Friday, March 27, 2009

Professional Development that Works?

5. THOU SHALT MODEL THE MODEL " - (unknown author)

I look forward to professional development days because usually I get to choose what it is that I want to learn about. In the past, this has meant that I could focus on some aspect of English or social studies - I definitely wouldn't consider anything to do with technology because I felt that I was competent, and that students would figure this out for themselves. I can look back on this now and laugh at how truly closed-minded I was.

However, sometimes I don't have a choice as to what I am doing on these days because the decision is made for me by the school administration and pro-d person. Often times, this was frustrating because it meant that we were once again learning about some aspect of Microsoft Word, or worse yet, we were going to be reviewing how to use our marks program (which I was already very familiar and comfortable with). There would be the typical grumbling of frustrated staff members who were competent in these areas, and usually by after lunch there seemed to be noticeably fewer people in the session.

The best decision that I made with regards to professional development came two years ago when I played with the idea of pursuing my Masters. This was a tough decision in that I had to figure out how to juggle the many different aspects of my real life while trying to fit in coursework. Then someone mentioned to me that there were universities which offered online courses. Great, but likely not in the area of librarianship which is where I was hoping to go. I mean seriously, how can you offer an online course that deals with being a librarian? After all, a librarian doesn't have that much to do with computers. Oh, how WRONG I was!

Since I have started doing coursework, my brain has been thinking again, and I have a new enthusiasm for sharing what I am learning with my colleagues. I have learned much more in the courses that I have taken than in any form of pro-d that I have participated in. Why is that?
Simple, because I:

  • was able to choose my pro-d
  • can fit it in to my schedule
  • have, for the length of the course, a professional learning community
  • am immersed in technology
  • am encouraged to check out new sites, tools, etc. by my classmates and professor
  • am constantly revisiting what I have learned about through assignments, projects and discussions.

This scenario has worked for me, but when it comes to pro-d, one size doesn't fit all, as we read about in the articles of the same title. In Judi Harris' 4 part series entitled "One size doesn't fit all," she refers to educational technology professional development (ETPD) and she believes that "[g]iven whatever amount of times is already allocated . . . . we can 'work smarter' in designing effective [ETPD]." She proposes several different models that can be used and links them to goals and the ultimate effect that this has on one's teaching style. It makes sense to have different models to suit different school situations even though the desired end result may be the same for many schools. Two points that she makes in the February 2008 article that I think are essential considerations when implementing ETPD are that:

  1. "[b]efore most teachers are willing to integrate the use of new tools or resources into their teaching, they need to recognize the relative advantages of doing so"

  2. "continued on-site support as [teachers] experiment with new tools and techniques in their classrooms is essential to ensuring continued and productive use of new tools and ideas."

We know this to be true in any scenario, not just education; however, it seems to be the most true in education because teaching is such an isolated profession that doesn't require people to change in order to keep up with the the day-to-day life of a school. Without support, or continual contact with someone (a mentor, colleague or t-l) who is working with and successfully integrating technology, it is too easy for educators to fall into "old habits."

With regards to ETPD, I think that the t-l can be an excellent "knowledge broker" (Plair, 2008) for teachers because she cannot only "whet their appetites," but also provide the appropriate "menu" for teachers, as explained in Kimberely Ketterer's "A Professional Development Menu." After hearing about what some t-l's are doing, I am more aware of the support that they can potentially provide. T-l's are perhaps the only people in the school house who really need to be aware of what the curriculum is for all of the teachers therein. She can be a great professional development resource by providing support to teachers and offering to team teach with them. In some cases, all that teachers need is someone to help them feel comfortable with their use of technology in a lesson. Although there is perhaps no ideal way to present professional development with regards to technology integration, as educators, we need to continue to consider how we can integrate technology into our lessons, because it is not going away, and we need to engage our students.

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