Friday, March 02, 2007

Teacher Professional Development

I haven't felt the need to write a post on professional development because it really falls outside the core purpose of this blog site. However, many people have asked me how you deal with professional development and teacher training when shifting to open source and Linux. Well, the answer is, the same way you deal with any other change in your organization. Though the transition to Linux and 1:1 computing was a major topic of professional development, the model we used was relatively unchanged. Thus, I will share with you what we did.

Create the Schema
It is important that people have some understanding of the change before they can personally assess what their concerns and needs are. I don't do a lot of "stand-up speeches" to faculty (though I used to and decided that was a bad way to train). However, to give them necessary exposure, I gave a small presentation on what Linux was and why we were trying it for the pilot. That took about 30 minutes.

Provide Basic Literacy
We then built a User's Manual for basic uses. This was a half-day workshop that gave step-by-step, hands-on instruction on basic uses, such as connecting to a home network, printing, connecting to Citrix, using Open Office, using Evolution for e-mail, etc.

The workshop that our teachers went through was broken up and teachers used that same curricula to teach students when we handed out the laptops. Thus, teachers were quite engaged because they would be teaching those lessons in a matter of days.

We took a whole day to do the workshop even though it was a half-day curriculum so teachers had time to reflect, ask questions and prepare themselves to be comfortable enough to train students on their new found knowledge.

On-going Support through the First Year
At Whitfield, we have faculty meetings for about an hour and a half once a month. Our Dean of Faculty, Larry Hays, has done a great job of surgically removing the announcements from these meetings so we have time to engage in professional development.

At the beginning of the year, we broke up into groups so teachers in the pilot (11th and 12th grade teachers) had time to express concerns and learn from one another. As the year went on, we learned that our teachers concerns indicated to us that our teachers were not looking at the program through the same looking glass. The problem was not the technology so much as it was what we were doing with it and how we were viewing it. Thus, we changed what we were doing in our breakout groups during our monthly meetings.

Mission Driven Development
Larry is an excellent writer and wrote a short essay tying the findings of the report A Nation at Risk to the core principles of our school mission. This was not much of a stretch as Whitfield is a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools whose model of education was created as a direct response to the findings of A Nation at Risk.

We then looked at the principles and tried to align our use of the laptops with our goals. We spent three months on this process. First we looked at the principles and aligned our teaching with them. Then we talked about how we could use the laptops and technology to enhance the presence of these principles in our courses. Lastly, we listed specific ways we are (or intended to) use these tools as instruments to further our mission.

This was an extremely valuable exercise. The best part about it was that it removed the focus from the technology and placed it on the mission. The technology ceased to become demonized then and was looked at as a tool to help in mission fulfillment, when appropriate and possible.

The Passing of Wisdom
At the end of the year, we do three days of professional development. About half of this three day block was spend on helping the 9th and 10th grade teachers prepare for the upcoming year when their students would get laptops. The 11th and 12th grade teachers broke into teams and worked with teams of 9th and 10th grade teachers to share what they had learned and shared "best practices."

This time was also designed to give teachers the time to express their fears and concerns. The experienced teachers did a wonderful job of realistically helping teachers deal with their concerns to design appropriate classroom experiences.

Ownership in Planning
At the beginning of the year, we do another couple of days of professional development with teachers before students arrive. We spent a very short time displaying the differences in the laptop design (we upgraded from NLD9 to SLED 10). We then let grade level teams divide into groups and decide how they were going to do the roll-out training. This decision was a direct result of feedback we got from them the first year. They now felt comfortable enough with the technology, they wanted greater control on when students received the computers and how the process would go. The only parameter we gave them is that it needed to happen within the first two weeks of school.

Some grades did it in a half day. Some grades took a whole day and one grade did a concentrated half-day session followed by a week of follow up training. It looks like a full day of training worked best but, to be honest, it doesn't matter. The value came from teachers owning the process. This way, when things went awry (because they always do, it's technology!) teachers dealt with it the way they would when things don't go well with one of their lessons. There was very little demonizing of technology during those two weeks. I was SO proud of our teachers

Reduction of Emphasis

We now seldom talk about technology in our monthly meetings. Teachers in each grade level get together each week to talk about grade level issues and student concerns. Laptop issues frequently get brought up but sometimes are not discussed because there is no need. That's transparency!

We are now working with 6th - 8th grade teachers to prepare them for their roll-out. We have planned for the "passing of wisdom" activities for them in the final months of the school year. We will also give grade levels time to plan their own roll-outs again.

Lessons Learned
Over the last two years, this is what I have learned about professional development:
  1. Stop talking and listen - Giving faculty a voice is essential to meeting them where they are
  2. Give ownership - Teachers know what teachers need and they carry the credibility to pull it off better than any technology director
  3. Support individualized initiative and grow from the bottom up - Look for innovation or even teachers asking the right questions and give them the help they need to grow. Then let those teachers share their experiences with other teachers. The bottom up model always has stronger roots than the top down model.

No comments: