinar.

    Prerecorded Video:

    The first time I saw this was when David Warlick created a prerecorded Keynote address for the K12 Online Conference back in 2006.

    It was not so much the content that he spoke, but how he did it that got my attention. He took his webcam with him all over the place and recorded his keynote. That showed me the power of being able to present from anywhere and at anytime. (I think back then he had to have a wired mic and his laptop in order to make the movie.)

    Since then, there have been tons of tools created such as iMovie and lots of devices such as iPads and iPhones that really allow you to create a “keynote on the go.” You can record when the spirit moves you. Put it all together into a movie and send it off!

    There are also lots of examples of how to make a prerecorded presentation as well. TED TALKS are probably the gold standard, but all you have to do is pretty much look at any pre-recorded keynote from the K12 Online days to get a good idea of how to do this.

    Both Keynote and Powerpoint allow you to pre-record your presentation straight from the slideshows which is another option, especially of you have a slide-heavy presentation.

    Video Conference:

    If you are lucky enough to have access to high end video conference equipment, by all means use that! You have to make sure that the other end has the equipment as well, but a good VC set up can handle HD cameras, screen casts of your presentations, and usually have excellent audio as well. A good VC set up can make the audience think you are actually in the room, and the advantage is that you can actually interact almost face to face with your audience.

    Google Hangouts

    Perhaps the newest of the bunch is Google Hangouts. Google hangouts allows you to connect up to 10 connections at one time (if you are presenting this would make an awesome panel discussion!). I have done a couple of hangouts and they work pretty much as advertised.

    Grab some friends and do a panel at a conference using hangouts.

    A word of advice however: If you have handouts, you still have the same problem that you had with Skype and FaceTime. You will need to make them available via Dropbox of some other web site.

    There you have it! If you want to present, you don’t actually HAVE to be there to do so! Consider presenting virtually. Ask the conference organizers if they would allow you to do so. If they are an ed tech conference, chances are they will. (And actually, pretty much any conference with a decent wifi set up should be able to handle a virtual presentation.

    Why not start by trying it out at miniCAST 2014? You can present in El Paso Texas from your dining room in your pajamas and no one will be the wiser!

    Here is the Call for Presenters:
    Apr 6
    Call for Presentations is now open.

    Call for Presentations is now open.

    Every Data Point Tells a Story: Making Mental Post It Notes

    Think about the last time you listened to a presentation that had a lot of statistics in it. For instance, student test data. Now think about how much of that data you actually remember.

    Chances are, you don’t remember too much. You may have remembered the gist of the presentation, you may have remembered the setting, but chances are the actual data is lost to your memory.

    Now think about the last time you heard someone tell you a story as part of a presentation. A keynote perhaps, telling about how they struggled through poverty as a child, or overcame adversity, or a funny story that made you laugh.

    Chances are here that you actually remember the presentation with the story better than you remembered the presentation with the statistics.


    Take a moment to watch “Persuasion and the Power of Story” by Jennifer Aaker.

    Aaker, a professor of Marketing at Stanford has some interesting things to say there don’t you think? One of my take aways is that story trumps data when trying to get people to understand a topic.

    Story trumps data.

    I thought about that when I thought about how schools present information to their parents and teachers. Often, they present just the raw statistics: Our school had this many pass the test. This many were exemplary, this many failed.

    Indeed, in Texas, the yearly school reports that the state makes about each campus is called a “report card.” Statistics fill the report card. It is not very memorable and I suspect you would be hard pressed to find a parent that even can remember getting one, even though they go out to every parent in the state.

    Harldy ever is there a story attached to that data. Yet, Aaker would tell us that without story, the data gets lost in the background noise.

    Stories need to be woven into the data in order for the audience to become connected to it. “When data and stories are used together, they resonate with audiences on both an intellectual and emotional level.”

    The power of the story is that the audience can personalize the story to themselves. (This has to do more with how the brain is wired than how the heart is wired, but suffice to say that without story, the audience remains detached from the data.)

    So how can we present data in such a way that it might be meaningful using story?

    Can stories be added to data?

    I once heard about a school that had a “War Room” where all of the student data was posted on the wall. Teachers and administrators would use the “war Room” as a planning place to address student needs based on al of the posted data. Where the students were, where they need to go. The data was just that: points of information on charts and tables hung up on walls. Teachers would come in, look at the charts, and then leave.

