There’s a joke that goes something like…. “I wish I had more professional development sessions, said NO teacher ever.” Sadly, every joke has an element of truth to it. How many educators would say they wish they had more PD? Not many I’d guess.
There are some valid reasons for this. Educators are busy, we need professional development which is relevant and that we gain value from. Additionally, just like our students we learn more from PD that is engaging and fun.
As an instructional coach, I believe strongly in providing the type of professional development opportunities that do just those things for the teachers I work with. During this school year, I have been using Canvas (learning management system) as a tool to do so.
Using Canvas as the vehicle for professional development, I have been able to address some of these issues with PD and empower professional learning at our school.
Canvas is a digital learning platform which was recently provided for our faculty by our school system. As with any new tool, educators wanted to know why it would be valuable to learn about Canvas and integrate it into their classrooms. Rather than doing a traditional session on how to use this tool, we decided that the best approach would be to use Canvas as a tool for teacher learning so they could experience the benefits themselves. This has been a great success, and has the additional benefit that it has allowed me to address some of the things that can make PD something less than desirable.
The first way I began using Canvas was as a simple information portal for our faculty. I created a course and added all of the documents, resources, and links that would normally go in our huge back to school faculty handbook. Included is our calendar, forms, school handbook, as well as a place for PLCs to record meeting notes. All key information is now online, and at our fingertips without ever having to worry about losing the notebook.
I meet with teachers weekly during their planning periods for a time we call Team Huddle. During this time we discuss student progress, solve problems, and work through professional development. I created another course in Canvas as the home for all of our PD session materials. I add materials for each week to a module with that date and the title of what we are doing. On a content page under that heading is an agenda list for that day, and links to any materials we will be using.
One major benefit of collecting our PD materials in Canvas it that it allows easy reference back to any topic or material without having to create one more notebook. Although we typically work with these materials in a blended format, this allows any faculty member to participate even if they are off campus. No one has to feel like they missed out if they were not present for a session. Additionally, it allows us to keep learning outside of school. Recently we had a snow day on a date that was scheduled for PD. I simply added short videos of a few things that I needed to tell teachers, and then they worked through the session virtually on their own time rather than having to do a make-up session.
To me the most of powerful benefit to using Canvas for professional development has been how it has allowed an increase in interaction from all participants. By embedding tools like Padlet, every participant has a chance to share input and respond to each other. Additionally it has allowed me to collect information very quickly from participants so that I am able to tailor each session to those participants needs. Finally this has added to engagement because it has shifted our sessions from the traditional lecture style to something hands on where teachers can work on and explore something to put to use in their classroom.
The discussion board feature in Canvas makes it a great tool to use for faculty book study
discussions. It allows educators to participate when it is convenient for them, and still get the benefit of the powerful discussions about learning.
Using Canvas for Professional Developmet also makes differentiation much simpler. We meet in mixed subject groups, and this used to make it difficult to provide something that benefitted every subject area within a single meeting. Now I can begin with a common theme and then provide links to how that theme would develop in each individual subject area.
Using Canvas gives me more options for making PD fun by allowing embedding video, interactives, and graphics. Most importantly it has allowed me to maximize the usefulness of the time I spend with teachers so that they feel like they get value from every meeting. A side benefit is that teachers have become so comfortable using Canvas that many have implemented its use with their own students! Double win!
Recently I explored what is wrong with professional development. I have come to the conclusion that by making the effort to ensure that PD is relevant, valuable, and delivered in a way that is respectful of the expertise and differences of our adult learners, we can eliminate the majority of the problem with PD. With the addition of an element of fun, PD can go from something we endure to something we yearn for. The recipe for success with professional development, is simply to approach teaching educators with the same pedagogy that we say should be employed with our students.
There are a multitude of articles written on the importance to make learning relevant for students who are children, that need is equally as great with adult students. Think about how many times you have tuned out from a training due to the topic being something that does not apply to you??? We can create relevance in our PD by differentiating to meet our adult learner’s needs. We add value by making sure that educators come away from every PD with something they can put right to use in their classrooms. If we do those things, and add in a sprinkle of fun, then our PD can be like an award winning recipe!
Let’s look at an example of a recent professional development I did where I attempted to include those elements.
Recently I met with my school faculty to discuss ways that we could go about vocabulary review as we begin prep for end of year testing. I began by very quickly reviewing Marzano’s Six Step Process for teaching Academic Vocabulary. Then using templates from NC Digital Leaders Coaching Network leader, Abbie Futrell, we played a round of Chopp-Ed Vocabulary Edition. Each teacher was given a digital basket of ingredients (which included a broken copy machine) and were tasked to create a recipe card with a vocabulary practice activity. I gave teachers 15 minutes to work and they presented their recipes. The winning recipe in each group earned a jeans pass for the “chef.”
Without a doubt, this was a fun activity! The activity was energized by the need to beat the clock and the competitive edge to develop the best recipe. The quality of the activities designed by our teachers reflected this energy. By allowing teachers to be creators of their own knowledge, and acknowledging their personal expertise the PD session reached a level of engagement that I rarely see in teacher trainings. The fact that teachers walked away with a whole recipe book of vocabulary activities they could put to use added great value to the time spent, and resulted in a quality teaching resource.
I’m so proud of what my teachers developed during Chopp-Ed Vocabulary Edition that I wanted to share this resource with you as well.
