If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
Professional development strategies should always be in a constant state of refinement. Just as we are called as teachers to follow the child, and differentiate our strategies to meet their needs — regularly checking in to gauge understanding and plot next steps — professional development should be in a similar state of revision.
Last year, very early in the year, I wrote a post over on the HWDSB 21st Century Learning team blog entitled Components of a Transformed Learning Environment.
This post spelled out some key thematic elements that we saw as being crucial in our strategy to transform the learning environments within HWDSB. What we realized quite quickly, is that although initial themes like Classrooms Norms and Digital Citizenship could be applied to all grade levels and teaching situations (and should be revisited throughout the year), once we branched out into ideas like establishing a Digital Wing of the Classroom, the options opened up quite substantially. Depending on the goals of the teacher, and the lessons they were attempting to “accelerate with technology”, this meant that for some this resulted in a the usage of a new web 2.0 tool (Mindomo for mind mapping, as an example), while for others this represented a new blog, a new Twitter account, or a deeper understanding of the HUB. Because of these divergences, there was no way we could deliver any of this in large groups, and still meet the varied needs of our learners. We took the remaining components and brought the learning to the school division and department teams.
What we also found was that these sessions had a tendency to initially focus on the How-To of a given tool. Paul Hatala has written a post on that same department blog explaining the route these How-To sessions can take to become more. It’s a shift we look for in all our interactions, and one I would like to explore in greater detail this year:
Inquiry had been a single component within this first model; but we also recognized that it was referenced in every session we offered throughout the year. Along with Student Inquiry being at the centre of everything we were doing, we also realized that the character-building ideals we were promoting through the push to be responsible citizens in a digital world, meant that we would need to constantly revisit the themes in the 21st Century Learning and Technology Policy: which we had based on the work of the Good Play Project, and specifically the Our Space Materials. Thus the components were revised again.
These themes still resonate, but the ideas that Paul plots out in his post invite us to explore some of the ideas around “the tools” vs “the pedagogy” and how we can explore the opportunities that exists when we blend learning, to change our practice. It isn’t about one or the other, but how they are intertwined that should be of tantamount importance in our work. I write about this in more detail in a post entitled It is About the Technology.
So how do we measure success, and how do we approach PD planning for our third year exploring TLE. For this, I think that the TPCK model might provide a measure for us to ensure that we aren’t only learning a tool, or only learning more about a specific content area, or only learning about a pedagogical model. These items don’t exist in a vacuum, so we should be presenting sessions in which the interplay between these three forms of knowledge are explored. Although the immediate need may be expressed as a desire to learn more about one facet of these three areas, if we want to move beyond a surface understanding of inquiry, accelerated by technology, we need to ensure that we are always pushing towards the centre of this graphic (click on the graphic to learn more about TPCK).
It should be noted that an understanding of each component is required in order to move towards that centre, so although what we might consider “basic” training in all three areas is still required, we can use our learning time more effectively when we find ways to draw in all three knowledge areas (Technological, Pedagogical, and Content).
We should always look for opportunities to introduce these overlapping ideas, particularly as members of the Leadership and Learning team working in schools. Our work as an interdisciplinary team should result in the agility necessary to wear these many hats, and to confidently explore learning opportunities where, content, pedagogy, and technological knowledge converge.
The other element we have consistently seen is that changes in practice happen when teachers learn in small groups. It happens when a learning culture begins to emerge in the school so that learning continues beyond the half-day session with an Instructional Coach or Consultant. It happens when trust exists within the school, such that a lesson-study model of learning becomes part of the cycle; and teachers get into each others’ classrooms and learn from one another. In situations where large groups are necessary (e.g. keynote speaker opportunities), we should find ways to still honour the experiences of those in attendance: not everyone is at the same place, or needs the same things. Just as we differentiate for our students, our PD should leverage the concepts behind emerging models like ed-camp, to provide choice and differentiation within the larger collective group.
All of this is just a collection of my thinking at this moment, bound to change as we continue to work with innovative teachers who push us to think deeply about how we can better meet their needs. As support staff in a system that has pledged to move towards a different model of instruction, I am renewed — as September is prone to do — and excited about our next moves.