Tag Archives: PD for Paradigm Shift

It’s Not About Blaming Teachers, It’s About Locus of Control

I keep writing about, and presenting about, how teachers need to teach differently… Pretty soon you'll start thinking that I'm blaming teachers for the challenges in our schools…

Most of what I write about in this blog is educational change, usually focused on instruction and/or technology integration (which, of course, is just a subset of “instruction”). But when you talk a lot about changing expectations for teaching and learning, and how teachers teach, and paradigms, and getting them to focus on the right thing instead of the wrong thing, and supervising for those changes, it's easy to start to think that I believe that teachers are the reason that schools aren't changing or that more students aren't learning.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

First off, I write about the changes that need to happen and how to help teachers make those changes because they are things that most teachers have not experienced before themselves.

I believe that the rules for education have changed. The world of work has changed and we now need every child to learn in school what we used to only need the college prep kids to learn (well, actually what has changed is that we now need every kid to be college prep!). Second, new tools (laptops, tablets, cell phones, iPods, information access, personal broadcasting, the read/write web, multimedia, etc.) have changed how kids work, necessitating changing how schools have students learn (or risk becoming irrelevant to students).

As I described when Bea McGarvey came to Auburn, she points out that schools still do industrial age education, when we need an educational system for the information age:

During the industrial age, schools’ goal was to sort out talent and make the rest compliant. We got really good at that. But for this economy, the goal needs to be to develop talent in every child. That’s why we’re so frustrated: we’re trying to meet one goal with a tool that was designed for another…

It doesn’t matter how much we agree with the burning platform that our schools need to work for all our children, or how well we understand that the root problem is how our goals have changed and it isn’t “the teachers’ fault” (Bea says, according to Deming: 95% of the problems are not with the people; they are with the structure), the fact is, at some point teachers understand that they are good at a system designed for an old goal, and that they might not know how to do the system for the new goal…

So teachers are now working in an environment they didn't really experience as students themselves, and probably weren't trained for professionally. Even if teachers need to be the ones making most of the changes, the reason is that the rules have changed, not because they weren't doing a good job.

But even more importantly, we focus on teachers making the changes because teachers are the ones who can solve our challenges. They have the power, the locus of control. When we look at all the factors that impact our students being successful, the one we (schools, educators) have the most control over is teacher practice: what happens in the classroom.

And if teachers have to make changes for a new environment they haven't experienced or been trained for, and if they are the ones who have the power to make the changes, then we have to be very, very clear that we don't blame teachers. Nothing could be more inappropriate, nor unproductive for achieving our new goals.

Instead, what we need to do is support the heck out of teachers.

We need to provide teachers support to a level like we never have before. Side by side with an expectation to teach in ways so all students can learn a high status curriculum, and that makes use of the modern tools for intellectual work, we have to be making a promise to support teachers in this work, making clear we believe in our teachers, and that we know that they can do this hard work. We have to provide training, resources, and time. We have to let teachers try, and allow them to make mistakes, and also to get better – and hold them harmless in this important work. That includes sticking up for them and their efforts, even when (maybe especially when!) it doesn't go well the first time.

If we don't, we guarantee failure: for our schools, for our teachers, and for our students.


Our 8 Messages to the State Board of Education

State Board of Ed visits an Auburn Classroom

On May 9th, the State Board of Education had their meeting in Auburn (press coverage in the SunJournal and at WCSH6). The Board often has their regular meeting at a school, spending the morning in a workshop and the afternoon in their business meeting. They came to Auburn School Department because they wanted to learn more about teaching and learning with technology.

We used the morning workshop to have them visit technology-using classrooms at our middle school, high school, and one of our elementary schools, then return to Auburn Middle School for a debrief and lunch with some of our students.

What did we want the Board to learn about teaching and learning with technology? Here are our 8 messages to the Board:

1) Technology is About Learning
Technology isn’t “cool gadgets” or a content area. Technology is a teaching and learning tool, and decisions need to be based on questions such as, “How does this impact the quality of learning opportunities in the classroom?” and “How can we leverage technology to help students learn in ways that they couldn’t without?”

2) Technology For Learning Takes Deliberate Leadership
Good teaching and learning with technology doesn’t happen on its own. It doesn’t happen just by giving teachers laptops or tablets. It takes deliberate leadership, leadership that is a team focus on positive pressure and support, teacher practice, funding, partnerships, resource management, branding and buzz, and PD for paradigm shift.

3) Technology is No Luxury; It Is The Modern Learning Tool
Some view technology as a luxury schools can’t afford. And yet technology is prevalent in nearly every sector and part of life outside of school. If we want students to think school is relevant to their lives, then we need to use tools for learning that they see in use outside of school.

