Reframing Professional Development (Again)

Professional Development is more than just workshops, readings, and online courses. So what is it? And why am I dissatisfied with PD being reduced to these usual components? I think I have rewritten (and rethought) this post more than any other. My earlier thinking is posted here, and here.

Why reframe it again now?

I think I finally figured out what it is that makes us (Auburn Schools) think differently about professional development.

It’s the proficiency piece.

Teacher and student

We aren’t interested in simply sharing techniques or information. We want changes in classroom practice.

I have collaborated with other districts and initiatives, and I hear frustrations about how much they have invested in professional development – how many sessions they have provided – and how it has resulted in very little change in practice.

I think it is because our thinking about professional development has been incomplete. Sometimes folks say that teachers are oppositional or unwilling to change, but I think it is that workshops are simply insufficient (and perhaps their role is misunderstood), even though they are a key component.

Over time, our understanding about what we need to pay attention to in terms of PD and support has expanded to include 3 overarching categories: clarity; support for foundational knowledge, and support for achieving proficiency.

Clarity

  • A Professional Learning Curriculum – If we have an initiative (technology integration, proficiency-based learning, math instruction, middle level practices, what ever it may be…), what do we want our educators to become good at? As with young learners, adult learners can excel when we are transparent about what we would like them to know and be able to do. What are the (clearly articulated) knowledge and skills we want our educators to become proficient in, and what scopes and sequences make sense?
  • A Professional Learning Progress Management System – How will we manage, acknowledge and certify adult learning (just as we should for student learning)? What system(s) will we use to help make the professional curriculum and pathways transparent, to certify teacher proficiencies as they move through their professional curriculum, and to record and manage their “certifications” (micro-credentialling, “badging,” Educate/Empower or other learning progress management systems)?
  • Answering “But What Does It Look Like?” – Simply stated, this is “models & examples”; a curated collection of possible documents, classroom visits, videos, photos, and articles, etc., to help teachers develop a sense of what an aspect of the strategy would look like in action. Teachers often have an intellectual understanding of what they are being asked to do, but not a practical understanding. These models and examples play a critical role in helping them move to the point of being able to try this new idea in their own classroom.

Support for Foundational Knowledge

  • “Same Page” Trainings – These are introductory workshops, getting teachers on the same page about a new set of concepts, skills, or strategies they will be working to implement. We used to think of teachers as leaving a workshop as proficient in the new skill. Now we think of these “same page” sessions as just the beginning. The real (professional) learning happens when they go back to their classrooms and try out the strategy (see the PD components in the next category).
  • Reusable Learning Objects – Instead of having to wait for a workshop, or for the Tech Integrator or Instructional Coach to visit her classroom, these how-to articles, lessons, short courses, videos, and other digital resources (aligned to our professional learning curriculum) are available to a teacher as she needs them.

Support for Achieving Proficiency

Lesson Invention
  • Lesson Invention and Tryouts – There is much to any new system that needs to be designed or invented (or at least adapted for our schools). The work teachers do to design, invent, prototype, refine, perfect, and share these systems and strategies is valuable professional learning for all of us. Even relatively simple ideas or strategies, if they are truly new to a teacher, require some level of “invention” for that educator to put them into action. Embedded in the idea of lesson invention and tryouts is the notion of continuous improvement, and the chance to try a skill in the classroom, reflect on how it went and how it could be done better, and then try it out again with the improvements (play-debrief-replay).
  • Coaching and Feedback – Keeping with the idea of continuous improvement, this includes the teacher working with any Technology Integrator, Instructional Coach, administrator, or peer, who models lessons or strategies, co-designs or plans with the teacher, observes, and/or provides formative feedback to support the teacher’s professional growth and ability to increase the level of fidelity with which they can implement the strategy.
  • Teacher Face-to-Face Time – Teachers need time to sit with other teachers working on the same initiatives to share experiences, ideas, and resources, as well as to ask questions and seek support. They need a chance to share things that they have tried that worked, and to seek assistance with those things they are still challenged by. And the notion of “face-to-face” can extend well beyond her school or district via the blogs and social networks the teacher builds and follows.
Teacher Face-to-Face Time

We don’t just see that there are 3 categories of professional learning, but we acknowledge that all three compliment each other and are needed. Teachers don’t get to proficiency without the foundational supports. To offer workshops without defining the desired broader professional learning at best leaves gaps in teachers’ learning and at worst becomes a collection of random workshops. To share a set of expectations with teachers (the professional curriculum) without providing training and supports is the irresponsible expectation that they can change practices without supports.

