Editors Note: Our guest blogger today is Kyle Pace, an instructional technology specialist for a school district in the Kansas City area.
Tuesday's #edchat was about the key elements of a best practices PD program. Teachers have very specific needs for their professional development. Those of us who design PD must recognize this. It can't be "cookie cutter" "sit and get" anymore. Teachers are told to differentiate instruction to best meet the needs of our students, so why can't PD be differentiated for teachers? Differentiation, in both formal and informal settings, are (in my opinion) necessary steps to create the perfect PD, or a "PDopia".
What does "PDopia" look like? Does it exist? Can it exist? How can we best design and implement PDopia?
There's no such thing as over-planning!
When I attend a professional development session, I want to know what the agenda is for the day as well as the goals and outcomes. What am I going to leave here with today? What's the practicality of the tools and strategies being taught (see step 3)? What will be expected of me as an attendee? As PD planners, all these questions and expectations should be met based upon concise, well-thought-out planning. Wouldn't it be better to run out of time and not be able to cover everything than to look at the clock with 45 minutes left and wonder, "Well what should I do with them now?" If you think you have too much planned, you probably do. But that's OK!
Also, plan for those technology hiccups, because they ARE going to happen! The wireless network will crash, a computer will not cooperate, or a website might be down or a link has gone bad. Consider all these things and be ready for them when they happen. Even if it's small, it's going to happen. By the way, if teachers will be bringing laptops and you're in charge of the facility hosting the professional development, please provide adequate power supply so laptops can be plugged in when batteries start dying. If there's a wireless network be sure to check that it's working and teachers will be able to connect easily.
PDopia Bliss: A mark of a successful professional development session is not having enough time to cover everything. This leaves teachers excited with what they learned, but also creates anticipation of more to come at another time.
Know your audience
Good planning also involves knowing your audience. Get to know your audience before, during, and even after the PD session. There is always a point of contact when prepping to facilitate professional development for a group of teachers. Now matter the size of the group: Grade level, department, or even one on one; you should learn about the specific needs and goals the group. Developing a strong relationship and rapport from the start is crucial! Do you know the subjects/grades represented? Do you know what kind of equipment the teachers are going to be coming with (operating system, version of IWB software, version of Office, etc.)?
Are you making connections with attendees the day of the workshop? I am fortunate to be really good with names and faces (a skill that always helped me when I needed to learn names quickly in the classroom). When I am facilitating any kind of training with teachers in my district, I always make sure to greet each one by name as they walk in. I have been the attendee more than once where I very much feel like I'm just "the job" that the presenter is there to do and they don't really care if I'm satisfied at the end of the day. If you aren't taking the time to get to know the teachers when you arrive or in the first 10 minutes, that's not OK.
Are you keeping the connection alive after the session is over? I love this one because I believe this component is a big piece of where professional development is headed. I always make sure teachers know multiple ways to keep in touch with me. Twitter is great because it allows you to connect in 140 characters or less, which helps the conversation stay more focused. Or what about having a backchannel during a presentation so teachers can ask questions? This gives you something to always go back to afterward. This is not only a great way for your audience to keep in contact with you, but what a great tool to allow them to network and collaborate with each other! This informal approach is huge today! Look at the TeachMeet and EdCamp un-conferences cropping up! There is learning and collaboration happening before, during, and well after! It's awesome! However, email still works just as well for follow up communication and support afterward.
PDopia Bliss: Teachers should "feel the love" during and after the session. The Human Element Of Change is a powerful thing.
We know there are a tremendous amount of web-based technology tools out there for teachers (and their students) to use. If you are sharing collaboration tools for example, select 3 or 4 of the best ones. No one likes to feel overwhelmed. When people feel that way they mentally check out faster than you can say "differentiated instruction". When I am checking out a new tool, I always hold it to the 3Cs: Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity. If the tool does not lend itself well to any of those for student use, I don't share it with teachers and students. Teachers should be receiving instruction on quality tools and shown excellent, practical examples of how they can be used in the classroom.
Isn't it exciting to learn about an awesome new tool? Teachers will probably want to run right into their classrooms the next day and have students use it! Now remember, we're talking about being practical, so be sure to give them some time during the workshop to plan carefully and appropriately for students to use these tools. Remind them that there are going to be hiccups, and most likely it's not going to go smoothly the first time. Not only does being practical mean understanding that using the technology might not be immediate, but even if the training felt like PDopia, the first use might not. :)
PDopia Bliss: Teachers are given time to adequately plan and prepare for the technology to be infused in their classroom(s). What they learn in an edtech PD session is relevant and practical for students to use, even if not immediately.
Chunk And Chew
I have heard so many teachers say all they want is time, time, time. Time to collaborate, time to explore the tool, software, resources, being presented, and time to create meaningful and engaging lessons that infuse the technology.
When teachers attend professional development, it should be delivered in what I like to call it a "chunk and chew" approach. It's a nice balance of the presenter talking, then the teachers collaborating while they get some "sandbox time", a little bit more of me talking, the teachers exploring, and repeat.
PDopia Bliss: Teachers didn't feel like they were being talked at every single minute of the professional development session. Their voice was valued and there was more than adequate time to collaborate with their fellow educators. They really feel like they have a strong grasp on the technology as they head back to their classroom for implementation. They know they will have continual support even after the PD session is over.
WWYEFS? (What Would You Expect From Students?)
I hate to sound like I'm harping, but I'm going to harp for a little bit because I think it's a key component for a successful PD session; be it formal or informal. The attendees help make the session successful just as much as the presenter does. We wouldn't let our students be inattentive or create distraction for others during class. Yes, I'm saying this because I've seen it happen in sessions I have attended. If an attendee pulls out some papers to grade, ask them respectfully to put them away. Assure them that you know that life does happen but please try as best as they can and be fully there during the short amount of time you are out of class to learn. Remind them that you also know that sometimes it isn't the most convenient time to be out of class but is there ever really a truly convenient time? Embrace the learning!
PDopia Bliss: All attendees are attentive and participate fully throughout the whole session to get maximum benefit.
Thank you Edutopia for inviting me to guest blog. These are some suggestions and strategies I have learned as one that has attended lots of professional development as well as one that has facilitated lots of professional development. I hope you found this information beneficial as we all strive to achieve PDopia in our school districts! Thank you for reading. I welcome your comments as always.
Kyle Pace is an Instructional Technology Specialist just outside Kansas City, Missouri. Kyle has worked with K-12 teachers in his district to provide instructional technology professional development for the last 6 years. Kyle also teaches graduate educational technology courses for local universities and enjoys attending and speaking at edtech conferences. In April 2010 Kyle participated on a panel about Education And The Real-Time Web at the 140 Conference in New York City. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kylepace and his blog can be found at http://www.kylepace.com.