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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Professional Development Excitement...is it possible?


As an instructional technologist I see many different personalities of educators when I’m introducing new technology ideas. With a broad generalizing paintbrush, I find personalities fall in one of 4 categories:
  • “I’m In!”
  • “Show Me what you mean?”
  • “I’m not convinced!”
  • “Not in My Classroom!”
It’s not always easy to meet the needs of all these types at the same time, so the way I introduce to large groups of teachers during professional development is often varied. It is my goal to meet a teacher where their comfort level is and take them to the next step. Recently, we have tried a few new approaches to professional development opportunities. When I know whole school PD days are on the horizon I start asking my teachers what they want to learn more about regarding educational technology. Our curriculum director and myself then sit down and map out a hybrid “edcamp” experience for our teachers that includes not only technology options but a variety of helpful authentic “take this back and make it work” ideas. Teachers are offered 3-4 choices of learning topics every 30 minutes. This format allows the teachers to quickly digest something they might want to learn more about but it also allows them some choice in their learning path. Let’s be honest, these are educated individuals, shouldn’t they know where they could use some help? When we set up the day, we often utilize teachers that are exceptional in different areas for sharing purposes as well. This makes them feel affirmed and it grows teacher leaders as resources as well. Our goal is to ask individual teachers to share only once during the day so that they can also benefit from the sessions as well. I’ve found that teachers are much more receptive to learning from each other than from me telling them how great an idea is and I don’t even have a classroom. I often enlist my early adopters to lead sessions so that teachers see it from their real world perspective. Also, anytime they can take an app/website/idea for a “test drive” it is less scary. Setting up those opportunities during professional development days is a plus. While this is a brief introduction time, it allows me to ascertain who sees value in the concepts and to follow up for more one to one with the teachers.

This year we also introduced some new required curriculum changes to the teachers and unfortunately it was during the back to school rush. In this situation I try to make these experiences as hands on as possible and with the goal of each teacher leaving a session with a lesson plan in hand. I often will introduce the concept with a hook that they can use in there classrooms as well. For instance, to introduce a day of project-based learning curriculum writing we used a breakoutEDU game to encourage rapid learning of the basic concepts. Not only did our teachers learn about PBLs but they also found out I had a breakoutEDU toolbox available that they could utilize for critical thinking opportunities. I am a firm believer that if you want teachers to try new things and teach using different methods, you have to model that in professional development opportunities! Look for ways to create small group, station rotation, flipped learning, inquiry-based, hands on, connecting concepts to tasks type things that aid teachers in thinking outside their norm. The words "professional development" often incites moans of despair, it doesn't have to. Find the pulse of your teachers, engage them, and then ask for reflection to grow these days forward!

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