Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Professional Development, Complexity, and Mutual Responsibility

This week's exploration of technology professional development was probably one of the most intensely reflective weeks I have experienced in a long time. 1000 words is insufficient to describe this reflective journey we go.

Short Version:

Like snowflakes, every professional is highly unique and complex. In order for each professional to develop we need professional development opportunities that honor this uniqueness and complexity. Shifting topics in seminars does not actually produce diverse experiences. Responsibility for the effectiveness of professional development falls on the shoulders of the designers AND the participants.

Setting the Stage:

A) If the learning opportunity is passive, doesn't meet the needs of the learner, and the designer doesn't understand the participants then development is unlikely:

Click here for a humorous but poignant example.

B) Each individual has unique and specific needs, wants, histories, beliefs, experiences, working contexts, and perceptions that can make meeting their needs very demanding:

Judi Harris in her four part series "One Sized Doesn't Fit All: Customizing Educational Technology Professional Development" (2008) does an excellent job of exploring these complexities. Over this four part series she lists the following factors to consider in terms of technological professional development:

  • learning needs/preferences

  • personal/school/district goals. In Part 1 of her series she lists awareness, curriculum integration, shifts in instructional techniques, curricular/instructional reform, organizational change, and social change.

  • technological adoption style. In Part 3 of her series she suggests four highly distinct groups: innovators, early adopters, late adopters, and laggards. Individuals from each group vary in their openness to utilitzing new technologies and their ability to navigate the bumps and bruises along the way to adopting these new technologies.

  • curriculum content

  • pedagogical slants

  • and the list goes on

Kimberley Ketterer (2007) deepens adds to this discussion of complexity by exposing that different professionals prefer to learn in different ways.

  • Coach - "They are willing to take risks at integrating technology into their curriculum as long as they have support and encouragement from a colleague tbey can trust" (p. 21)

  • Nurture - "They need a nurturing teaching partner who is willing to help develop and model lessons. Someone to provide encouragement to move forward applauding small achievements while at the same time, continually building self-confidence." (p. 21)

  • Nudge - "only attend tecbnology integration workshops when attendance is mandated. They need to be gently pushed, prodded, and cajoled into learning how to integrate technology." (p. 21)

Hopefully the above points will support my claim that polarizing teachers into two camps (new school and old school) is not accurate.

As professionals we spend countless hours on differentiated instructional techniques for our students...why don't we apply the same principles to ourselves?


1) We need to redefine ourselves as learners above all else. If teachers, administrators, librarians, and educational tech. support staff did this then maybe we would afford ourselves the same level of expertise and attention we give our students

So much of professional development is throwing everyone in a room and having them learn the same stuff. Maybe there is some choice in the offerings, but by and large there is very little attempt at creating a customized professional development curriculum for teachers...Teachers are learners. If they’re not, they shouldn’t be teachers. In a world where we can engage in our passions through the affordances of connective technologies online, we need to be thinking about how to personalize the learning of the adults in the room as well as the kids. Will Richardson

2) Individualized development plans with a communal flavour is the recipe for success.

Technology-related professional development is undergoing a transformation. Previously, teachers were expected to become proficient with technology through a series of sessions and limited support resources (Plair,2008, p. 71)

According to Plair (2008) many plans lack the personal touch and the time investment needed to allow teachers to master the technology. Harris (2008) concurs:

"Research evidence indicates that 30 hours of focused professional development,
on average, is required to change teachers' professional practice...most
teachers probably have not had sufficient time or opportunity to engage in
the kinds of professional learning necessary to help them to use educational
technologies in new ways to assist their students'learning." (p. 18)

Personal learning networks may hold the key:

"A Personal Learning Network or PLN is a dedicated learning environment unique to each individual. What does that mean? It means that this is a place where people create their own environment which helps them to grow/learn. This can be done in many different ways through collaborating, blogging, social networking, etc. What makes PLN’s so great is that they are different for everybody but their goals are usually the same. That goal is to learn and share knowledge and to find a passion and follow it to the best of your ability." unquietlibrarian

In short, money and resources should be put behind teachers connecting with other professionals. These networks and communities mean more than sharing resources; they are mini research teams, instant "geek squad" tech support crews, midnight hour "Dr. Philish" emotional support teams, instantaneous/specific feedback syndicates and best of all...groups of professionals sharing real life examples of technological best practices. Thanks to web 2.0 tools there are countless ways to establish these networks with little or no expense. Cathy Nelson, David Kapuler provide some ideas on what these networks look like and how they can be set up.

3) Leaders are needed to make technology integration possible. Scott Macleod very bluntly asserts that "administrators are the only individuals with the ability to redesign school
organizations. They set the vision, control the budget, reassign personnel, empower others, alter school culture, establish priorities, facilitate buy-in, reallocate resources, and ensure organizational alignment." I agree with him that administrators are key as they can get creative to free teachers up to pursue professional networking opportunites and to play with technology. I would go one step further and say it is also the teachers' and librarians' responsibility to demand this type of leadership and creativity. If we don't demonstrate a desire for more effective professional development, if we don't persistently vocalize how present models hobble our effectiveness, and if we don't actively pursue technology integration ourselves then we are just as culpable for our inability to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

I am out of room for this week. Take a tour of my blog postings. I am the evidence for the power of sustained and focused professional development. Since September I have been part of a digital professional network and I can confidently say that I am a completely new teacher ready to tackle the 21st Century. Imagine the state of education if system wide professional development empowered every educator to make the same claim.

Nonhyperlinked resources (all of these are must reads):

Harris, J. (2008). One size doesn't fit all: Customizing educatonal technology professional development. Learning and Leading with Technology, February, 18-23.

Harris, J. (2008). One size doesn't fit all: Customizing educatonal technology professional development. Learning and Leading with Technology, March/April, 22-26.

Harris, J. (2008). One size doesn't fit all: Customizing educatonal technology professional development. Learning and Leading with Technology, May, 22-25.

Harris, J. (2008). One size doesn't fit all: Customizing educatonal technology professional development. Learning and Leading with Technology, June/July, 24-27

Ketterner, K. (2007). Coach, nurture, or nudge: How do you learn technology best? Learning and Leading with Technology, May, 21.

Plair, S. (2008). Revamping professional development for technology integration and fluency. The Clearing House, 82(2), 70-74.


  1. Thanks, Mark! I love your metaphor of teachers as snowflakes and the implications that has for teacher professional development. I completely agree with you that sustained, supported professional development for teachers is important, particularly when it comes to issues and concepts related to technology and technology integration. Of course, the question always becomes, what does that look like in 'real life' and how do we get school districts and administrators to support it/promote it? The questions never end...but you've done a great job outlining the reasons why this kind of PD is vital for teachers in the 21st century!

  2. I read the Plair article about having a “knowledge broker” work with teachers to integrate technology. It seems that educators need to move beyond having a broker or advisor for the classroom. Since it appears that teachers will tend to use technology if they see how it fits in the curriculum, wouldn’t it be better if the “broker” worked with the curriculum specialists in a district to integrate technology? Then the math or science or ELA curriculum available to teachers would have the technology already integrated and embedded. There would be no need for separate professional development in technology. Instead, it is in the content area professional development experience.

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