Thursday, May 1, 2008

Does teacher "training" get in the way of real learning?

Monday our "improvement of instruction" committee met. We discussed the students "these kids today"" and 21st Century Literacy/Learning (still designated as "the future"). We watched a couple of videos, the ubiquitous A Vision of Students Today and Did You Ever Wonder?

We started by discussing the concept of a Personal Learning Network (see David Warlick's excellent discussion). I was disappointed to see that when we got to our "to do" list for next year, it started to become a list of workshops we ought to give to teachers on using various forms of technology. I certainly love to share technology with teachers, and do it often, but , I was hoping for something more visionary. How do we need to transform our school for this new century? We're running behind here since we're 8 years into it, btw.

I think that just as I'd like to see the classroom evolve, we need to see professional development for faculty transform too. I believe that when faculty model independent learning for students, the kids benefit in so many ways.

So, in the spirit of modeling, I'll write here about the comment challenge I've just joined. The questions for today are:
  • How often do you comment on other blogs during a typical week? Do you track your blog comments? How? What do you do with your tracking? Do you tend to comment at the same blogs or do you try to comment on at least one new blog per week?
I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't even say once a week. I read and follow a lot of blogs, and I feel like I *know* some of the authors pretty well, but they have no idea how they've influenced me. I need to be more appreciative!

Clearly, this means I'm not tracking my comments, not is there a lot of variety. The blog I have commented on lately that I believe really deserves a lot of attention from us is the Education for Well Being. I am showing that video to our "improvement of instruction" committee to get them to realize that 21st century education is about vision, not skill specific training. So, thank you to all the bloggers out there that are inspiring me to seek a vision.
And if you are part of The Comment Challenge remember to tag your posts "comment08"
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mscofino said...

One of the things we've been doing to support technology professional development here at ISB (which may not seem like technology PD to those used to standard "howto" workshops) is running weekly 'thinking' sessions.

We call them "Wired Wednesday" and every week our ISB21 team runs an hour-long discussion session centered around a 21st century theme.

Sometimes we watch videos (like EPIC or Growing Up Online), sometimes we send out an article in advance and have a debate (about things like using Wikipedia as a works cited in IB), sometimes we host a learning event (either online or in person).

These weekly sessions also run in conjunction with our "Tech Mondays" where our ISB21 team all sit in one room to help teachers with their tech questions. No agenda, no howto for yet another tool teachers won't have time to answer. Just answering questions teachers have about the technology they already use.

Although both of these topics may not seem like they're tech PD in the usual sense, I like to think they're taking the "important, not urgent" approach (a la Stephen Covey) - making a mind shift and creating a comfort level with technology is more important than teachers being shown a plethora of tools they may not know what to do with.

So far, so good here in Bangkok, but I clearly need to write a post about this topic. Thanks for getting me thinking!

Sarah Hanawald said...

Thanks Kim,
I really like the idea of regular, predictable discussion outside of the "how do I. . . " realm. I'm going to do it (ala Yoda's "there is no try"). You are so right about the important getting shoved behind the urgent. I can think of several conversation starters and of course, faculty suggestions will become important quickly. I have several questions--and will probably think of more later. How did you get people to come at first? Did you recruit? How many do you usually have at any one session? Our teachers love to talk about ideas, so I think I can see how they'd keep coming once we started. Clearly, I'm looking forward to your post on the topic!

We have a fantastic setup that resembles your Tech Mondays in that our help desk is next to the library with just a glass wall separating them. Then, the ed tech folks and our director have desks in one big office next connected to that. While it is rare that we're all there at once, the "bullpen" idea means that when a teacher needs help, two people (both a technical and educational helper) will be there. Plus, when all the integrationists are in, the conversations can get really interesting.
Thank you!

Sue Waters said...


I've heard you talk about these sessions before but would also like to know a lot more. Perhaps you could film snippets of them? Looking forward to your post.


For some reason even though you are using the label comment08 technorati isn't finding your posts. We have the RSS for this tag term coming into the wiki so if people use this page they won't find your posts.

Adding a technorati tag may not work but if you add the words "And if you are part of The Comment Challenge remember to tag your posts "comment08" in the text at the bottom of your post. This will definitely work because technorati searches within the body of posts for the search term.

Contact me if you need more explanation.

Sue Waters
Mobile Technology in TAFE

Sue Waters said...

Sorry Sarah that hasn't work. But I know what will work. Can you get you to go to Technorati and claim your blog? You need to sign up to Technorati to do this.

Intrepidflame said...

I think part of the problem is the idea that you mentioned in your post, which was that many schools still see technology as an element of the future, as if the textbooks, outdated curriculums, and archaic teaching practices are still relevant to today’s kids. I guess that the entire concept of schooling needs to be re-thought and experimented with. But like any over haul of an existing system this will take time. I think Kim’s approach is a great first step. Teaching people how to use tools before they know why to use them is ineffective.

These types of conversations we are having online between teachers who “get-it” are great ,but we need to bring more people on board to see the potential of the future arriving right now. The problem, as I have seen it, is that people are scared. They fear what they don’t know, and they seldom want to learn new things, so my question is this- How can we slowly encourage people to understand that the future is hear with a sense of urgency, but at the same time not allow them to become defensive?

Sarah Hanawald said...

Intrepidflame (Intrepid for short?). You are dead on about the conversations with those who "get it" not being enough. I do think it is helping me refine what I think and my approach.

You have hit the nail on the head with your question about how to convey urgency without invoking defensiveness. I "resemble that remark" far more often than I'd like to. I think Kim's ideas about Wired Wednesdays are one way to get teachers minds to flex a little.

