Tuesday, October 29, 2013

PD Gets A Bad Wrap: 8 characteristics of Effective PD

I had a great conversation with a group of educators a few weeks ago about education technology and something a young teacher said struck me.  It is the same feeling I get sometimes when I read Twitter posts about how people feel that they are not really benefiting from PD.  Though I definitely agree that traditional PD falls short of the mark,  I don't agree that all PD is dictatorial and/or useless.  I also think there are some amazing teachers working in School Districts and they are trying to yield positive change from the inside out.

I think that PD can be be effective if it is learner-centred.  Here are 8 characteristics of PD that have made for successful learning in our District.

1.  Collaboration 

Where possible, include more than one Department in the planning and facilitating of a workshop or session. For our 21C sessions for example, I brought my Secondary Literacy lens to the table.  My super-fantastic team members?  Special Education technician, Computers in the Classroom Consultant, IT Manager, Superintendent of Curriculum.  Though it was sometimes hard to meet in the middle, we challenged each other, grounded each other, and learned from each other--this teamwork really helped to make the sessions awesome.  We also used Google Presentation and shared our game-plan with Consultants from other Departments, a few teachers, and Senior Admin.  Though this level of collaboration isn't always possible, it is definitely a good idea to get another perspective whenever possible.  We also recognize that we have brilliant educators with valuable insights to share.  Whenever possible, we plan to pull these "experts" in and collaborate with them as well.

2.  Knowing what you are trying to accomplish

When planning, be sure to articulate your learning goals and continue to check to ensure that you are meeting these throughout the session.  People appreciate knowing what they are going to learn and feeling like they accomplished something in the end.

3.  Knowing your audience and honouring their knowledge

Prior to running a PD session, find out who your audience is and what they want out of the session.   We sent out a short survey so we knew what prior knowledge teachers were bringing with them.  We also asked teachers what they were hoping to learn which helped to inform the direction of our sessions. Every morning, we would review the responses, anticipate issues and decide how we needed to modify the topic, our approach, or our pace.

4.  Differentiating Instruction

After you learn about your audience, ensure there are different entry points for various skill levels. Just like in a classroom, a teacher should provide adequate challenge and support, so too, should a PD session offer that same support and challenge.  If possible, groups can break out based on skill, subject, or age (of students).  We ensured that where there were teachers who already had student examples of the tech tool we were showcasing, got to share their expertise.  We also got these participants to help us support new learners.  In future sessions, we will empower these individuals to lead sessions.

5.  Providing a forum for feedback and questions

A simple backchannel like Todays Meet is a great way to encourage questions and the sharing of ideas.  This provides an opportunity for teachers to share their knowledge and ideas and seek understanding for questions that come up.  We try to answer all of the questions posed on Today's Meet at some point during the session.  We also had a hashtag for Twitter questions and ideas and of course had post-it notes handy just in case someone wasn't quite ready for the technology (note--even though we offered the choice, no one used a yellow post-it note--yay!)

6.  Making it hands-on and practical

If we would like our teachers to create opportunities for rich dialogue in a student-centred learning environment, then this approach needs to be modelled in our own PD sessions.  In our full day session, teachers engaged in conversation, critical thinking, and created and shared a movie trailer that consolidated their learning.  We provided open questions for discussion, resources, and "mini-demonstrations" throughout the day, but the time we spent at the front of the room talking or presenting was minimal.  We also built in time to share ideas for practical classroom implementation.

7.  Providing opportunities to consolidate learning

Reflecting on big ideas and new learning is an important step in consolidating understanding.  Wherever possible, give the opportunity to share and plan based on the day's learning--build it into the session time.     If teachers aren't given time to reflect, share, and plan for possible implementation at the end of the session, it is unlikely that they will find the time to do this later.

8.  Following up and Providing opportunities to go deeper

If there are lingering questions, be sure to answer them.  Provide a place (we use a Google Site) where teachers can get a copy of the resources and materials shared and where they can get additional information AND contribute ideas themselves.  Opportunities to go deeper through co-planning and co-teaching certainly help with implementation of ideas in the classroom.   We provided a mechanism for teams within schools to pursue their own inquiries (Student Learning Proposals) which may or may not be facilitated by Central staff.

Hmmm....this list can easily read:  8 Characteristics of Effective Teaching.

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