Successful changes in classroom practice come when there is clarity, as well as support for both building foundational understandings and growing to proficiency.

If your initiative isn’t progressing the way you would like, if you aren’t seeing the the classroom changes you’d like to see, I’d invite you to look at the strategies within the three categories. Is your initiative attending to each?

 

Progress on our Professional Learning Project

Like a lot of districts working on large initiatives, we're struggling with how we can provide all the professional development and support our staff needs and how to manage the professional learning. Much of that development and systems work for us (Auburn School Department) is now part of the Distributed PD Project (watch this overview of the project.)

The project is more about creating our professional learning systems, than it is about actual workshops, trainings, coaching, etc. The project started with looking at supporting teachers with technology integration (leveraging technology for learning), but we knew we needed a similar system for our around Customized Learning. Recent developments have increased Customized Learning as a priority, but we are continuing to put as much attention into the technology for learning piece – both as a subset of the Customized Learning work, but also to support the folks who are primarily interested in the technology professional learning.

We have just shared a draft professional curriculum grid for Technology for Learning and a draft professional curriculum grid for Customized Learning. Each is only a partial grid outlining the Measurement Topics and steps or learning progressions within each Strand. By partial, we mean incomplete, but we have shared them hoping that others will collaborate with us to complete them.

Also, we have started a heightened collaboration with Educate/Empower around this work and are collaborating more intensively with 3 other Maine districts who share the same needs. Working from a proficiency-based learning perspective, and recognizing the power of a transparent curriculum and easy access to resources and support, the project is, right now, focused on the following:

  • Creating a professional learning curriculum/continuum for transitioning to Customized Learning, including for leveraging technology for learning
  • Developing a micro-credentialing (badging) infrastructure for that curriculum (we have selected Educate/Empower for the platform)
  • Developing or collecting reusable learning objects (videos, online resources, online modules, etc.) aligned to our professional learning curriculum
  • Develop a system to recruit and certify a cross-district cohort of “certifiers,” who will review educators' evidence of proficiency in the professional learning

 

Organizing Early to Avoid Device Breakage and Misuse

We had an interesting experience last year, at Auburn Middle School, related to iPad breakage and misuse.

AMS has six teams (3 7th & 3 8th). Last June, when we collected the iPads, we found that some teams had quite high breakage and misuse rates, and some had quite low breakage and misuse rates.

And what we saw right away was that the low-rate teams had done some things that the high-rate teams had not:

  • Worked on classroom culture (code of collaboration, rules, procedures, mutual respect, etc. – in general, not  iPad specific) before distributing iPads
  • Had a shared vision for learning
  • Had clear expectations for students for iPad use (actively taught them and re-taught them when needed)
  • Had clear expectations of teachers to use the iPads in class regularly for meaningful (to the students) learning activities 
  • Were thoughtful about including motivation and engagement strategies when designing learning activities (including those that include the iPad)
  • Responded to misuse in measured ways that were geared more toward getting students on track for appropriate use than on punishment

This was a great reminder of the success strategies from the beginning of MLTI (the original page seems to be gone, but Deer Isle has reposted it). The state MLTI team uncovered these strategies from visiting schools across the state and finding patterns among successful and more challenged schools. AMS’s trend data was almost the same as the original MLTI discovery: do these things, have low breakage/misuse; don’t do these things and have high breakage/misuse.

It confirms the conclusion from more than a decade ago that breakage/misuse is primarily a function of leadership and teacher practice. 

I’m not dumping on or blaming folks who have that higher rate. I’m much more interested in all of us learning from these kinds of experiences, so we can help all schools implement the more productive strategies and be more successful.

