Saturday, 2 June 2012

The importance of professional learning

In a previous post, I may have made it seem like the teacher is not an important factor in the integration of technology in the classroom.  In fact, I believe the complete opposite.  Teachers, in elementary especially, are the gatekeepers to the technology that enters their classroom.  The most important factor in teachers opening their doors to new technology is professional development.  
When I commented on what teachers want, I wasn’t diminishing their vital role in the classroom and the need to be supported by well planned and well structured professional development.  What I do think needs to change is the culture of closed door teaching and learning, where the teacher shows little interest in being a lifelong learner, to improve and advance the education they offer to students.  
Someone recently commented on the term professional development versus the term professional learning.  While professional development is the prevalent term, many jurisdictions are moving away from PD to PLC.  I have struggled to understand the difference between PD and PLC, but the concept becomes clearer to me as I consider how teachers best learn to integrate technology into their practice.  The idea of professional development is a one shot, short session, where a teacher’s skills will be “developed”. A simple formula of adding something new to a teacher’s already existing skills, and presto, 2 hours later the teacher is better developed.  Somehow this doesn’t work, and when we look at  how we teach, by scaffolding, differentiating and supporting students, it’s clear why this model of professional development doesn’t work. 
To meaningfully use technology in the classrooms, teachers need to engage in professional learning, and preferably a professional learning community, or PLC. A teacher will not meaningfully and consistently use technology in the classroom without the time to learn and experiment, especially with peers.   For example, consider a jurisdiction that is creating Google accounts for all students and teachers.  The best case scenario for teachers to learn how to implement the wealth of tools offered by Google is not a one-time two hour session. It is several sessions, focussed not on the tools themselves but on using the tools to meet curricular objectives.  The focus of professional learning around technology should be to model the use of the technology as a tool for teaching or demonstrating an outcome, and not a “how to” of the tool itself.  
Learning about Google is a good example for best practice of technology professional learning because Google has built in collaboration tools.  Just as important as buy in, technical know how and identifying curricular links is the communal aspect of professional learning.  The concept of PLC, the model which many jurisdictions have gravitated towards, has embedded in it the importance of social learning and support.  The PLC model mirrors the idea of student centered classroom, where the learners explore and direct their learning to meet their needs.
At the personal, school and jurisdictional level, teachers, administrators and district level personnel need to look at not only the technology that they plunk into classrooms, but how to effectively support the meaningful use of the tools.  

1 comment:

  1. I didn't read it that way at all, Theresa. I knew you were aware of the importance of teachers in ed tech integration -- never doubted it! But I like your observations here, particularly about the significance of developing a PLC to support ongoing professional learning/development. In fact, I would argue that a PLC does something that face-to-face sessions can't accomplish with any regularity -- they support just-in-time learning. We've always known that people learn at different rates, in different ways, and that their learning is more powerful if it happens right when somebody actually needs it. PLCs are on constant standby, poised to support your learning whenever you're ready for it. That's a huge advantage. And I can attest from personal experience that it can happen even in the middle of the night. That's one of the best reasons I can think of for including people from around the globe in your PLC. Somebody is always awake somewhere! :-)