4) Effective Technology Use in Schools is All About Having Great Teachers
Technology is just a tool. It doesn’t replace teachers. In fact, using technology well takes a good teacher. We won’t ever improve learning by simply handing technology to students. But when a good teacher hands technology to students with a good activity, then learning can soar.

5) Teachers Need Support
Very few of our teachers grew up as students in classrooms where technology was a teaching and learning tool. It is unfair to expect teachers to implement technology well if they have not experienced it’s use as a learning tool themselves. We need to provide lots of support to teachers so they can get good at teaching and learning with technology. That support needs to include identifying models of effective use, classroom visits, trainings that model effective use, access to resources, a safe environment to try new things (and maybe fail), and a little professional hand holding.

6) Teachers Need to Focus on Student Engagement
Whether we have technology available in the classroom or not, teachers need to compete for student attention more than ever before. Students have access to much more information outside of school than when we were students. If teachers are to remain effective and schools are to remain relevant to students, then we need to focus on engaging students, keeping things interesting, and making learning meaningful.

7) Even Young Students Learn With Technology
Young children are adept at using technology, and there are many great technology-based apps and resources available for a quality early learning or primary grades program.

8) It’s About Blalance
Schools known for effective technology rich environments are good at identifying the right learning tool for the learning target. And even though they use technology widely, they would never use technology exclusively. Students still have teachers, read books, create art, play outside, write with pencil and paper, toss a ball, etc.


Professional Development for Auburn’s iPad Kindergarten Teachers

Auburn is excited that our initial research results strongly suggest that our initiative is extending the impact our teachers are having on their students. It has prompted lots of requests to know more about what we’re doing for professional development with our teachers. Professional development is, clearly, one critical component to any school change initiative, and designing and providing the right kind of PD and support is a critical leadership role.

What professional development did we conduct with our kindergarten teachers?

Content of Professional Development – All of our PD and training has focused on a couple of topics. We wanted to expand our teachers’ skill at applying literacy best practice, and to insure that our teachers and specialists working with kindergarten students had the capacity to select and apply appropriate apps directly toward student academic needs, as well as how to manage the iPads and work within the unique demands of this initiative. We have summed this up at the beginning of each of our PD session agendas with the following goals:

  1. Link iPads to learning.
  2. Problem-solve technology-related issues.
  3. Discuss best practices.
  4. Discuss and review apps.

How did we manage professional development and support that achieved these goals?

PD for Paradigm Shfit – Although teachers can often, sometimes with coaching, apply best practice they are familiar with to unfamliliar contexts, the integration of technology at this level is often a paradigm shift for teachers. Rarely have teachers experienced learning with technology themselves, and many have received very little training with computers, let alone iPads. “PD for Paradigm Shift” recognizes that changing paradigms requires more than sharing information. Schema theory sheds the best light on how to structure professional development for large change: provide models and experiences. See it in action. Live it in action. That’s what we’ve tried to do for our teachers.

Getting Technology into the Hands of Teachers – A terrific first step for professional development is to get the technology into the hands of teachers, so they can become used to it through their own use. We made sure that every teacher had an iPad to use over the summer for this purpose. But it is important to keep in mind that this will develop a teacher’s personal use skill, not their integration for learning skill. That’s not a problem. The problem comes from thinking that if teachers know how to use their iPad that they also know how to leverage it for their students’ learning…

Modeling: Visiting Classrooms – When teachers don’t have a lot of experience with an innovation, one way to get them that experience is by having them visit other teachers who are successfully doing similar work. This can be done in person, or vicariously through videos or stories (not descriptive articles, so much as those that tell the story and paint a picture for the reader – remember, this is not about information, it’s about experience). Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of classrooms for us to visit when we got started. We have tried to make it easy for our teachers to visit each other’s rooms, and we have had teachers video (on their iPads!) and share examples of what they are doing. Now we’re working to make sure that other teachers can come to visit our classrooms so they can begin to expand their experience (although we’re trying to be careful how we schedule and manage such visits as not to distract too much from the learning that is supposed to be our first order of business!).

Modeling Effective Practices – Did we see a teacher do a great lesson? We had her model that lesson to the other teachers in a PD session. Did we learn a better way to sync or manage apps? We modeled that approach in a PD session. Did we think the press might start contacting teachers? We’d review procedures for dealing with press requests, as well as share talking points and provide them language they could choose to use if interviewed. (Our teachers’ favorite talking point: “That’s a great question! You should ask the superintendent.” I think they might be a little press shy!) 🙂

Connecting with other Educators – A different approach to helping teachers and program leaders build models is to provide them opportunities to communicate with educators who are doing similar work. Networking is a powerful way for teachers to develop their own practice while helping colleagues (often in different states or countries!) to develop their own. Although few teachers have taken us up on these options to date, we encourage them to consider tweeting or blogging about their experiences, since it can help build a diverse professional learning network for the teachers who do. Our teachers are more eager to connect with teachers in more traditional ways: on the phone or via email. One avenue which has really opened possibilities for these connections was the national iPads in primary grades education conference we hosted last November. About half our participants were from Maine, and the other half from across the country (we even had one from India!). We’re already planning next year’s conference.

