In my final week of exploring the ISTE Teacher Standards through the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I examine the fifth standard: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership. In an effort to move into a coaching and mentorship role, I reflected on the following question: “How can teachers continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources?”
I work at a private school where many of the teachers are not formal educators; they come to the school with a strong background in the school’s cultural and religious beliefs, but not in classroom teaching. I have noticed that many of them do not pursue professional development opportunities that could help them advance their skills in classroom management, assessment, or effective teaching. Blogger and widely respected technology integration specialist, Vicki Davis states, “Professional development is a vital part of improving your technique as a teacher. Learning best practices and practicing best practices are both important. You can make a school better by improving its teachers. Effective [professional development] can do that” (2015). With this in the forefront of my thoughts, I asked myself the following questions:
How can I help teachers in my school learn about professional development opportunities? How can I share professional development opportunities that are specifically geared towards each individual teachers’ area of interest and/or expertise?
I am interested in taking on the responsibility of finding and promoting opportunities for growth for the teachers in my school. In order to cultivate that interest, I did some exploration and looked into what other schools are doing. What I found is that there is not a formulaic response, these responsibilities fall under an array of job titles:
Staff development coordinator
Professional development coordinator
Within those job titles, the following responsibilities are a common theme (titles and descriptors obtained from SchoolSpring):
- Coordinate with district and building administrators, a variety of committees, etc. for the purpose of serving as a liaison and resource, identifying training needs and/or coordinating professional development services within the district.
- Determine existing opportunities, curriculum, policies and procedures, and conduct informal and formal program need/opportunity assessments for multiple professional development tracks.
- Develop an orientation plan for all employees that includes core competencies covering basic information that all employees should know including ethics, diversity, communication and computer skills, etc.
- Facilitate professional development related to instructional technology needed to implement the school’s improvement plan.
- Work with instructional leadership team and teachers in organizing professional learning communities and grade level meetings in order to affect horizontal and vertical continuity and articulation of the instructional technology program throughout the school.
- Observe and coach teachers.
Individualizing Professional Development
The one aspect of planning and facilitating professional development opportunities that stood out above the rest was the need for differentiation among the employees. David Raths, freelance writer for THE Journal (Technology Horizons in Education), writes that “Teachers, too, have individual strengths and weaknesses, and they need different types of professional development at specific points of their careers” (Raths, 2015, pg. 22). I found this sentiment to be written over and over again. EdSurge, an independent information resource and community for everyone involved in education technology wrote: “Personalized learning is on the rise for learners in our schools. Redesigned schools include personal learning plans, playlists of content tailored to fit each learner, adaptive curriculum, and access to learning anytime and anywhere. That’s great for students but what about teachers? Where’s the personalized learning, the carefully constructed playlists, the pitch-perfect material that fits their grade level and subject needs and interests?” EdSurge is at the epicenter of re-designing how teachers learn, they recently published the following How Teachers Are Learning: Professional Development Remix graphic, an easy-to-digest infographic that helps to see how and why change is in the air:
When teachers are given individual opportunities to grow in their field, in a way that they learn best, the growth does not stop when the class, conference, digital badge course, discussion or book-reading ends… “Someone on staff needs to have responsibility for making sure that teachers use the technique and receive feedback in a way consistent with the class. Be sure that this person attends the class and takes part” (Davis, 2015). When teachers are assigned mentor teachers (even those seasoned members of the teaching staff), teachers have the opportunity to reflect on their learning and have accountability on implementing those new techniques. “Effective professional development includes creating classroom content, modeling techniques for teachers to use in their classrooms, and feedback on lessons” (Davis, 2015). Imagine a school where teachers are allowed to learn and practice new skills and have a safe and open space where they can reflect on what they are trying.
What Are Real Steps I Can Take Right Now?
Check out the EdSurge website and see if you can find helpful resources that work for you and your situation. Browse their “How Teachers are Learning” guidebook and implement elements that can work both now and in the future, “A new era of personalized professional development is sweeping into schools. We’ve created this guide to capture the extraordinary changes in PD tools and in the cycle of learning. We look here at tools that support how teachers engage with colleagues; that help teachers learn or find support for implementing fresh strategies and approaches; and that measure how that learning impacts practice in the classroom” (EdSurge, 2014):
Gather together a group of your colleagues and register for an Edcamp. Edcamps, described by the Getting Smart Blog staff, are unconferences that are “free of vendors or sales pitches, deliver learning opportunities for educators based on open space technology (OST), which means learning is spontaneous without pre-organized sessions or content. Any attendee can schedule a session to present based upon the input from all attendees” (2012). Find an upcoming Edcamp in your area here. Are you feeling really ambitious and want to organize your own Edcamp? Find all the details here.
Volunteer to serve as a mentor to fellow teachers (or seek out a mentor teacher for yourself). Education Week Teacher writes that “one of the most important—and overlooked—aspects of education is having mentors who help you manage the grind of daily struggles and the challenges of the profession” (Long, 2014). Check this short article from Edutopia to get an overview on the basics of mentoring.
Whether sending out emails about upcoming conferences, sharing resources from EdSurge or meeting with a mentee teacher over lunch, the most important aspect in creating opportunities for professional development is caring. Care about your fellow teachers. Care about their needs. Care about their schedules. Care about their budgets. Care about their strengths and weaknesses. Care about their dreams. Just care. If you do that, it will all work in the end.
Bajor, R. (n.d.). What do teachers want from their professional development? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.digitalpromise.org/blog/entry/what-do-teachers-want-from-their-professional-development
Davis, V. (2015, April 15). 8 top tips for highly effective PD [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/top-tips-highly-effective-pd-vicki-davis
Getting Smart Staff. (2012, January 23). Edcamp: innovation in professional development [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://gettingsmart.com/2012/01/edcamp-innovation-in-professional-development/
How teachers are learning: professional development remix. (2015). Retrieved May 29, 2015, https://www.edsurge.com/guide/how-teachers-are-learning-professional-development-remix
Long, K. (2014, September 30). Eight qualities of a great teacher mentor [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/09/30/ctq_long_mentor.html
Medwid, J. (n.d.). Personalized professional development. Retrieved May 29, 2015, from http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=77742
Raths, D. (2015). 5 tech tools that help personalize PD. THE Journal, 42(1), 22-24. Retrieved from Education Full Text database.