Author Biography: Brendan Murphy is an education specialist currently working as a Math specialist in a middle school in Waukegan Illinois.
I enjoy writing at my blog http://philosophywithoutahome.com, learning from my PLN on Twitter @dendari, and organizing professional learning opportunities for my fellow teachers. Activity Summary
Applying adult learning theory to teacher professional development. How technology and the transformation of education in the classroom can transfer into our own learning. Ways to deemphasize a single presenter with a single point of view and increase the emphasis on collaborative learning. Class or subject area: Teacher professional development. Grade level(s): All Specific learning objectives: • Improving professional development • Increasing participation from teachers • Improving professionalism among teachers
Anniversary Book Project
The Changing Nature of Professional Development
By: Brendan Murphy Creative Commons License: CC BY Author contact: @dendari
For as long as there have been teachers there have been complaints about the poor nature of professional development. While I believe that a certain percentage of these complaints is noise to make noise that does not rule out the possibility that we might be able to do things differently. We might be able to do things better. When we, as educators, prepare our own lessons one of the most important, and most difficult, aspects of the lesson is usually differentiation. Are we presenting the material to be learned in such a way that it is accessible to all the students in the room? Is presenting even the right word for what we should be doing? When we evaluate our teaching, we not our principals, we usually ask ourselves, did the students learn what I tried to teach? Is this what is being done in our own professional development? Are we learning what is being taught? Is it being presented to us in a way we can understand? For most teachers the mention of professional development elicits groans. Complaints abound of boring presentations and out of date information. Even worse are the veterans who complain of the repeating cycle of professional development days. Many teachers will tell similar stories, as new administrators enter a building or district they push their favored professional development or philosophy of teaching. The answer for the ailing school. The solution that will make our school the most amazing school in the world. The transformation model that works. It seems that the majority of professional development is destined to be wasted on teachers who just don’t see the point. Interestingly enough while anecdotal evidence of professional development would lead one to believe that all professional development days are lectures by highly paid, and often horrible, presenters, the list of professional development options found on Wikipedia paints a different story. The list of professional development options found on Wikipedia April 17, 2012 (http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Professional_development) • Case Study Method • Consultation • Coaching • Communities of Practice • Lesson Study • Mentoring • Reflective Supervision • Technical Assistance Are any of these methods meant to be delivered as a lecture? Perhaps the problem is we just remember the bad. How we learn I am one of those people who does extremely well in the “typical” school setting. If you sit me down and tell me what is important I will take notes, shove the information into a short term memory, (it will only last about 4-8 weeks) then I can take and pass a multiple choice test. If I had ever done any
homework I would have had straight A’s in school. On the otherhand If I want to retain the information I either need to use it on a regular basis or learn in a different method. For example when I decided to get serious and learn to use a computer in 1995 I bought an IBM 386 and brought a friend over to show off my new toy. At the time we lived in San Diego and there seemed to be a computer parts shop on every street corner. He took me to one of these stores and pointed out the Pentium chips. Telling me that was so much better than the junk I had bought. Well the next day I bought a Pentium 75 chip. It was cheaper than the computer I had bought the week before. I brought the chip home and invited my friend over to help me upgrade my computer. What I didn’t know was that a pentium chip is not compatible with the rest of the 386 computer. Basically if I wanted to upgrade the computer I would have to replace everything but the case and the power supply. So I did. I bought all of the parts and invited this same friend back to help me put it together. I should have known better, he didn’t know how to do that either. Here we were with about $2,000 worth of computer parts and no idea how to put it all together as a working computer. It never crossed my mind to return any of this stuff, instead we experimented and tested and finally put everything together. Actually, putting a computer together isn’t difficult, even then basically if the part fit then that was where it belonged. The hard part was loading the operating system. It took a while, but we got everything put together and working. Taking the pieces of my computer and putting them together without any help gave me to confidence that I could learn and do anything with technology. A few years later with a Master’s degree in education in hand I started a computer club after school. I took apart a bunch of old donated computers and separated the pieces into boxes. I gave the boxes to my students and told them if they could put together some computers we would play video games and then put the computers into the classrooms all except one which one student would take home. What does my experience from a decade ago have to do with learning and the changing nature of professional development? First, when pressed to learn in a new skill I didn’t buy a book and study. Second, my confidence technology is directly related to my experience building my first home computer. Third, my learning experience was so powerful I was ready to reproduce the same learning experience for my own 4th grade students just a few years later. These to me are the keys to adult learning, some might even say all learning. The Theory of Andragogy, or how adults want to be self-directed, autonomous learners, emphasizes some keys points from my story: • Learning needs to be self directed • We must draw from our reservoir of experiences • We need to solve real life problems • The work should be performance centered • I need to have an idea of when, where, and how I will apply this in the near future • Adults are intrinsically motivated Since the day I put together that first home computer I have considered myself a tech person. It