    The administration was wondering how to make the data more meaningful. How could we connect the numbers to the teachers in such a way that they would have an emotional attachment to the data? That is where story came in.

    The principal decided that the teachers needed to understand that the data was more than just points on a graph. She exchanged the points of data with the actual student pictures.

    Teachers began to see the STORY of the students instead of just the points when the picture of the student was placed with the data.

    All of a sudden, the story and the data came together. Teachers began talking about the STORY of the student once the picture was , not just talking about the excuses of why the student failed or passed. The power of the story took over once the story, the students that they knew, replaced the nameless faceless points on a graph.

    The power of storytelling is evident even in business. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind wrote ” Story represents a pathway to understanding that doesn’t run through the left side of the brain.” In other words, the creative emotional portion of the brain makes a connection with a story.

    In their book “Made To Stick" the Heath brothers spend a considerable amount of time speaking about using stories in order to make information "Sticky." They use the story of Subway’s Jared, a man who lost over 200 pounds on a diet of Subway sandwiches. His story was much more real, had much more emotion, much more "sticky" than the original marketing that Subway used where they just said they had 6 sandwiches with 7 grams or less of fat (6 under 7).

    Brain Rules,” author John Medina says “When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the Amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say it creates a Post-It note that reads, ‘Remember this.’

    Storytelling is the post-it note for the brain. If you want something to stick, you need to add a story to it.

    A good administrator will not only just present the date to their faculty, but also create the story that goes with them. Why is it important the Joe pass the test? What happens if he doesn’t? How does that affect him, his family, his future? What story does Joe have that we can help him with?

    Stories are of course not the only way to present information, but they are a powerful tool, especially if you are trying to provide information that you want retained over a long time.

    How Can You Quantify the Connections

    I have had a long running discussion with one of my colleagues about out of town conferences. He thinks that they are basically a waste of money; anything you can get a conference you can find on the internet. The presentations, the exhibits, it is all there. You just have to know where to look.

    I argue back that the connections at conferences are the most important things that happen there, and that you cannot quantify that type of learning.

    So that brings me to the question: If someone asked you to place a value on what you do and learn at a conference, how would you respond?

    How do you quantify the networking that you do at a conference?

    How do you quantify networking with people in person versus online?

    Is face to face still important in this age of being a connected educator?

    How do you put a Return on Investment value on an idea you got while listening to a keynoter speak?

    How can you create a data chart of the ideas generated in the hotel lobby or in the elevator while casually speaking to someone that you did not know 5 minutes before?

    In this education world of Data Driven decision making, where much of our work is based on the results of what we do, how can we justify out of town education conferences?

    If someone asked you “Was it worn the money we spent?” how could you answer?

    Five Guidelines for Choosing Online Professional Development

    School districts are in a pickle: They know that the only way to create great teachers and thus great classroom experiences for students, is to provide exceptional professional development. The trouble is, with cutbacks in funding, the traditional model of professional development is slowly starting to fade away. Many districts have moved towards a Professional Learning Community model, where teachers are supposed to work collaboratively with each other to dissect student data and then sort of design instruction based on the needs of the students.

    The trouble with that model is that for many teachers, the PLC experience has devolved into a data mining exercise where hours and hours are spent looking at reams of student data and in many cases, trying to figure out how to beat the test, not teach the students. Another thing I have seen happen with PLC’s is since they focus so much on students (not a bad thing I agree) they tend to ignore the needs of teachers. Because most PLCs are a small to medium sized group of individuals, their experiences are mostly limited to themselves and their own techniques. There is not much growth once that well of ideas has run dry, where do teachers turn to improve themselves as educators?

    Of course, the immediate answer is “Why not just use the internet?” While the internet is a great source of information, you know there’s a lot of bad information out there, too much information out there and it’s really not vetted too well. Unfortunately, educators can be much like their students, searching Google and using the first pages as the guideline for results. So here’s some guidelines that you might consider when allowing your faculty to use online resources for their own professional development purposes.

    So how do you know that a free professional development opportunity is a good professional development opportunity?
    I think that if you have some type of lens to look through before you choose, then you have a better chance of choosing wisely.