Constructivist Approach – As we thought about designing PD for our teachers, we didn’t want to just hand teachers information or resources; for example, we didn’t just want to hand them “approved” apps. We wanted teachers to have an intimate understanding of various components of the initiative they were on the front lines of implementing, including app (educational resource) selection. We decided to take a constructivist approach. For example, we had our teachers start by simply exploring apps. They had a limited budget for apps, but could also download as many free apps as they wanted. Then teachers made recommendations for apps that they thought would be the “core collection” of apps, those apps the district would purchase for every classroom. We would give teachers two similar apps and ask, “which one’s better?” to get them thinking about criteria for app selection; this eventually was developed into a rubric. Finally, we correlated apps to our kindergarten curriculum. The constructivist approach insures a deeper understanding based on their own experience.

Collaboratively Designed – I think one of our best secrets to successful professional development and support is realizing that none of us is as smart as a group of us together. We have tried to have a team approach to all design work for this initiative. Our Advantage 2014 Design Team includes central office administrators, our grant writer, a couple School Committee members, a couple parents and community members, as well as our some of our teach folk, and one of our elementary principals (and, of course, me, the Multiple Pathways Leader). We have smaller groups working on specific aspects of the program: funding, research, the Institute, and professional development. Our professional development planning group includes our Tech Director, our elementary Technology Coach, an elementary principal, one of our Special Education administrators, and myself. And even though no teacher is officially on the PD design team, in reality, they all are. We solicit their input in a variety of ways and work hard to be responsive to their needs (see the next section). Teachers helped us craft our policies and procedures, our expectations for teachers, our core collection of apps and our app selection rubric, and other significant components of our initiative.

I can’t over state this: this work MUST be a team effort. I can’t tell you how many times in the last few weeks I’ve said, “See! That’s exactly why we have a team planning this!” And not just for PD, but for lots of different aspects of this work. I don’t care how good some individuals in your district are; he or she doesn’t have the capacity represented by a collection of your staff, with various experience bases, perspectives, and areas of expertise.

Continuous Improvement Focus – We’ve tried to be highly responsive to the needs of our teachers. In additional to listening to our teachers, asking them directly, and being tuned in to situations as they develop, we use two tools. On a regular basis, we have our teachers complete one of two surveys we created in Google Docs. One asks questions about how often they used the iPad that week for various types of tasks (these correspond to our expectations for teachers that we collaborately created with the teachers, and essentially gets to fidelity of implementation). The other survey simply asks about their recent successes and challenges within the program. Although quite simple, both provide us with amazing data on what the teachers need right now. Although we plan our PD sessions in advance, we’ve been known to completely redesign a session hours before it starts based on what we’ve learned the teachers need.

Imbedded Support – Our district has three technology integrators: one for the high school, one for the middle school and one serving our elementary schools. As you can imagine, we’ve had our elementary technology coach spend much of her time working in our kindergarten classrooms. A good technology coach is really a good pedagogical coach. She can collaboratively design lessons with teachers, co-teach lessons, model lessons, sit back and observe and provide feedback, make recommendations to resources and otherwise support teachers. Although the technology coach becomes eyes and ears for program leaders, it is not an evaluative position. The teacher needs to feel safe with the coach working in her room, and we only use information from the coach to help direct resources and support.

Built On A Strong Literacy Foundation – Our teachers had been working on literacy instruction for several years prior to Advantage 2014 and the introduction of iPads to their classrooms. Auburn had been part of the Maine Literacy Project out of the Univerrsity of Maine and our teachers had done graduate level work with the Project. Adding the iPads and its apps was a logical extension of this work, and training we conducted specficially about the iPads was intended to extend this earlier work, not replace it.

Where Did We Find the Time? – We used the usual approaches: taking advantage of workshop days, after-school opportunities, and scheduling a couple days in the summer prior to school starting. But we also had the advantage of the district already having “Early Release Wednesdays” available for our elementary schools. We have used nearly every other Wednesday to provide several hours of training. Some days we met just with the “September Teachers” (the first round of teachers to get the iPads). Other times we met with all the kindergarten teachers, or just the specialists, or everyone all at once.

It’s Your Turn:

What are your best strategies for delivering professional development and support to your staff?