A post I wrote for Education Is My Life
I’ve spent a great deal of time during the past two years thinking about professional growth…what it means exactly, my role as a facilitator in my school, and how to improve on existing models. The phrase professional development is one that challenges me deeply; envisioning the dreaded faculty PD day, where educators are asked to spend a full day learning about something that may or may not be relevant to their practice. I’ve often asked myself—how does one begin to excite and inspire teachers to evaluate their own PD? Perhaps a new enticing slogan…professional innovation? While it didn’t have that perfect feeling of accuracy when I chanced on it earlier this year, I subtlety began addressing faculty development by this name—a hopeful first step towards improving views on this important facet of professional growth.
Late in the 2012-2013 academic year, my school, SCH Academy was lucky enough to host George Couros for a day of professional innovation. Much of the day was geared toward the development of teacher and student personal learning networks (PLNs). The day’s work also included a strong focus on helping students to become creators and innovators while developing strong global voices. Shadowing George over the course of the day, I realized that this was not the dreaded PD day of which I had spoken earlier…it was a day of learning for all—faculty, administration, and students. It occurred to me that evening that professional learning would be a more suitable replacement for professional development; that’s what the day had intensely involved—learning. After all, it’s the learning that invigorates us come to work everyday…it’s the learning that makes it okay to begin our days before 8am and last well beyond 3pm…it’s the learning that allows us to impact students and truly make a difference in their lives.
Those of us who teach know that educational technology and professional development are joined, at best, with varying degrees success for teachers. Traditionally, edtech folks are tasked with sharing resources, demonstrating innovative tools for classroom use, introducing new pedagogical approaches, and more. While teaching and learning in the classroom has undergone a paradigm shift, edtech and professional development have by and large not followed suit. When I was a young student, learning happened primarily by way of teacher instruction—generating knowledge from information found in books or shared by instructors, much of which is obsolete now. From that time, classroom instruction has evolved—chalk boards and books are no longer the only sources of information.
Today, technology is ubiquitous, students are connecting with their peers across the globe, consuming information from news sites, blogs and social media outlets, while creating intelligent and imaginative content of their own. Enabled by technology, social media helps cultivate meaningful relationships, prevents isolation, and empowers students with a voice that that they love to use. It’s clear to me that we, as educators, need to follow the precedent set by our students. We should be connecting with and learning from one another, within our schools as well as with teachers across the globe—continuing to grow as educators.
Books and teachers have long been credited as primary sources of information, with experience considered to be the key to knowledge. Neither students nor teachers can be expected to read every book on a given topic…individuals cannot experience everything…so where does that leave learners in terms of information and knowledge? In Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, George Siemens writes including technology and connection making as learning activities begins to move learning theories into a digital age. We can no longer personally experience and acquire learning that we need to act. We derive our competence from forming connections.
Siemen’s work on connectivism along with the Couros visit early this year have helped me realize that with the support of technology, we can transcend the limits of individualistic learning for PD as well as in the classroom. Social networks such as Twitter, Google+, and Facebook have become platforms that foster and maintain knowledge flow via diverse connections that help facilitate continual learning.
A Connected Shift
Traditional methods of teaching and learning have been predicated on one teacher instructing multiple students. Similarly, professional development models have generally consisted of one edtech person, or one speaker instructing a large group of educators. Today, technology and social media have allowed this antiquated method of instruction to evolve into one where geographically dispersed teachers and students can connect with one another in ubiquitous fashion to create, innovate, transcend, invent, discover and so much more. Moving forward, a more connected approach, both in the classroom as well as a means for professional growth will help break down silos in education…for students, for teachers, and for administrators.