has been this attitude more than my formal education, which has been limited, that has powered this notion. It has been more than attitude of course. I have taken some technology courses, most of them, especially recently, online, doing the work, but not paying the tuition and not getting credit. I’ve experimented, tested, and futzed around until I felt confident with my skills. Perhaps confident is too strong at times, but I still consider myself a technology person, even though I can’t program, administer large networks, or manage databases with aplomb. What I can do is recognize what technology can do. I can recognize how I can integrate technology into my classroom to not only increase engagement, but more importantly to raise the meta-cognitive engagement of my students. With the realization that I can do this for students the obvious extension is that I can also do this for teachers. How do we apply this to professional development If one haphazard random learning experience can transform my entire life imagine what might happen if we did everything we could to organize and create the conditions necessary to allow this type of learning to happen. What if we designed professional development so that our teachers could: • Choose the topic they would like to learn about • Draw upon what they know to learn and share • Discuss problems of immediate concern to the individual teacher as opposed to what is seen as the major problem in the school or district • See what other people have done and then have the opportunity to practice • Choose a topic based on the relevance to their own situation and if it turns out to be wrong to have the opportunity to get up and try a different session • Did I mention the opportunity to choose. I remember my first swimming lesson as a child. I was jumping from the ledge to the ladder with absolutely no fear, over and over again. Then I smacked my face on the metal ladder and went home with a bloody lip, missing the entire lesson. I never went to another lesson, but I was always a great swimmer.. During my early 20’s I taught swimming at summer camp. I was the worst teacher. When I swam I didn’t think I just swam. My non-swimmers at summer camp thought about not drowning more than swimming. I had no idea how to teach something that came so naturally to me. I had to relearn how to swim from the other camp counselors before I could teach. The best teacher at the summer camp was a girl who had learned how to swim just three years earlier. She drew on her own experiences and knew exactly what the campers were feeling and what they wanted to know. That summer I taught the more advanced students how to dive off the diving board, how to pick up bricks from the bottom of the pool, etc... I didn’t really teach so much as I played with the kids. Then I watched carefully how the other counselors taught the inexperienced swimmers. It turns out my fearlessness, while vital to learning swimming, is very rare for most kids. Those teachers spent so much time teaching kids how to float and splash and bob, until they finally started feeling comfortable in the water. Then they could teach them how to swim.
Professional development for teachers can be a lot like that. For most of us the first couple of years of teaching are all about survival. How do I keep my kids on task, engaged, learning, not killing each other or sexting. Once you get a handle on that though professional development needs change from running a classroom to diving deep into teaching. How do I move from engaging students to intrinsically motivating them? Sadly enough most professional development always seems to be aimed at the needs of the first year teachers. Development is aimed at how do we keep from drowning, while the needs of the older more experienced teachers are ignored. Classroom management is emphasized over quality learning. One would think this might be a good thing because as we mentioned earlier the adult learner likes it when they are self directed and get to choose their own topic. Alas, the world is not so simple: First the standard cookie cutter presentations on classroom management and delivering instruction are not what new teachers need. They need to splash around a bit and get used to getting water in their eyes. They need to learn to float on their backs and calm down when things get out of control. Most importantly they need someone holding them while they learn to float and take those first tentative steps. New teachers need support in the classroom on a daily basis until they are confident that they can handle it by themselves. Then they need continued support and close observation until they are confident in developing, planning, and teaching their own curriculum. Older more experienced teachers need something else entirely. They need to play with a mixture of other teachers, both more and less experienced. They need to play, and practice, and learn, and teach each other on a regular basis. How does a single presentation meet these expectations? Returning to the swimming lesson, for me relearning how to swim was pretty easy because the other counselors were breaking the skill down into discrete steps, steps that I recognized quickly and then adjusted my own technique to meet to accepted, more efficient, standard. It doesn’t really surprise me that during that year at summer camp I learned more about swimming than the children. I saw the steps as a refinement of the techniques I was using, while the kids were desperately trying to learn the procedure of not drowning. When you are looking for professional development do you need to save yourself from drowning or do you need to refine your technique? The answer to that question will determine what presentation, discussion, group you want to attend. The changing nature of the professional development day. Can there be one day that fits all teachers? Actually, I think yes and no. Yes, we can have a day that works for everyone, but no, why should it be limited to one day. And No not everyone is ready to learn everyday. We wouldn’t dream of having a single method of teaching in our classrooms, why should we do the same for our professional development? The EdCamp Model In 2011 a group of teachers in Philadelphia developed a professional development day based on the unconference model or the BarCamp model of learning. They called it an EdCamp. A surprisingly
