Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Better Model for Tech Professional Development

Last year my principal recognized that our schedule lacked time for tech professional development. There were few built in times, and teachers have so many commitments that they rarely can attend offerings after school.

We had just moved to a new professional development model that required staff to be in some sort of training every Monday after school. Each month those Mondays were devoted to staff meetings, collaborative project meetings, or departmental meetings. This year, she took one of those monthly meetings and devoted it to optional technology workshops and asked me to develop the model.

Right from the start, she and I knew that a one-size-fits-all model didn't work because our staff's skills varied so from one person to the next. We also knew from reading research and from experience, that one-shot workshops tend to lack impact.

To provide differentiation and avoid the one-shot problem, we created a number of three-part series workshops. Each series had an introductory workshop labelled 101, a developing-level workshop labelled 201, and more advanced workshop labelled 301.

For the most part, 101 workshops gave an introduction to the topic and suggested ways it could be used. 201 workshops were more hands on. 301 workshops were largely work times where the participants could create their own resources or projects with someone their to offer assistance as needed.

For the first term of workshops, we wanted to focus more on teacher proficiencies than on technology integration. Thanks to a number of talented teachers stepping up to teach their colleagues we offered the following workshops this semester.

  • AV - using our Vado cameras and our digital voice recorders, using that media in projects
  • Interactive Whiteboard - helping teachers create start using the new ActivInspire software to create their own IWB resources
  • OneNote - using Microsoft Office OneNote 2007, a program that is used extensively by our admin team
  • Web Presence - helping teachers create an easy to manage web presence to use with their class (e.g. a blog, a wiki)
  • Wikis - what they are, how to use them with your students, how to start one
All of the workshops were optional UNLESS someone lacked a skill they needed to do their job. Teachers were free to to attend any workshop as long as they had the pre-requisite skills. If a teacher already had basic skills, they could skip the 101 level and join for the 201 level. Likewise, if a teacher took the 101 level workshop, they were not required to take the 201 and 301 levels.

Although the workshops were optional, 31 (out of 55 possible) faculty members attended workshops on the first Monday. By our second Monday, we had people from central administration also attending the workshops. We will hold the third session next Monday.

Not all workshops were equally popular. Some had a strong showing for the 101 level but then had fewer people at the 201 level. Ideally we would have pre-surveyed staff to gauge interest, but the start of the year was so busy we didn't want to ask them to do one more thing at that time.

On post-workshop surveys staff consistently stated that the workshops were just right in terms of level of difficulty, amount of information and usefulness. A number of teachers indicated that wished they could clone themselves so that they could attend more than one at a time.

Equally importantly, many teachers went back to their rooms and put the knowledge to use. We could tell this was happening because they would ask for support during the month, or they arrived at the 201 workshop full of questions that arose from their classroom experiences during the month.

In preparation for semester two, we sent out an optional planning survey asking which (if any) of this term's workshops they would take if it were offered again, and which of the possible new workshops they would be interested in attending. It also asked if they had other topics they would like to see offered. Based on that survey, we will repeat a few workshops on one of our late start in-service days during semester two.

Equally informative to me was that fact that on the first day the survey was open, 31 staff members completed it. That tells me that despite being very busy people, our staff continue to value these workshops and want a voice in the topics offered.

Have you found a technology professional development model that works for your staff?