Individualized Professional Development through Mentorship

Last semester I began my exploration of the ISTE Coaching Standards through the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University. This semester I continue that inquiry, while paying particular attention to the fourth standard, Professional Development and Program Evaluation. This standard, more so than any other, delves deep into the topic and addresses several areas of importance:

Technology coaches conduct needs assessments, develop technology-related professional learning programs, and evaluate the impact on instructional practice and student learning:

a. Conduct needs assessments to inform the content and delivery of technology-related professional learning programs that result in a positive impact on student learning
b. Design, develop, and implement technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment learning experiences using a variety of research-based, learner-centered instructional strategies and assessment tools to address the diverse needs and interests of all students
c. Coach teachers in and model engagement of students in local and global interdisciplinary units in which technology helps students assume professional roles, research real-world problems, collaborate with others, and produce products that are meaningful and useful to a wide audience
d. Coach teachers in and model design and implementation of technology-enhanced learning experiences emphasizing creativity, higher-order thinking skills and processes, and mental habits of mind (e.g., critical thinking, meta-cognition, and self-regulation)
e. Coach teachers in and model design and implementation of technology-enhanced learning experiences using differentiation, including adjusting content, process, product, and learning environment based upon student readiness levels, learning styles, interests, and personal goals
f. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences
g. Coach teachers in and model effective use of technology tools and resources to continuously assess student learning and technology literacy by applying a rich variety of formative and summative assessments aligned with content and student technology standards
h. Coach teachers in and model effective use of technology tools and resources to systematically collect and analyze student achievement data, interpret results, and communicate findings to improve instructional practice and maximize student learning ISTE Standards Coaches International Society for Technology in Education (International Society for Technology in Education)


What Does This Mean?

My perspective in teacher professional development has shifted exponentially during my time in the Digital Education Leadership program; I have discovered the importance of taking ownership of my own learning and serving as a leader for my colleagues. I have found a great deal of research that indicates many educators think professional development is something that is simply “done to them,” as opposed to an active process they are responsible for driving (Pilar, 2014). Many educators are accustomed to fulfilling their professional development requirements by attending conferences, sitting through district-provided training, and completing mandated book studies. Unfortunately, what educators are starting to see is that “one-size fits all training […] numbs the brain and crushes the soul” (Hoffman, 2014). Even my statement of “fulfilling their professional development requirements” is using the wrong approach; it shouldn’t be a requirement but a possibility for growth. Generally, at the conclusion of a workshop, teachers are often asked, “What are you walking away with today?” I would argue that professional development should never include “walking away.” Instead, it should be a constant loop of learning, implementation, and evaluation.

So, How Should We Be Doing Professional Development?

pd-cycle

Teachers need opportunities to explore their own interests and venture into those topics at a personalized level that works for their individual learning styles. We can move forward by moving backward, by looking at our students and our classrooms: “How do we make professional development more useful and engaging, and less like a dreaded chore? If you ask the same question using ‘student’ instead of ‘teacher’ and ask how we can make the classroom a more engaging place for students, ideas seem endless” (Hoffman, 2014). Just like teachers create opportunities of differentiation and inquiry-based learning for their students, educators are creating professional development that is “differentiating the teacher learning, to more closely meet the needs of individuals and help them achieve their professional goals” (Hoffman, 2014). Imagine a place where teachers drive their learning by expressing their interests, learning at their own pace, implementing their discoveries and reflecting on their current and future practices. After all, “Professional development should be all about teachers and administrators engaging as learners themselves, and helping them grow as professionals in their field, learning about how to do their job even better, and make a difference in the lives of even the hard to reach children” (Hoffman, 2014).

How Can School Librarians Help?

As a school librarian, I am in a unique position to reach a large number of teachers and help them identify their current challenges and find ways to address those problems within the classroom. School librarian and author, Ernie Cox (2010), has found that school librarians are specifically skilled in helping a school community conduct personalized professional development through mentorship:

“School librarians can lead the way to creating more time for the adult learners in K-12 buildings–the teachers. Launching this effort will require a format of professional learning that can work within the current system. A Critical Friends Group (CFG) is an ideal way to shift the paradigm to teacher as learner. These groups contain all the attributes of great professional development” (2010, pg. 32).

