Accelerating Professional Learning – Do Teachers Need Training? (updated)

Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate many professional learning sessions for teachers. My big “Aha!” moment–the first one–about the efficacy of that training came when I worked at the Education Service Center, Region 20 in San Antonio, Tx.

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Colleague and friend Jim Baldoni and I had done a phenomenal job of replicating Dr. Bernie Dodge’s and Tom March’s work with webquests as the paragon of project-based learning. We’d built a web-based repository featuring creations from teachers in grades K-12, spanning multiple subject areas. In truth, our repository rivaled that of Bernie’s. Yet, something wasn’t happening.

In spite of the great work teachers were doing in our workshops, they weren’t doing anything in their classrooms with their students. Simply, teachers learned to create webquests but they never applied that learning to change classroom practice. Various questions floated through our minds:

  1. What was missing from our instruction? 
  2. Were we doing something wrong? 
  3. Were teachers glad to escape from our sessions? 
  4. Were teachers lying to us when they said this was some of the best professional learning they’d attended?
This happened again with the Curriculum Using Technology approach, and I found myself thinking, Maybe, teachers just need to be self-motivated. They either will learn it on their own, just-in-time, but I can’t force that growth. With the advent of social media (e.g. Twitter) for professional learning networks (PLNs), I imagine that most of us can, if we want to, reach out and learn. That is, take public information available on the web, and make it personal, convert it into knowledge, as Dr. Judi Harris explained so long ago.
Over at Cageless Thinking, these points [emphasis mine] are made:

We have come to a point in the education technology journey where it seems rather dull to still be asking if the iPad is the right option for the classroom. The answer, in case you’ve missed the last few years of debate is that it is a great option, but this is not universally accepted and never will be. Nonetheless, one of the attributes you’ll hear put forward is that it is easy to use because of the intuitive nature of iOS. This is absolutely true; you can put the iPad into the hands of almost any child and within a short period of time they will have mastered it.
So does it then follow that you can out the iPad into the hands of teachers and expect the same results?

A few years ago, a CTO I knew wanted to just put technology in teachers’ hands without professional learning. “It’s so easy,” he said, “why do they need training?”

In Chapter 4 of Leverage Leadership (read the previous blog entry), to get great PD, you need to address these points:

Great PD can be divided 3 parts: 

What to teach and that flows from the data (what students need)
How to teach in a way that is engaging to teachers in the skills they need to meet student needs.
How to make it stick by holding teachers accountable and changes classroom instruction.

In the Cageless Thinking blog entry, does that happen? You tell me.
Update: I stopped working on this blog entry because, frankly, I had other things to work on. But the question has been nagging at me, so I thought I’d revisit the Cageless Thinking blog entry and see whether it does happen.

1. Does what to teach flow from what students need?
To answer this question, you have to ask yourself, what is it that students need to know how to do? Is there a clear alignment between learning activities students are engaged in with technology and what the end-goal assessment will be? If there isn’t a clear picture of this, then teacher training will not be successful because it is irrelevant to student needs…it’s just “nice to know.”

There’s not enough information based on what Adam shared in his blog entry at Cageless Thinking to determine what student needs are or what is being taught. The only thing we get is duration of training and its placement.

2. Are teachers being shown how to teach in a way that is engaging and aligns to student needs?
Again, in regards to Adam’s blog entry, the answer is, “Not enough information.”

3. How are teachers being held accountable for changing classroom instruction?
Unless Adam’s school is employing some model of observation, we really don’t know.

Should bloggers try to answer these questions in the future when writing about technology and teaching?

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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