Thinking about Professional Development

by Beth Knittle on June 24, 2014

Summer is a time for relaxation and renewal for educators.  It is the season where we recharge the batteries, reflect on our success and failure and rethink what we will do next year.  During this “down time” many educators participated in curriculum writing and professional development.  Tim Holt recently shared his thoughts on professional development are we preparing cooks or chefs? They echo some of my thinking.

I dislike the term “training”  I am often asked if I will be offering training on iPads in the classroom, or using a particular app or web service.  This implies that there is a series of steps and procedures that one must memorize and implement in order to be successful. I can show you how to use a tool but implementation is more an art then a process.  Learning and teaching is a very personal and human endeavor it requires a lot of minor adjustments and personalization. You can not train someone for this.

Over my career of working with teachers in a variety of schools and settings I have noticed that a teacher’s ability to adapt technology to education has little to do with their ability to use the technology. It is more a reflection of their understanding of how learning takes place, understanding of pedagogy and ability to adapt to student needs. It comes from practicing the art of teaching, constant reflection on their experiences and making adjustments as needed.

My role is to provide professional development and support to teachers as they implement new tools in their learning environment and just as teachers must personalize learning and meet individual student needs, so must I.  This means I must offer a variety of opportunities, levels if you will, to meet teachers who are at different points along the tech integration learning curve.  VERY BROADLY speaking teachers can be grouped into three categories.

The Ready and Able:  These teachers have a strong understanding of pedagogy and learning.  Their classrooms are very student centered and flexible. They exhibit life long learning skills and feel free to experiment.  They are always looking for different ways to inspire their students and push them to reach new goals. The ready and able need very little PD.  They attend the basic how to workshops that introduce new tools and tech. Often they bring new tools to the attention of the tech department.  They get the basics of how things work and are ready to see if they can apply it in their classroom. One of my goals is to encourage these teachers to share their experience and strategies with others.  They may not need PD but PD needs them.

The Strong but Unsure: These are great teachers – they know their students, they understand learning and are very competent in their content areas.  They tend to be a little timid, or lacking self confidence.  This may come from within or be a product of the administrative climate in which they work.  They want what is best for their students, they work hard for student success.  These are the teachers that benefit from the experiences of the Ready and Able. These teachers need PD that gives them confidence to use new tools (the how to) and strategies and workflows for using them in the classroom.  They need PD which demonstrates how implementing the tech is a positive benefit for their students it provides them the confidence they need to implement. Discussion groups, visiting classrooms, attending conferences and watching it in action are a plus.

The Overwhelmed: They react to the many initiatives, mandates and changes that happen in education with the phrase “Not Again!” They focus on the individual components of initiatives and mandates but not the big picture of how it all fits together.  They tend to be rule followers and procedural.  This I believe is a coping mechanism to try to get out of the weeds.  I have seen the Ready and Able and the Strong but Unsure become the Overwhelmed, it can happen to anyone.   Professional development that focuses on new tools and tech tends to add to the feeling of being overwhelmed.  It is just one more thing they are being asked to implement and it is not effective. The teachers who fall into this group need to reconnect to why they are teaching, they need to be re-inspired into the joy of learning.  Professional development that helps bring out their creativity and fun side, to see the big picture is essential.   This PD can be around inspiring books, a series of TED Talks and inspirational student stories.  We all need these from time to time to keep the positive creative juices flowing. The PD should not focus on what to do but why.

Now it is my time to reflect on the success and failures of the past year and make a plan for next.  So much to think about and so many exciting possibilities I already can’t wait for next year.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Marisa Farnell July 15, 2014 at 8:37 am

Hello, Ms. Knittle! I really enjoyed your blog post! I’m not yet a teacher, but I do wonder what category I would fall under. To be completely honest, upon analyzing my current standing, I would say I would fall under the “Strong, but Unsure” category. I feel like I know quite a bit about tools to use in the classroom, but I would be too afraid to use them in the classroom for fear of failure. I like how you said implementation is an art and can’t be trained. I agree with this because people do things different ways that are effective. Thank you for the great post!

Beth Knittle July 15, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Marisa, NEVER EVER be afraid of failure, it will stop you in your tracks. It is good for students to see you take risks and make mistakes. It is what we want them to do. If we only expect perfection of ourselves, we subtly give the message to our students that mistakes and failure are not an option. Learning, especially on the cutting edge of knowledge is about testing the water, trial and error. In scientific experiments a yes answer is as good as a no. Something was learned no matter what the outcome. Our world is changing faster then we can keep up, new technology, new manufacturing processes, new problems are developing all the time. We need people who are able to think out of the box, try new things and just go for it. They can’t be afraid of failure and neither can you. Go for it, learn, experiment, reflect, adjust, try again and you will be terrific teacher and role model for your students.

Lorothy Wilson August 24, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Hi Beth, I enjoy reading your blog regarding Personal Development. I am a corporate trainer and some of colleagues need to read your post. Group educators into three groups: The Ready and Able, The Strong but Unsure, and The Overwhelmed. I work in the telecommunication industry and I experience change every day. Working in a industry that rapidly change, I fall in the category of “the ready and able”. Personal development enhance my skills and increases my experience. Thank for your post.
Lorothy Wilson

Dayna Urquhart October 19, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Hi Beth,

Did you think about your personal development over this past summer? If so what types of personal developments have you used for this school year? What types of personal developments have you used for technology purposes? Its very interesting how instructors use technology but the end result the technology is not being used properly in which students are not learning from the technology that is being implemented.

How has technology helped you Beth when it comes to your classroom environment? Did you have to take certain classes to learn how to use this specific technology that you are using?

Thanks Dayna Urquhart

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