There are millions of teachers in the world, and the world is changing every day. Professional development (PD) as we’ve known it HAS to be a technology enabled experience. Here’s why…
There are some wonderful professional development experiences that teachers can tap into during the summer. Some even pay the teachers to participate. But when you look at the numbers, the “workshop in the summer” model is not sufficient. Whether it’s the number of existing teachers who want to become more proficient in teaching science, or accelerating the success of the new teachers who are replacing throngs of retirees, it’s clear that PD on a massive scale can only be accomplished with a multi-pronged strategy that includes:
- Face to face PD experiences
- Online (asynch and synch) PD experiences
- The creation of a strong professional Community of Practice among science teachers, both on-site and online.
- Encouraging every teacher to develop a “personal learning network” that extends beyond their immediate circle of colleagues to educators across the country and around the world.
I’ve described each below. If you have other examples of effective approaches to Teacher Professional Development, send me a tweet @jgvanides and let me know what you think!
Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Program Manager
Sustainability & Social Innovation
While the efficiency and speed of online communication can be stunning, there are valuable interactions that are more efficient (and perhaps only possible) when you meet face to face. I’m reminded of this recently having come back from the HP Catalyst Summit we just hosted in Beijing. When it comes to collaboration, building trust and understanding is job #1. We’ve proven yet again that human beings thrive on authentic relationships built on shared experiences, and something as simple as sharing an meal or a taxi ride can open the door to professional collaboration in ways that webinars and twitter would not.
(delegates at the HP Catalyst Summit learning about innovations in education from one another)
Of course any face to face professional development experience needs to be thoughtfully crafted so it is time well spent. Much has been written on this topic already, so I won’t go on here…
There are a growing number of learning opportunities for teachers that are online, and the modality of each provides a different type of experience. Synchronous (“live”, where participants are online at the same moment) PD would include live webinars – of which there are plenty. For example, the International Society for Technology in Education offers webinars on a variety of topics to its members, and the New Media Consortium offered free webinars to the public on topics related to STEM education.
In the “synchronous online” category are the growing number of Twitter-based chats for educators who want to discuss specific topics of interest. I’ve participated in #edchat (4-5pm Pacific, every Tuesday). For a nicely organized list of education chats via Twitter, check out @Cybraryman1 and his edchat guide: http://cybraryman.com/chats.html. Even if you’ve never used Twitter, lurking as the tweets fly by is very informative!
For a deeper, more reflective experience, I recommend asynchronous online PD. These can be instructor led courses, facilitated mentoring, or self paced. All of them can be done at a time that is convenient for you, without regard to the timezone you’re in. An example of this would be the online masters level science content courses available through an NSF-funded program called the National Teachers Enhancement Network hosted by Montana State University (www.scienceteacher.org).
When I have time, I teach the “Science of Sound” course. It’s a hands-on, inquiry-based, conceptual physics class for 5th-8th grade teachers. We have a great time discussing science – and amazingly, I like the online asynchronous conversations more than the conversations we had when I taught this as a face to face workshop. There’s more time to think, reflect, hit backspace before you open your mouth, and the ability to keep on thinking weeks after the initial conversation began (more details are available in the article I wrote, “Online Professional Development that Works”).
Communities of Practice
In addition to one’s professional network of local colleagues, everyone needs an extended professional network to bring in fresh ideas, to find encouragement, and to open up possibilities to grow professionally. Live professional meetings are great (is anyone else going to be at www.isteconference.org ?), but the time between traveling doesn’t have to leave you isolated. Every education discipline and role has a professional community to join. Make sure you don’t miss out (FYI, the ISTE conference has an online community, too: www.iste2012.org).
But online professional communities on a small scale can be equally valuable. Does your institution have a way for faculty to connect online at night, weekends, and during the summer? Is there a regional online community that is thriving that you can join? If not, you can easily create a private online community using Google Sites, Google+ , or using a Facebook-like environment made possible by Ning.
Personal Learning Networks
For an even more specific “community”, start building a “Personal Learning Network”. Having such a network helps to create a way to connect in real-time for just-in-time PD/mentoring, and it helps save time by giving you a “focused and curated” view of the vast resources made available online. You can do this through any number of technologies, but Twitter may be the easiest way to get started. The Innovative Educator posted ideas about this back in 2008 (!), but it’s a growing trend. A more recent article, “8 ways to build your personal learning network with Twitter, Google Plus, and more” was written by Anya Kamenetz.
I currently have about 200 people I’m following in Twitter – and every time I take a moment to read what they’re saying, I’m left impressed, informed, and inspired. You can be, too!