Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Targeted Professional Learning

Yesterday, I had the privilege of facilitating an all day professional learning opportunity with my staff. One piece of professional learning development I've become more and more invested in is the close and mindful needs assessments that drive the decisions we make about what ought to be covered and how.

Prior to this day, I spent time in classrooms looking purposefully for needs. How is technology being used? At what level? What's working? What's a struggle?

I followed up with informal one on one conversations, and a few longer and focused discussions.

Lastly, I sent out a fairly thorough survey to all staff. I happened to time up the survey on two days when school was closed due to weather -- hoping staff would see it as a fairly simple task to complete with two unexpected non-student days ahead.

I'll never stop appreciating the honest appraisals that teachers give about their current practice and where they'd like to be. A culture of honesty always leads to greater improvements -- it's something all schools should strive for.

After gathering all data, reflecting on conversations, and using what I'd seen in classrooms, I opted to make the focus of the day "Taking a Targeted Approach." The use of learning targets in our system is standard practice, and something that drives teacher instruction every day. I knew the concept of 'targeting' would be a familiar one, and something that would show I had respected our teachers' needs and interests.

I structured the day like this:

Intro -- Reflecting on the 'why.' Informal table discussions were held about all the reasons why teachers choose (or choose not) to use technology on any given day or task. We read William Ferriter's blog post, Technology is a Tool, NOT a Learning Outcome, shared reactions, and discussed how closely it reflected our own practice.

Learning -- I took the top 5 areas teachers requested learning more about, and purposefully integrated tools that fit into those categories. We covered everything from Photocard, ThingLink, and 30hands as new ways for kids to present their learning, to differentiating instruction by using student created Kahoot! quizzes as an extension, or harnessing the power of screencasting with Screencast-o-matic as a form of reteaching and remediation.

Making Meaning -- My needs assessments (and intuition) told me that many of the strengths and areas of need in our school were heavily tied to departments. I wanted to give teachers time to meet and discuss learning technologies within their departments to start bringing together their collective strengths and building solutions for their struggles. Therefore, I had departments engage in a "Chalk Talk."

In the first round, teachers silently shared "What's going well?" and "What has been a struggle?" After time to discuss, clarify, and question, they engaged in a second silent round of "What strength would I like to capitalize on OR what area of need would I like to address?"

The Work -- Taking their learning from the morning, and the priorities identified during the Chalk Talk, teachers were then given the leverage to design their work for the afternoon. In random groups, PLCs, or even a few individuals, teachers designed the work that would bring them to the next level in an area of strength or create a solution for something that had been holding them back.

Teachers shared their learning, work, and artifacts with one another on a shared Google Presentation.

All in all, it was an invigorating day of learning, tailored (...or should I say targeted) to our teachers' needs and interests. I encourage all who have influence on professional learning to recognize that without validating the people you're providing professional learning for, you're unlikely to see the results you desire.

It reminds me of a quote that often recirculates through my brain:
"Adult Learning is voluntary in all its dimensions - participation, acquisition, and outcome." - Mary Jane Even (1987, p.22) Why Adults Learn in Different Ways

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