 

On Transitioning – Not Jumping Straight from the Traditional to the New

In my experience, the biggest mistake we make with large scale school change, like with Customized Learning, is thinking that we should, or need to, make the change all at once.  One day we’re living in the old; the next we’re living in the new. Part of that mistake is thinking that the initiative is one monolithic thing (that can just be turned on or off!), rather than something made up of many interconnected parts; also, it is thinking we should do it all at once, rather than phasing in the work.

But another piece is misunderstanding the nature of transitioning from the traditional to the new.

Let me show you what I mean.

Put your hands on the table about 18 inches apart, edge of your hand touching the table and palms facing each other (like you are measuring some fish you caught!).

We're here now, and want to end up here.Your left hand is where we are today. A group of students are taught the content at the same time (regardless of the pace they are learning it). They all learn it the same way. They all take the assessment at the same time. Grades are F to A, based on that assessment. Learning and assessment are based more on activities than they are learning targets; based more on building foundational knowledge (recall) than they are about both foundational knowledge and putting that knowledge to use (both recall and complex reasoning).

Your right hand is where we want to end up.  Learning is the constant and time is the variable (pace is based on how fast the student learns the material – with lots of teacher nudging and coaching, of course). Everyone learns the same content, but they learn it in a way that works well for them. Assessments are taken when the student is ready. Scoring (grades) is 1 to 4 based on the learner’s level of proficiency with the learning target. The student doesn’t move on until they are proficient with the content and there are multiple ways a student might demonstrate that proficiency. Proficiency requires being able to put the knowledge to use, not simply recall the related foundation knowledge.

But notice, your hands aren’t touching.  They’re 18 inches apart. We think it will take us about 5 years to transition from where we are now (left hand) to where we want to be (right hand).

And here is where we misunderstand transitioning. 

We get frustrated with teachers, or think they are doing it wrong if they are still doing parts from the traditional system. 

Instead, we should be expecting a mix of the old and the new that is (more or less) proportionate to how far along with the transition we are.

Now tap your right hand about a third of the way from your left hand. This is where we would be about a third into the transition. The problem is that some will expect that change to look just like where we want to end up. But it’s only a third of the way there. In reality, we should expect it to look mostly like the transitional system and only a little like the new system. If we were two-thirds along the transition, we’d expect it to still look some like the traditional system, but more like the new system.

Student progress trackingFor example, let’s say we are talking about learning progress management, and we are about a third of the way along our transition from what we used to do to the new system we want (keeping in mind that “a third” is metaphorical, simply to make a point). We would expect that a teacher might be keeping track of which unit or chapter each student is in the text (maybe with charts on the wall), students take the chapter test when they are ready, and grades are recorded in the electronic grade book (e.g. PowerSchool). The traditional pieces are that “the curriculum” is the textbook, that the text (and teacher mini lessons, we presume) are the primary approach to learning, and students are earning traditional grades. The new parts include keeping track of where students are in their learning, and students have some flexibility of pace.  

But if we were 2/3rds along, we might expect that the teacher would be using an online learning progress management system (e.g. Educate/Empower) to make sure that both she and her students know the full curriculum and which learning targets they are currently working on, is keeping track of which learning targets each student has demonstrated proficiency on, and the teacher then translates that information into an A through F for the report card each quarter. The traditional pieces include the A to F grades, and report cards each grading period. The new pieces include the transparent curriculum, keeping track of proficiency of learning targets,  and “grades” based on proficiency, rather than performance on assignments and activities.

Notice, more traditional and a little new early in the transition and a little traditional and more new later in the transition.

The big idea here is that we shouldn’t expect what teachers are doing to look entirely like the new system until the new system is fully implemented.

Additionally, if we’re just starting a transition, it needs to be ok that most of what we are doing looks like the traditional system. And even when we’re pretty far along with the change, we need to remember that there will still be elements of the traditional mixed in with the new.

From a leadership perspective, our biggest job is supporting teachers through the initiative toward a high level of implementation. And a major component of that is having realistic expectations of those teachers, based on how far along with the transition they currently are.

 

Benefits of Attending Auburn’s Leveraging Learning iPad Institute

Auburn Schools (ME), an early adopter of 1to1 iPads in primary grades, hosts the annual Leveraging Learning Institute on the topic. Registration for the Nov 12-14 Institute opens at noon (ET) on August 21.

