This writing is just one educator's view from this side of the desk.
My father always used a phrase while I was growing up: “Just because you’re in a garage doesn’t make you a car.” Think about that for a moment. I believe we can apply that phrase to our current model of professional development (PD). Just because we claim to have PD doesn’t mean it really is working. The US federal government spends $2.5 billion on professional development. Once the individual states contribute, the number increases to $5 or $6 billion. Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, comments: “I'd argue that's by far the worst money we spend. We get the least bang for the buck."
Now mix into this equation the need for teachers to have ed tech PD. Teachers are being bombarded with a tremendously mixed signal to make their classrooms more engaging and include 21st century skills, yet the learning provided to them is nothing short of archaic at best. Teachers are provided PD opportunity a few times of year and typically sit in large rooms and listen to a speaker who is considered an expert. I’ve been that teacher sitting in that room, and all I wanted to do was get back to grading papers or catch up on email. I wanted to be anywhere other than sitting in that room wasting my precious time. Another stumbling block to this current model is money. School districts do not have the resources to continually train large numbers of teachers and keep them current on ed tech trends. As a result, many teachers have resorted to spending their own money for training.
Let’s stop wasting teachers’ time and money. Let’s start empowering them to find the knowledge they need and create effective learning communities with other educators that does not require large budgets or days spent out of the classroom.
Currently the need for understanding, using, and implementing digital literacies in our modern classrooms is enormous. And professional development is the key to meeting this need. Correction: QUALITY professional development is the key. The current model of PD will not meet these needs. In fact, I would argue the current model of PD barely keeps teachers awake - much less teaches them anything of value. I would further argue that professional development could be strengthened by moving it into the realm of authentic professional learning connections.
Some would argue that they have attended PD that has been life-changing. They have walked out of the training and gone back into their classrooms the next day and implemented new strategies. Fair enough. But then what happened. Nothing. Connections weren’t established, and learning was rarely shared with other educators or enhanced or expanded upon.
Recently I attended EdCamp in Madison, Alabama, and they started the day explaining that we would make face-to-face connections that day that could then be fostered digitally. That idea is meaningful to me because PD is NOT about one day or one hour. Teachers should be life-long learners, and they are operating in a world that is giving them the perfect opportunity to stay connected. And by staying connected - they keep learning. Education is changing. Our students literally have a world of information and knowledge at their fingertips. And they are using it. So should our teachers. Let’s start having PD that is ongoing and can fit into their busy schedules and can be tailored to their needs. And let’s do it at a fraction of the cost we are currently spending.
So how does this happen? How do we transform a model that has been used for so long? Where do we begin? What does it look like?
I don’t know all the answers to those questions. But I do know how to start this change in my immediate world, and here is how I plan to do it.
Change begins with preservice teachers.
Next fall, my ed tech students will design, organize, and present an ed tech conference for other preservice teachers at Spring Hill College. They will present ideas in short 20-30 minutes presentations. Hashtags will be required to be used by presenters so as to provide easy organization for participants. Presentations will be interactive and engaging. Participants will be strongly encouraged to only remain in sessions that are helpful and applicable to them. Participants will be expected to bring their own devices and use them during the conference. Instead of simply wearing nametags, participants will be able to display their Twitter call sign in large letters. The one-day conference will also include a Tech Smackdown (where participants quickly - in 2 minutes or less - share an app that they find particularly useful) and a Tech Connection (learn about who to follow on Twitter and connect with other participants on Twitter).
The model of this conference is very similar to the one used by EdCamps,TeachMeet, etc... I do not claim that our conference will be wildly different. I only claim that our conference will now be available to preservice teachers and educators in this area of Alabama. This conference will focus on helping preservice teachers learn (& practice) how to construct their own learning connections. That’s how we being to make an impact - by starting with our own corner of the globe.
But to make this conference a reality in 2014 and the following years, I do need help. I need the following:
Throughout the process I will be collecting data - from my students - from participants - from involved teachers and principals. I hope to use this data to design a better conference the next year. Creating an effective PD model for preservice teachers to take part in and help create is the way we empower them as educators.
Nicholas Kristof writes in The New York Times this past week about how professors are hidden deep in the university walls and have distanced themselves from integrating their knowledge and skills in the public world: “But, over all, there are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.” Sadly, I do think he makes some valid points in this article (http://nyti.ms/1cOO8EM), but I refuse to allow this blanket statement apply to me.
I’m not hiding. I don’t have time to hide. I’m too busy creating teachers who are going to be amazing educators. Are you interested in helping me?