Adrienne said...

I agree with all that's been said so far, and I'm really intrigued by the approach ISB is using. It sounds similar to an approach used at a school I worked at in the UK -- a 1-to-1 laptop school -- and that was 7 years ago! It's important to make educators think of what's behind the tools. ie., it's not about the technology! (I say this so often...).

But I also think, as you mentioned in your original post, Sarah, that modelling of these practices is very important. I have learned more from watching people (teachers / friends / strangers) do things than I have from someone telling me, "Hey, you've got to try this _________. It's so cool."

Shelley said...

I love everyone who's ever posted a "howto" slidecast or video or blogpost w/ screen captures that got me thinking "hey, maybe I could do that."

But I'm an natural early adopter.

So I'd like to hear more of other folks' success stories... did you get some "techno-resistant" and/or "techno-oblivious" folks to start thinking the digital sphere might be of interest/ use to them? How did you do it?

Sarah Hanawald said...

Thanks for the comments Adrienne and Shelley, I'm looking forward to reading Kim's upcoming description of what the Wired Wednesdays look like.

Adrienne--I'm at a 1:1 school and can't imagine going without the access now--what was that switch like? Do you feel the loss of access?

Shelley--have you seen this post? Hey wait! I think it might be this Adrienne's blog! Just went and compared the pics and I think it is! She talks about being in the group of 1 in 10 who seeks/embraces innovation. There's a good book rec there too.

Carolyn Foote said...

I really think you are right on in wondering where the vision is, and Kim, I love your idea for "thinking" days centered around a theme.

We did something similar but I wish we had provided more time for conversations than we did, plus it was "required" so that affected the attitude of the attendees somewhat, I think!

Anyway, I just think the training without the vision is just a disconnected set of lessons, and so I think you are right to question that.

Good luck in developing an idea to make this "work" better for your staff next year!

Claire Thompson said...

Hi Sarah, I read your comment on Sue Waters blog where you asked if anyone is using coComment in Flock. I tried to add the browser extension but got an error message saying that it wouldn't work in my version of Flock (1.1.2). I was just getting used to using Flock so I was pretty bummed that coComment wouldn't work. Have you been able to get it up and running?

I enjoyed reading this post and the great comment thread. Kim's "Wired Wednesdays" sound great.

Kim Cofino said...

@Sarah: Oh boy, yes I guess I should write a post about the 'Wired Wednesday' process! For a very short time we were uStreaming our sessions, but 2pm GMT+7 was not the most popular time in other areas of the world so we dropped off. I think we should start that up again - even if it means that we just share the archive after the event.

In terms of getting staff to attend, we take a few different approaches. We always send out all-staff e-mails the day of the session with a little video teaser of what's going to be discussed that afternoon. Then, we usually approach specific departments or grade-levels that we think would be especially interested through personal invitations (either in person or via e-mail). Then, because there are 3 of us running the sessions we try to build excitement about them in conversations, team meetings, and through our normal communications.

I would say, on average, we get between 10 - 30 staff members - depending on how much advertising we do. It's usually a slightly different bunch each week. Even though we're not getting full-staff attendance, we're going for a more "viral" pd approach. Hopefully, our sessions are interesting enough for others to talk about what they've learned and to promote attendance with teachers we wouldn't ordinarily reach.

@Sue: It seems we need to start up our uStream sessions again - I bet they might even be within your "awake" time - you could be our model international guest :)

@intrepidteacher: I think make an excellent point about helping teachers learn what they don't know without making them defensive. This is such a fine balance that tech facilitators walk every day. I think the open "why" conversations are critical, but also the modeling by other more connected teachers.

I see a lot of teachers getting interested (some might say envious) of what the teacher next door is doing. There's something contagious about seeing students engaged and motivated that's less intimidating than a "tech person" coming in and telling you how important it is do X.

I'm starting to realize that this kind of "viral pd" is more critical to the success of any change in practice than the "how to" approach. Try to build enthusiasm from the ground up by connecting like-minded teachers - even if you only have one or two.

My real problem with this process is that it takes much too long. I want everything successful and ready to move on to the next step by yesterday.

Here's my question (and clearly, this needs to be an actual blog post seeing as I'm on to my 9th paragraph already): Is viral enough? Do you, at some point, need leadership to clarify what the goals are? Not a "top-down," "I'm telling you how it's going to be" style, just a "this is where we're heading" style clarification? Would that be more harmful than it's worth? Or do we need to see and know that there is some direction to all of this - especially for those that are not yet "hooked"? What do you all think?

Adam said...


I definitely do agree with Kim on some point there does need to be, if not a push, at least support from school leadership. If nothing else, this sets the tone and attitude of the school in regards to technology. If leadership does not lend their support, eventually the program will start to wither away and end up being axed when a hard decision about time & money has to be made.

That said, a viral approach can certainly sway leadership. If an administrator initially tentative about technology use starts to see the impact it has on classrooms and students this can build support where there might not have been previously. And absolutely teachers do work on a kind of jealousy/curiousity base-the kind of thing where they say, "Wow, that's really cool, how come I can't do that??" This is often the bait to get them involved.

In reading Sarah's original post, I thought of an approach a colleague of mine used to good success. He was working with a class of middle school students considered the "troublemakers" of the school-about 9-10 students. To engage them he was able to use a number of tech tools to challenge them and make use of how bright they actually are. He then took them to lead trainings for teachers at the district office. So does training get in the way? It can...but doesn't have to. In fact models like this show they can go hand in hand.