popular method of professional development. An EdCamp model is a single day of professional development. On the day of the development an outline of a schedule is presented, the participants then fill in the time slots with presentations they would like to lead or learn from. When the first session starts people go to the session they want to learn from. The only exception being the person or persons who put the name of the session on the schedule have to go to their own session. If the session is not providing the participants with the learning they want they are free to get up and leave. This is a model that does fit many if not all experienced educators on any given day. Can it work in a school setting? Of course, as a principal I might ask individuals, or teams to write a quick summary or reflection of their learning as an accountability measure. I would also load the deck and ask some volunteers to prepare session ideas beforehand at least the first time out. The EdCamp professional development model is less about the presentations and more about the involvement. The EdCamp model does meet several of the requirements of the Theory of Andragogy . • Learning needs to be self directed • We must draw from our reservoir of experiences • We need to solve real life problems • The work should be performance centered • I need to have an idea of when, where, and how I will apply this in the near future • Adults are intrinsically motivated Would this be a model to replace all the professional development days in a district? Perhaps, not, though I am sure I could find a person or two who thinks so, the answer is more of a subjective decision. The Backchannel Backchannels change a lecture, or any presentation, from a passive watching experience to an active learning experience. I personally think a backchannel should be an official part of any discussion that will likely be dominated by one presenter. It would be even better to formally designate one or more experts in the material being presented to monitor the backchannel information. Some to engage in the conversation, but some also to funnel the interesting topics or questions to the presenter so s/he can adjust the presentation to meet the live conversation. The webinar Another popular method of professional development these days is the virtual professional development. A webinar. What really is different about a webinar than the standard lecture? A popular and skilled presenter given the opportunity to present live to a group can be very useful. The webinar can obviously save a bit of money in travel fees. In exchange we lose a lot of the nonverbal give and take between the presenter and the audience. Instead of an expensive webinar with an expensive presenter it would be better just to buy a DVD of a
talk. Webinar time and money is better spent on smaller, preferably interactive sessions. Professional conversations between teachers in different states or different countries. Observations of classrooms in different schools. It has always been my experience that web conferences and collaborations are almost always better and easier if the groups are smaller in size. Groups of five to ten people can work together online almost as easily as in real life. The bigger the group, the less interactive it is for more and more of the participants. There must be a way to overcome this size limit. The JIVE webinar. Currently I am creating a modified professional development webinar. A cohort I am a part of wanted to create a virtual meeting. I had just finished hosting EdCampChicago and I wanted to create a similar type of learning environment. I wanted to develop a model of virtual conference that I hope will be effective. Based on the EdCamp model we will start with an open schedule to be filled out during the morning of the conference. Participants will be given the opportunity to choose which session they want to attend. The key differences between this webinar and most others will be that each room will be limited to ten people and have a designated monitor who will direct who will speak next. I have observed in the webinars that I have been a participant in that the featured speaker can usually be heard, but when it comes time for the question and answer portion of the presentation everything falls apart. Inevitably most of the people asking questions spend as much time asking if they can be heard as they do asking questions. This halting start and stop limits the ability of the participants to actively engage in the discussion. By limiting the number of people in each room I hope that each person can get over the microphone test quickly and then feel more inclined to participate. My true hope is that the breakout sessions will not be question and answer sessions, but true discussions, with people opening their mouths and talking when they feel the need and not when they are called on. I think it will still be limited because there is a lot of nonverbal communication that happens in a discussion, but until we create personal holograms for meetings limiting size and adding video when possible is the best we can do. I’m am hoping that this method will turn a normally passive virtual conference into an active participatory conference. What does it all mean There will always be complaints about professional development. Some cynics will never be happy, some administrators will still book boring overpaid professional speakers, and some teachers will just resent the idea that they might actually need to practice their craft. Still we can make changes. Teachers can demand higher quality professional conversations rather than pep talks. Administrators can expect teachers to actively engage in their own development. We can all have a voice in how we develop as professionals.