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Professional Development- IT Gurus Unite! June 15, 2007

Posted by Joselyn Todd in Educational Technology, Professional Development.
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I’ve been alternating a bit between providing practical how-to’s for the K-12 classroom versus providing just some more global thoughts about K-12 instructional technology. I think this is OK as I am constantly learning new tools and wanting to share that information while also thinking very seriously about some of the challenges and opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 in K-12 classrooms.

This morning I am going to blog a bit about my feelings regarding ed tech professional development in K-12 environments. There seems to be no consensus among the experts in K-12 ed tech regarding what is the best model for providing PD to K-12 faculty. Given this fact, I feel fairly safe in blogging about this.

First and foremost, I’ve come to the conclusion that effective PD has to be tailored to each individual school’s “situation”. That is, we need knowledgeable and strategic instructional technology gurus (term used loosely) in each school so that a school’s faculty can be provided PD that is relevant to their own ed tech limitations and opportunities. Our IT gurus in a perfect world could speak the language of IT and then be able to translate this effectively in layman’s language. I think that if there is anything that will “turn a teacher off” to tech, it is a guru who speaks of XML, AJAX, firewire ports, etc. while what is really needed is someone who will speak in plain English regarding what time the computer lab could be scheduled for.

Another thought. It is so important that a school has a culture of positive energy regarding risk taking, innovation, and discovery. Why? Because even in the best of situations- teachers that are in 1:1 computing environments with whiteboards, data projectors, wireless Internet, etc., SUPPORT is required most obviously in the way of TIME. Our students are developing logarithmically in their use of technology; meanwhile, most adults are in their linear phase at best. As an IT guru, one would hope to get as many teachers as possible on a steep, linear developmental path that is personally rewarding. Why personally rewarding? Because so many teachers give so much and are stretched to such limits that it has to be personally rewarding to make it worth the extra time and effort to learn technology and how to implement it in the classroom.

In a positive culture such as this, ideally one would not get hung up on high stakes testing, lack of the best computers, and crowded classrooms (these battles have to be waged on another front, perhaps a different post). We have to focus on the one computer that teachers do have in their classrooms and then guide them regarding how to use it with their students to bring relevant learning to their students’ lives. Let’s get the focus off of what we don’t have and focus on what we do as the prior has not gotten us anywhere in terms of providing relevant learning opportunities for children. (I focus on the word relevant as I can hardly imagine what it must be like for a student to use their wired desktop at home to Skype and IM to friends while simultaneously doing homework and adding items to their MySpace page only to go to school the following day and sit with a 5 year old textbook and a notebook with lined paper. No wonder why we have so many children acting out in the classroom. Again, this is topic for another blog post.)

Administration… We must get our administrators “on board” or off the ship. Yes, radical. Get them blogging instead of spending the school’s money on postage for monthly newsletters. If they will not blog, find someone who will blog at the school and see if you can get administrators to agree on a monthly podcast to the community. IT gurus, ask to meet weekly with administrators in strategic positions and give them private lessons on how to use a wiki, blogs, or even just how to spice up the signature on their e-mails. Maybe help them create a slideshow of pictures taken at a school event. I have faith that those who experience the power of Web 2.0 will not turn back but will instead move forward. I think that eyes opened to a world of tools that make life fun, creative, and in many cases easier will have a new outlook on what they must do to create policy, to find funding, and to hire staff to effectively lead their schools to become 21st Century Learning models. Administrators that are recognized by their colleagues for their own Web 2.0 prowess will be empowered and will be more likely to support ed tech in their schools. Administrators who will not get “on board” regarding moving their schools toward 21st Century Learning models need to be let go. In many ways, these administrators are far worse than incompetent teachers, because in this case, administrators hold the keys to the tools that empower those who are changing lives on a daily basis- teachers.

One last thought…at least for this morning… in this blog post. IT gurus…abandon the after school model of delivering PD to teachers. They are TIRED. They need to go home and take care of themselves and their families and so do you! Teach the staff how to use their iPods as a personal on-demand PD resource. Make it your mission to go to every teacher’s classroom and observe them. Find your risk takers and help them to integrate a Web 2.0 tool into a unit or lesson that they are already teaching. Next, have them present for 10 minutes at a faculty meeting. You have to have lit matches to get a fire burning! State legislatures…find the money to provide incentives to teachers that will attend a week long 21st Century PD summer institute. Get your best IT gurus from around the state to identify key teachers at this institute and have these key teachers act as mentors and social networking hubs for other teachers. Provide them incentives to do so. Create a state social network of teachers that are life long learners committed to supporting each other in a journey to learn new technologies to bring digital literacy and relevant learning to their lives and their students’ lives.

All of this is easier said than done. But WE HAVE TO START SOMEWHERE. This morning I reiterate what I feel most passionately about, “Let’s get the focus off of what we don’t have and focus on what we do as the prior has not gotten us anywhere in terms of providing relevant learning opportunities for children.” After all, connecting with kids and changing lives- this really is the bottom line.

What do you think? Do you disagree? Have something to add? Let’s get a conversation going.

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