Essentially, what Cox has created is an internal mentorship program that shifts the role from teacher to learner (2010). Whether it’s called a “Critical Friends Group” or something else, it’s pairing existing colleagues together into a mentorship and allowing them to reach new heights as an educator. Instead of one-off workshops, “Instructional coaching is basically advice and counsel designed to meet the needs of a specific teacher. On-site coaches work one-on-one with teachers to help them understand what data to collect, analyze, and use to improve instruction. Intensive collaboration and planning occur between coach and teacher before, during, and after a teacher’s lesson, to ensure high-quality instruction appropriate to meeting the needs of all the students” (Eisenberg, 2010).

Where Do We Start?

The first place to start when implementing a one-on-one personalized professional development program is with two educators who are interested in pursuing this symbiotic relationship. From there, knowledge is spread outward and more teachers continue to benefit. I have spent the duration of this year, learning and honing my skills as a peer coach, mentoring a fellow teacher along the way. I chronicled that journey in several posts which can be found here.

The success between my collaborating teacher and I has already impacted the rest of the school; a primary goal of implementing such a program: “The ripple effect that occurs when a collaborating teacher works with a coach one day and the next day turns to other peers and models collaboration skills as he or she shares lessons learned with and from the coach” (Foltos, 2013, pg. 171-172). Shortly after introducing my collaborating partner to a digital tool that allowed her to conduct formative assessments with her students, she eagerly exclaimed, “I already showed [a fellow teacher] and I’m wondering if we can get her signed up? She thinks it would be great for her students!”

So, can you launch an in-house mentorship program that will guide self-driven professional development if you don’t have any formal training? Yes, absolutely! In order to transform professional learning into professional practice, “teachers need on-the-job support to make the new ideas part of their daily practice” (Generation Ready). This is something you can start doing today!

individualized-pd-mentorship


References

Cox, E. (2010). Critical friends groups: learning experiences for teachers. School Library Monthly, 27(1), 32-45. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Eisenberg, E. (2010). Personalizing professional development. Education Week, 29(32), 30-31. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/05/19/32eisenberg.h29.html

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Generation Ready. (n.d.). Raising student achievement through professional development. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from http://www.generationready.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/PD-White-Paper.pdf

Hoffman, W. (2014, January 12). Meeting the professional development needs of teachers [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/groups/education-leadership/674606

Pilar, C. (2014, January 12). Re: Meeting the professional development needs of teachers [Blog comment]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/groups/education-leadership/674606

3 thoughts on “Individualized Professional Development through Mentorship

  1. Becky, I laughed while reading your introduction. It is so true. I have literally sat through hours of professional development sessions and wondered at the end of the day, “What am I walking away with today?” You are absolutely right, PD should be “a constant loop of learning, implementation, and evaluation.”

    I like the 7 steps to “Individualized PD Through Mentorship” infographic! It provides teachers and administrators a visual of an in-house mentorship program that can work. I especially like tip #7- Celebrate and Share. As teachers, we may not always have time to share. But it is vital that we do because it may encourage others to try something new. Also they know where they can receive support if needed. Thanks for sharing your reflections on personal PD!

  2. First of all, the fluidity of your reflection on this work is clear. I can picture teachers nodding their heads as they read this. I also thought this was a really insightful nugget “Generally, at the conclusion of a workshop, teachers are often asked, “What are you walking away with today?” I would argue that professional development should never include “walking away.” Instead, it should be a constant loop of learning, implementation, and evaluation.” Yes! I wish I had thought of that! Finally, your call to “Imagine a place where teachers drive their learning by expressing their interests, learning at their own pace, implementing their discoveries and reflecting on their current and future practices” is a sound summation of your work, as well as a really great overall vision of what professional learning can look like. Your tips for how a professional learning program could be implemented would benefit those who read this. Great work. 🙂

  3. Great integration of the concepts and ideas from this course with peer coaching from last quarter. I especially appriciate your clear and direct inforgraphic with the essentials to get started.

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