Who’s Developing Whom? Success with Do It Yourself Professional Development

January 28, 2012 — 2 Comments

 Why don’t schools routinely tap their best teachers to organize and deliver custom-tailored professional development to their peers?

This was the question posed  by Nancy Flanagan regarding teacher professional development in an article  titled , “Who’s Developing Whom?” posted in  this week’s Education Week Teacher (1/28/2012).

Well, in response to her question, I would like to suggest that she visit my school (virtually, of course) where faculty, staff, and students have collaborated in delivering excellent professional development opportunities on several occasions this past year (2011) .

But first, some background is in order. Less than four years ago, Regional School District #6 in CT was just a small rural school district with limited technology. There were shared computer labs, overhead projectors, and TVs in every room. Now we are a district with Smartboards in every classroom, with a netbook 1:1 initiative for designated classrooms, with iPads for teachers, all combined with a “bring your own digital device” policy at the middle and high school. More importantly, however, our faculty and staff has been trained in the use multiple platforms for collaboration such as wikis, and blogs; and we are completing our transition using Google educator apps. How did this shift happens?
First our administration, a dedicated superintendent and cooperative principals, with the blessings of our regional school board, concentrated efforts to increase the hardware necessary to meet the needs in delivering 21st Century instruction.  Then, the technology specialists in the elementary schools and  library media specialist at the high school joined forces to create a super-technology team: Alisha, Amy and Abbe (with an acronym AAA-a triple A threat!). They have organized professional development in our district on the ED Camp model, which is described on the Ed Camp wiki website as “a free (or very cheap), democratic, participant-driven professional development for teachers.” This model allows teachers to post sessions they will host on a grid that designates time and session locations. A video on the Ed Camp website details the procedure.
During this past school year, our district has utilized the Ed Camp model to allow any teacher who would like to share their expertise or simply discuss a problem with fellow staff or faculty members; we have also included students who have expertise in some software to offer sessions in this model.

In her commentary  “Who’s Developing Whom” Flanagan put in clips from a Twitter stream which could represent any number of districts; several years ago, ours probably would have been included:

@BreaktheCurve (Craig Jerald): Never been able to figure out why teachers don’t revolt & protest against time-wasting PD

@TeacherBeat (Stephen Sawchuk, of Education Week): I wrote a whole series on this last year. PD terrible, districts don’t even know what they spend on it

Flanagan notes that, “There is a dominant mindset that Professional Development (caps intentional) is something delivered to teachers, rather than cultivated by them, as practitioners striving to improve their practice. Professional Development assumes that someone knows better than a teacher.” 

That is a problem that is changing. Mindshift,a website by KQED (NPR affiliate) in Northern California reposted a education blog by Shelly Blake-Plock titled “21 Things That Will be Obsolete in 2020”  The post was written in December 2009, and according to the website, “Blake-Plock says he’s seeing some of these already beginning to come to fruition.”

Out of the 21 things that will be obsolete that he listed,  #14 and #15  caught my eye:

This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modeled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN (professional learing networks) in their back pockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide professional development programs. This is already happening.”

Teachers in hands on professional development in Region 6 in CT; tech specialist on right in the picture!

Flanagan asks, “Will teachers really learn something new if it’s not fed to them by a talking head in front of a room? Would they waste time, if it wasn’t structured for them?” If our administration was worried about this, they now have evidence that teachers not only learned something new, but that many teachers worked harder during the Ed Camp model of professional development than ever before.

Please read the description of our professional development experience (“Starting the Year with Teacher-Driven Professional Development”) on the AAA Team’s blog (RSD6 Tech Times) to know that, ” Teachers exceeded our expectations in creating sessions, even creating an extra column when they ran out of rooms….Concurrent sessions were held throughout the day by our teachers on the following topics:

Google Maps, Macs, Digital Storytelling with StoryBird/Photostory,  Edmodo, Screencasting, Livebinders, Photoshop, Fakebook, Photo editing, blogging, Twitter, World Book, Windows Movie Maker, Quia, Quizlet, Apps, Lexia, , Discovery Education, SuccessNet, Kidblog, Skype, Literature Videoconferencing, and  Prezi.”
And did I mention that our small, one-man IT department was there to facilitate this great success?

There are are some who anticipate that teacher to teacher professional development may be difficult because of teacher egos, and Flanagan warns that, “There can also be a false elitism around teacher-led professional development–the ‘who does she think she is?’ syndrome. While teachers are perfectly willing to swipe good ideas and practices shared by colleagues in the lunchroom, a teacher who’s put his reputation on the line for a respected credential standing in front of the room violates some teachers’ sense of egalitarianism’.” However, Flanagan’s anticipated concerns did not materialize, and our experience was quite to the contrary. There were many surprises within the faculty as to the level of expertise some teachers had developed because of a particular interest or demand. Our Region 6 Ed Camp model of professional development brought new appreciation and respect to the many faculty members and students who shared their expertise.

Finally, Flanagan asks, “What would happen if teacher development happened internally, entirely site-based and tailored to particular schools and populations? It would require demonstrated, deep teacher expertise in instruction and curricular issues. Which could shift the balance of power. And it would cost very little.” She’s right; the teachers and administrators with the help of a team of technology specialists in Region 6 have the exercised the power, found the teacher to teacher model a great professional development experience,  and received excellent usable training at very minimal cost.

2 responses to Who’s Developing Whom? Success with Do It Yourself Professional Development


    I’m so glad to hear of a school district using this model as their primary means od professional development. I’ve been to some good professional development sessions, but more often than not, they have been awful.

    The problems I’ve encountered is that it either tends to be a common sense practice I already use, it’s something that is not applicable to my classroom, or the description was misleading. I’ve learned far more reading teacher blogs and following teachers on Twitter in the past 6 months than I have in the last 2 years of professional development I’ve attended.

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