    Guideline 1: Close the Firehose: Don’t allow everything
    There are tons of information out there that teachers can use for professional development. The question is what’s good and what’s bad? What’s been vetted and what hasn’t been bad? If it’s paid for isn’t good, if it’s free is it bad, where can we find it?

    First you need to not allow all resources to be used everywhere. The analogy of course is it’s like drinking from a firehose. You can’t possibly know what your faculty is doing if you just let them choose from anywhere. There simply is too much information set up. So what you need to do is you need to start creating a menu of items from which they can choose from: It can be a large menu, it can be a small menu but the idea is that the be able to choose on their own from vet it sources that you yourself have chosen from.
    There are lots of resources that are available out there from iTunes U to ConneXions from Rice University, to free material from professional organizations. A word of caution: Sometimes free is not free. Some organizations will provide what is known as a “freemium model” where there is just enough material to get you hooked, and then charge for the real meat and potatoes of the course. Beware, and make sure that free really does mean free.

    Here is a way to start looking:
    Choose from entities that have a track record for success. For instance, iTunes U has online courses from institutions of higher learning from all over the world. If a district is looking for improving reading strategies for instance, a simple search of iTunes U returns results from such diverse groups as the Virginia and Florida Departments of Education, to Cambridge University. One owed find it hard to imagine a school saying that a course on Reading Strategies from say, an Ivy League school is “not good enough” for their teachers.

    Guideline 2: Choose a Theme
    If the school needs help with reading strategies, then the theme for that year should be reading strategies. Start where you need help the most. If you limit the topics, you can control the types of sessions that your teachers are looking for online.


    The themes can be very broad, like “21st Century Skills” or they can be very narrow as well, like “iPads in the Reading Classroom.”

    The value of a theme is that all teachers have something in common when they begin to reflect on learning, or can share sessions that they might find online but do not wish to take themselves. Even if a particular session does not appeal to one teacher, it might to another.

    In the past, I have seen themes that included PD that was based on university courses, with teachers that need the most basic PD starting at the “freshman” level, and the more advanced teachers taking “upper level” courses.

    You can usually tell the level of the training simply by giving a cursory glance. In iTunes U for instance, many of the courses come with syllabi. Take a look at the syllabi and see if it meets the needs of your PD, or your campus’.

    Guideline 3: Let the PLN decide on the free resources
    Study after study shows that professional development works best when the people share collective responsibility to the learning. When teachers choose the direction and the school administration goes along, the development becomes more meaningful. Connecting the PD to the classroom is meaningful. Disconnected one-shot trainings are not.

    Many heads are better than one, and that goes for FINDING PD resources as well.

    Self directed works in group settings as well. By letting the group decide, then you allowing them to have ownership of the training. The we is better than the me, and the group can decide on the “big picture” of what needs to be trained and the individual can decide on the specific training.

    This image is designed to show haw a connected student works, but it holds up if you apply it to professional development:

    There are still MANY teachers that simply are not connected. Perhaps becoming a connected educator should be mandatory BEFORE any kind of district professional development initiative begins.


    Guideline #4: Reflection is Mandatory for any PD
    Everyone taking online professional development should be required to compete some type of reflection activity, be it by writing a blog, some type of group reflection, or completing some kind of work related activity related to the PD.

    How many times have you been in a PD session, and left thinking that the information was valuable and usable, then forgot all about it within a week? By reflecting on the PD. one not only thinks more deeply about the work, but also can create an archive that thy can revisit. ,

    I prefer blogging myself, or some other type of web based reflection because that allows for others to see and also to comment on the work.

    Honestly, how many of you can readily remember the Professional development you had two years ago? A year ago? At the beginning of this year? Chances are, none of those required you to reflect o the learning.


    Guideline #5: Be open to new tools
    What is that old saying? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
    If you do the same KIND of professional development and are getting the same results, then it is time to change.

    And change does not have to be expensive or difficult. There are a wide variety of free tools, courses, webinars, books readily available. Districts must allow their professionals to choose for themselves this “just in time” training.

    Perhaps to make the idea more palatable to districts, they can provide a menu of options that they will allow each year, created in consultation with teachers and campus administrators.

    Here is a video I created on 10 different professional development tools: