Friday, November 9, 2007

Professional Development Update - Term 1 Recap

Facilitating professional development is always challenging, especially when your school hasn't made AYP. The increased pressure to provide new ideas for meeting the needs of a diverse student population is felt all around. Many times teachers feel professional development doesn't lend any benefit to their teaching repetoire. Other times they feel as if it is "just one more thing to do."
Time is always the biggest objection to meaningful professional development. This year our school has chosen to use an electronic learning community to facilitate the professional development. It was my task to set up and structure the Moodle software we use for an ELC. I've already described the structure of staff development in an earlier post so I won't rehash it on this entry.
Although spirits started high at the beginning of the school year, as they usually do, they inevitably began to sink as the school year progressed. I overheard two teachers talking in the hall how this year they have had more "exta work" to do than ever before. I was also surprised to hear how many teachers felt the Moodle course we are using is not as user friendly as the county provided Blackboard LMS. So what's happening? As an instructional leader, it will be my job to be aware of the attitudes and perceptions of the staff as I guide them to the vision I see.

Initially, spirits were high because teachers were able to choose their professional development strand. Differentiating teachers' choices is just as important as differentiating for students. Each teacher needs to have some ownership of their own professional development. Shortly after the big "kick off" meeting, things began to change.

One of the possible reasons for the change is the decision that teachers will need to demonstrate in some way they have incorporated the professional development into thier teaching. In the past, teachers attended sessions, listened attentively, and then walked away never to think about the topic again. As a response to this, the professional development team meeting the team recognized - and I advocated for it as well, the need for an additional reflection piece. I proposed that teachers would post a discussion message about their experience in the classroom using the new information they learn at a professional development session. I did ask for time to work with teachers to help them learn the new system. But the training schedule was packed and I had to resort to a simple tutorial. In addition to that, I was not able to schedule time with the facilitators of the ELC to help them understand how to use the software effectively. But I was able to meet with them to show them the basic elements of the software so that teachers could participate. Though this allowed the ELC to procede, it didn't give the facilitators any foundation for online teaching pedagogy. I again had to resort to publishing a paper tutorial.

The lack of hands-on training which would have taken about 45 minutes per topic is an example of how initiatives are thought out and well conceived but are ultimately only as effective as the knowledge and experiences of those carrying out the training. Since most of the ELC facilitators did not get the training they needed, they are doing the best they can but are overall ineffective. I can't say I'm a steallar online facilitator but there is a clear difference between how the technology reflections are working and the others. In some cases, no reflections are being done. This could be so if the facilitator simply chose not to use the online piece. But then one of the advantages of using online professional development - the 24/7 availability, is gone.

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