Archives For professional development

birthday11July 3rd is this blog’s third anniversary.

WrdPress provides a map of where visitors accessed this blog.

WrdPress provides a map of where visitors accessed this blog since 2012.

One way of determining whether this three year venture has been successful is to look at the overwhelming amount of statistical information provided by the host of this site, WordPress.com. To date, the stat page notes that there have been over 70,000 hits, the most popular search term has been Of Mice and Men, the most popular post has been Teaching Elie Weisel’s Night with Choice Books, and the most frequently used category for this teacher, not surprisingly, has been EDUCATION.

The other way to determine the success of this blog, however, is to reflect on how well writing has served as my own professional development for the past 36 months. In writing each post, I have tried to find links that support or refute a position. I have searched and researched all elements of the Common Core State Standards; read journals or policy statements from educators and education reformers; and cited hundreds of quotes, graphics, and statistics to support my ideas. Even if no one read this blog, the writing experience has been important.

Many of the ideas for blog posts come from links provided by other educators on Twitter. Many ideas come from the students in my classes or from news stories that are related to education reform. Then there are the ideas I have while I walk with fellow educator on weekends.
For example, I will notice how the ripples on the pond create an interesting pattern, and I will casually remark, “that reminds me of how students can create ripples when they discuss their book choices!”
“Well, that’s a great idea for a blog post!” she will respond.

I have discovered that I have little control over my need to write; that the impulse to set things into print is hard to ignore. In addition, the motivation to write comes at the most inconvenient times, often late in the evening, and I have seen many digital clocks click into the AM hours of the morning as I polish a piece.
“Are you still awake?” my husband complains.
“Just finishing,” and I huddle to hide the glow of the screen while I reflect and revise.

Nothing has taught me more about how to teach writing than my writing this blog. Nothing.
Nothing has made me appreciate how hard it is to meet the deadlines and requirements of assignments given to students. Nothing.
Nothing has made me more aware of how important developing confident writers is in preparing students for the real world. Nothing.

My friend, who also writes on her own blog, often quotes the scientist Louis Pasteur who said,

“In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”

On this third anniversary, I am confident that writing on this blog has helped me to become a more informed educator. Writing what I think about education prepares me to say what I think when I am at leadership meetings, or department meetings, or when I am teaching. I am primed to discuss any number of issues related to education because my mind has been prepared, and the chances that I will talk about these education issues is more than good.

On this blog’s third anniversary, I am convinced that the best professional development I have is to write what I think.

The teachers at the professional development session were visibly frustrated; I could hear the irritation in their comments. The presentation on the use of digital technology was to help them improve digital literacy across the content areas, but many of the sites in the demonstration were blocked by the school’s Internet filter. I sympathized with their frustration because just three years ago, I was like them. Three years ago, our school’s Internet filter blocked everything.blocked youtube

Back then, members of my English department were finding excellent resources to use to teach the novels All Quiet on the Western Front, The Crucible, and the memoir Night. Unfortunately, many of these resources were unavailable because they were on YouTube or had descriptors such as “witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts” or “Nazi” that were blocked by our filters. The filters were useless to a large degree since many of the students knew a variety of different strategies to get around each filter. So, the irony was that the students had access where the teachers did not.

Furthermore, the students were having a rich and very authentic experience of using the Internet outside of school. Once they came into our building, however, they were detached from the very technology that they would need to use in their future. Our school web filters  created an “un-authentic” web experience for our students. We were losing the opportunity to teach them digital citizenship because they were not digital citizens.

Fortunately, our administration took the position that teaching our students 21st Century skills meant that they should have access to the Internet in a technology rich learning experience. The filters were minimized. Our acceptable use policy was enforced, and teachers and students had access to the Internet resources.

We moved from exclusively computer lab use to 1:1 netbooks in English/Social Studies to a “Bring Your Own Digital Device” (BYOD) over the course of the next two years, and now, two years later, I can testify that unblocking the Internet has not created a problem for teachers or students. Yes, the students can watch YouTube videos, but they also make videos and share them with other students. They make videos for our “Friendship and Respect” Assemblies and share these on YouTube; they watch Oscar winning films for Film and Literature Class that are on YouTube; they embed YouTube videos into their blogs.

Furthermore, our students have access to the Internet to meet the state adopted Common Core Literacy Standard:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Of course, our students are not perfect, and their behaviors using the Internet at school are not always tied to curriculum. I once came upon a group of young men huddled around a computer screen one morning. They were watching a video, and as I grew closer, I could hear a voice say, “She’s a beauty…” and another agree, “Oh, I want her!” I feared the worst, but when  I came up behind them to see what was on the screen, I got a eyeful of a 2006 Ford F250 XLT Powerstroke Turbo Diesel Pick Up Truck. Curriculum? No. Authentic experience? Yes.

The frustrated teachers who were sitting in the professional development asked what steps they could take to have their administrators review acceptable use policies and open the Internet filters for their students. They discussed looking at other school districts’ acceptable use policies. Perhaps there might be some testimony about the success of unlocking an Internet filter?

This post is one such testimony, and I offer this to any teacher that is looking to “unblock” the Internet in order to engage students in developing 21st Century skills. We are already in the second decade of this 21st Century, and the skills necessary to use the Internet are becoming more valuable in this Information Age. According to the 2012 data, using the Internet is a real world experience for 2,405,518,376 people. That is 1/3 of the world’s population, and there has already been a 566% increase in use since the beginning of the new millenium.

Our students are counted in those numbers already. While they use the Internet outside of school for social media; they should be taught to use the Internet for education and productivity in school. So once they have access to YouTube, they can never go back…they will only go forward.

 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:

“14. EDUCATION SCHOOLS THAT FAIL TO INTEGRATE TECHNOLOGY
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.

15. PAID/OUTSOURCED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
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.