Dr. David Murphy, RSU 44 Superintendent (Bethel, ME), has sent a team to the Institute every year. In this video, he discusses both what his district has gotten from attending the Institute, and the benefits of sending a team of teachers, administrators, tech integrators, and technicians.

 

Registration is limited to 135, so be sure to register early. Districts are encouraged to send teams, and the Institute is structured to support teamwork (but individuals are welcome, too!).

This year, we are expecting the Institute to be internationally rich! More than a third of our participants are likely to be educators from outside the United States. What a great opportunity to share your experiences and learn from educators from across the country and around the world!

Learn more by visiting the Leveraging Learning Hold the Date Page.  We hope to see you at the Institute!

 

The (New) Evolving Face of Professional Development

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about professional development. 

We’re working on a comprehensive project to define a professional learning curriculum related to our strategic initiatives (Customized Learning, Tech for Learning, etc), build modules and professional learning playlists around those learning targets, and provide a system for certifying teachers for their accomplishments and for what they know and can do. And I have written before about how our thinking about professional development has evolved over time.

This post captures our current (Summer 2014) thinking on the topic.

Not only are we recognizing that we just don’t have enough resources and opportunities to do traditional “everyone in the same room” professional development, but we have started thinking differently about the purpose of those workshops and other whole-group PD.

Until recently, I used to think of whole-group PD as the end. Teachers attend the PD session and they would leave being proficient at the skill taught in the session, ready and able to implement it well in their classroom.

Now, I think of whole-group PD as just the beginning, an opportunity to introduce a group to a new idea and get them all “on the same page” before they begin working in their own classrooms at learning how to implement the skill well. This is especially important given that the work we’ve been doing lately around Customized Learning, including teaching with iPads, is new to teachers (they haven’t experienced this themselves as learners) and have to invent many of the pieces. 

And that idea, the idea that these new skills are complex, and need inventing and development, and later need practice, and that teachers need to be supported throughout their work to get good at them, has us thinking about workshops as just one small piece of professional development.

For us, professional development for our teachers needs to include some fluid combination of these components:

  • “Same Page” Trainings – These are introductory workshops, getting teachers on the same page about a new set of concepts, skills, or strategies they will be working to implement.
  • Lesson Invention & Tryouts – There is much to this new system that needs to be designed or invented (or at least adapted for our schools). The work teachers do to design, invent, prototype, refine, perfect, and share these systems and strategies is valuable professional learning for all of us. Embedded in this idea is the notion of continuous improvement, and the chance to try a skill in the classroom, reflect on how it went and how it could be done better, and then try it out again with the improvements (play-debrief-replay).
  • Coaching & Feedback – Keeping with the idea of continuous improvement, this includes any Technology Integrator, Instructional Coach, administrator, or peer who models lessons or strategies, co-designs or plans with the teacher, observes, and/or provides formative feedback to support the teacher’s professional growth.
  • Teacher Face-to-Face Time – Teachers need time to sit with other teachers to share experiences, ideas, and resources, as well as to ask questions and seek support. They need a chance to share things that they have tried that worked, and to seek assistance with those things they are still challenged by. And the notion of “face-to-face” can extend well beyond her school or district via the blogs and social networks the teacher builds and follows.
  • On-Demand Modules & Play Lists – Instead of having to wait for a workshop, or for the Tech Integrator or Instructional Coach to visit her classroom, these how-to articles, lessons, short courses, videos, and other digital resources are available to a teacher as she needs them.
  • Answering “But What Does It Look Like?” – Simply stated, this is models & examples: a curated collection of possible classroom visits, videos, photos, and articles, etc., to help teachers develop a sense of what an aspect of the initiative would look like in action. Teachers often have an intellectual understanding of what they are being asked to do, but not a practical understanding.  These models and examples play a critical role in helping them move to the point of being able to try this new idea in their own classroom.
 
Of course, now we have to figure out how to do all of these well…. 
  

Teaching with Engaging Tasks

Engaging Tasks are an easy-to-implement, real world learning strategy that, when implemented well, many students find very motivating.  An Engaging Task tells a little story (only a paragraph or so!) that gives the students a reason for doing the work.