Educators typically love learning, that is why we do what we do. However if you were to play a game of “Would You Rather” with educators and asked: Would you rather do manual labor or attend a professional development session, I have no doubt that the manual labor would win. Why is that? What’s the problem with PD?
When I posed this question to my digital learning network, the responses were varied .
Looking at the problems mentioned, they seem to fit into one of 5 generalizations. Key issues are busy lives, relevance, value, delivery, and fun. I created an infographic to elaborate.
Interestingly the majority of these issues can be remedied by applying our own good advice about teaching students to the task of teaching adults. There’s not much we can do about how busy educators are, but we can make the effort to ensure that professional development is relevant, valuable, and delivered in a way that is respectful of the expertise and differences of our adult learners. If we can also add an element of fun, PD can be a homerun.
I will explore HOW we can do that in the next post in this series, “A Recipe for Success.”
So far in my quest for the best end of year test training ever, we played a game, enjoyed tropical refreshments, and laughed at one heck of a skit in which my administrators modeled “what NOT to do” during testing. Those things were some nice additions which hopefully made the dreaded end of year test training more bearable. To be perfectly honest though, those things although thoughtful, we’re much like the candy we often use to try to bribe our students to make an effort in the classroom. The recipients enjoy the treat, but in itself it isn’t powerful enough to cause the impact we need. I had 2 more plans in mind to make test training informative and less painful, but only one of them was something I had any control over.
Plan 4- Respect Profressionalism
This year the test administrators manual made it very clear, that administrators should read the manual BEFORE attending test training. Though I’m sure it has also said this in the past as well, I think prior test coordinators were afraid to hand out the manual early for fear of them getting lost. My thought was that if we trust teach ears with our community’s children everyday, they can handle a newsprint test manual. So a week or so before test training I handed out manuals and gave the directions to read before training. I realize it’s very likely that not everyone read it, but they are professional adults and should be trusted to take care of their responsibilities.
When training day came, what we had frequently experienced in the past 2 as someone going page by page reading to us and telling exactly what to mark. I think doing it that way is insulting to highly educated adults, especially those who have already read the manual. Instead I approached the task by going over key points related to security and procedures, spending the most time on details which were changes from the previous year. In this way, it was my intent to be responsive to the needs of the “learners” and make sure they were clear on procedures while at the same time respecting their intelligence and not wasting their time.
Plan 5- Attitude is Everything
The final way to make test training not suck, lies totally in the hand of each individual participant. While the leader of the training can add elements of fun and enjoyment and be sure to address the needs of the participants, the bottom line is that it will be whatever you make it. This was clearly evident to me as I saw completely opposite responses to the exact same experience from different people. Some left the training saying “testing still makes me nervous, but this is the only time I can ever say I had fun at test training!” While others spent the entire session and their walk out the door mumbling, and commenting with outrage at certain procedures. Interestingly, EVERYONE in the room would agree that some of the procedures we are having to follow are not in the best interests of kids (myself included). The difference came with the attitude people reacted to that with. Each person has the choice to see difficulties as a challenge they can work through, or as a tragedy they are a victim of.
If you want end of year test training to suck a little less . . . choose to be someone who works through the challenges – you can do it!
You may have heard that old saying that says something about putting lipstick on a pig. Well, in my last post I talked about playing a BINGO game during End of Year test training to add an element of fun. That is a nice touch, but I’m a realist – that is little more than “lipstick on a pig.” The faculty still ends up sitting throngh listening to essentially a lecture on material that a) is less than interesting, b) they are forced to participate in even though they don’t want to, c) many have already been through multiple times before, d ) they could figure out themselves by reading the manual anyway.
I do respect teachers’ time and intelligence, but the state requires me to do this training anyway. Needless to say, it’s going to take more than BINGO to liven things up!
Plan 2- Make it Tropical
To remind us all that the end (and summer vacation) is near, I arranged for some simple tropical refreshments. Lime punch, tropical fruit trail mix , a selection of cookies, and some cute “beachy” decorations were available as faculty arrived. I also found a great Hawaiian luau station on Pandora to play to set the mood before we started. Hopefully this reminded the faculty they were appreciated and helped take minds off some of the stresses of testing season.
Plan 3- Show Instead of Tell
One thing I hate about professional development is that so often we are instructed on great best practices and strategies to use with students, but when it comes to our own learning, trainers do the exact opposite and go right back to the lengthy lectures.
According to the test manual, teachers were to have read it prior to training . It really wouldn’t be respectful of their time to sit there and go through it page by page. (Yes, I know that a good percentage of the staff never opened the book prior to training. Another issue entirely I agree.) Rather than wasting valuable time and insulting the staff’s intelligence, I chose to spend time reviewing important key procedures and looking carefully at the few changes.
Rather than telling or reading what is expected of test administrators , my awesome principal, assistant principal, and guidance counselor assisted by doing some dramatic modeling in the form of a comedy skit. One dressed and played the role of “bad test administrator” another was “bad proctor” and the third was “bad test taker.” They acted out all the what N0T to do items to prompt our discussion.
Being something totally unexpected from them made this activity a hit. They did everything imaginable that you don’t want to see in a testing situation: teacher late with an inappropriate t-shirt and a soda, the proctor’s phone ringing, and the student taking a selfie.
This allowed us to go over all these critically important security issues, and have a great laugh about it instead of getting more stressed about testing. The faculty got to visualize what shouldn’t happen and they definitely won’t forget their principals acting so silly anytime soon.