In recent days I’ve been mulling over what is the best way to present professional development for educators. As I’m scheduled this week to give an after school PD, I am reflecting on recent conversations about what is most effective. I have come to the conclusion that PD cannot be standardized, and there will always be those who consider PD a classic #fail. How do we get our PD? There are plenty of models that have there own degree of effectiveness.
One size fits all
In this model, educators all attend the same PD opportunity. In my own experience, this generally happens in schools when there is an initiative being rolled out and administrators want to make sure teachers understand and hopefully embrace or buy-in whatever is the said program or concept. From my own teaching context, I can think of several: Olweus, a bullying program, High Schools That Work, Assertive Discipline, a guest speaker, “Working on the Work”, Common Core, and so much more come to mind.
Beat it to fit, paint it to match
Sometimes I think some PD is the same as previous PD, just repackaged. I like to call these kinds of training sessions “beat it to fit, paint it to match.” Initially we all think of these staff developments as something new, but it doesn’t take long to realize it’s the same ol’ thing with a new package or name. Sigh. These kinds also build anger or resentment.
Training specialized for teams or departments
Often times the PD is channeled toward groups. Fine Arts and Physical Education teachers often have their own kind of PD that wouldn’t always be relevant to core content area educators. My own specialized group, Librarians, often get left out of specialized PD. I feel wronged when this happens, as I think especially for a position that serves the entire school, I should be aware of changes, what is new, or focus for these groups too. I like to know so I can work towards relevancy with these groups and their students using their initiatives.
How long is right?
Often teachers and other educators argue over the length of PD. In my very recent past, I have seen teachers bring to PD sets of papers to grade. In a way it’s insulting, particularly to the one leading the PD, but on the flip side of that, nowadays people multitask and do it well. When someone one is struggling to understand a concept, there comes a point in the learning called “information overload,” and it’s not the same for everyone. When an attendee reaches that point, they potentially become a distraction. There are often quite a variety of levels (just as there is in a classroom full of students) and so if there isn’t any accommodation for differentiated learning (in levels and styles) many leave a PD session frustrated, resentful, and sometimes even downright angry. Especially with professionals, it is challenging to plan for the different levels. What is the prefect solution?
My own situation
I am involved with offering technology training in my working context. I get an additional stipend if it takes place outside of the normal school day. In the past we have provided two day summer opportunities, but attendance has been optional, and often it shows with moderate to low attendance. I am also slated to lead a couple of two-hour after school events, but again these are optional, and yes, it shows. The last one I led was on file management, and targeted teachers who are still struggling with understanding digital files on the network. This was advertised throughout the entire district. Many admitted they desperately needed the info. There was a large number who expressed interest, but contacting me only to ask if there was a way to get the information since they could not attend an after school session. FIVE actually attended, despite a great response to the advertised after school PD session. Bummer.
Why stay when I can get it during the school day….
There are also those teachers who won’t attend an after school gig that will specifically address their needs (in terms of tech training) but will instead come to the library during the day to request the same information since they work in the same building with me. My dilemma here is that I’m fighting resentment over the teacher blowing off a set time for specific training only to come and request it during the school day. Of course I generously provide the information and assistance, but it does bug me that a reason said teacher did not attend was because they knew I would give it anyway at some point during the school day if they didn’t attend. PD training is a part of the regular job of a school librarian, and to refuse (because they didn’t attend the after school thing) would be wrong. Out of professional courtesy, a desire for collegiality, and professionalism, of course I go through the training with teachers who ask for it during the school day. I do consider it a part of my “day” job. Not all feel that way though. And their negative feelings show sometimes.
A new approach – effectiveness to be determined
After discussing this with colleagues who are tasked with the same responsibility of providing tech training to our district, we have come up with something to try. We are going to continue offering our two-hour sessions scheduled for after school spread across the district calendar. Attendance has been widely scattered but overall POOR. In our discussions, we decided to rethink our delivery, and accommodate those with high demands on their time and availability. We will start making videos and screencasts of our training materials, breaking them up into five minute intervals. Our group is going to create a district Youtube Channel to store these videos. (I’m not sure I agree with this, as my suggestion was to use a Google Drive, and share them appropriately–we are a Google Apps for Education District.) We will then begin a marketing campaign of this stockpile of training resources so that teachers can on their own partake of the offerings–during a time when it suits and better, when it is a need. If there is one thing I’ve learned about addressing library learning standards, they only “stick” when they are needed. So I set off some after school time this week to create a series of five minutes screencasts based on some of my topics–> file management in our district network, Socrativee, Todays Meet, and Padlet. Some of these only need five minutes. Yay for me.
Maybe this is the best way to approach Technology Training. Time will tell.