A number of different thoughts have come clashing together recently, leaving me with questions about professional development and how to really make it happen.
First, Lawless and Pellegrino (2007, emphasis mine):
The existing body of literature on professional development draws an important connection between student achievement and effective professional development (Darling-Hammond, 1999; National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996; National Education Goals Panel, 2000; Wenglinski, 2000). A number of organizations and researchers have conducted elaborate reviews of the literature and evaluations in this area (e.g., Corcoran, Shields, & Zucker, 1998; Loucks- Horsley, Stiles, & Hewson, 1996; National Foundation for the Improvement of Education [NFIE], 1996; National Staff Development Council, 2001; Porter, Garet, Desimone, Yoon, & Birman, 2000). This knowledge base has consistently indicated that high-quality professional development activities are longer in duration (contact hours plus follow-up), provide access to new technologies for teaching and learning, actively engage teachers in meaningful and relevant activities for their individual contexts, promote peer collaboration and community building, and have a clearly articulated and a common vision for student achievement (Adelman et al., 2002; NFIE, 1996; Porter et al., 2000; Sparks, 2002).Next, I think Kopcha's (2010, emphasis mine) systems-based approach to technology integration using mentoring and communities of practice has tremendous potential. Kopcha also describes the very premise upon which the model we've implemented in the Canyons District was built:
The model moves teachers through four specific stages of technology adoption toward using technology to support learning in more student-centered ways. The model describes how a mentor can negotiate the interplay of multiple barriers (time, beliefs, access, professional development, culture) on teachers who are learning to integrate technology and suggests a number of strategies for integrating technology, such as establishing a culture of technology integration, modeling technology use, and creating teacher leaders. Unlike previous mentoring approaches to integrating technology into the classroom, this model culminates with the establishment of a teacher-led community of practice that uses the resources currently available at a school to support and sustain the implementation of the system.Finally, Larry Cuban states earlier this week:
What’s the point of citing these examples of seat-of-the-pants professional development and spontaneously generated PLCs, past and present when, clearly, the evidence is weak that these are replicable and can “go to scale?”Now we're talking. It feels to me like a combination of all three of these descriptions might just take us far.
I have two reasons. First, they show the critical importance of prior “strong ties” among teachers that propelled their activism. Not “weak ties” that characterize many PLCs organized by non-teachers. (See Jones-Chris-2006)
Second, amid current unrestrained teacher-bashing, anti-teacher union rhetoric, and policy elites’ romance with pay-for-performance schemes these instances of collective teacher action begin to counter the dominant social belief that individual teacher heroes can save schools. We live in a culture where societal rewards (and media attention) go to individuals, a society that worships heroes and yawns at group solidarity. These instances, then, demonstrate the power of teacher-led groups with “strong ties” to design their own professional development, create their own PLCs, and succeed in helping themselves and their students.
Effective technology-related professional development:
- Is generally longer in duration (contact hours plus follow-up, not just drive-by)
- Provides access to new technologies for teaching and learning
- Actively engages teachers in meaningful and relevant activities for their individual contexts
- Promotes peer collaboration and community building
- Has a clearly articulated and a common vision for student achievement
- Helps in establishing a culture of technology integration
- Provides for the modeling of technology use
- Creates teacher leaders
- Culminates with the establishment of a teacher-led community of practice
- Is initiated by teacher-led groups with “strong ties” to design their own professional development and create their own PLCs
With this in mind, there remain a number of essential questions:
- What happens (with teacher-led groups designing their own PD) when teachers aren't motivated to learn? In every school, will there always emerge teacher-leaders willing to guide communities of practice?
- How do schools continually provide access to new technologies for teaching and learning - and how new is new?
- What is the definition of a "clearly articulated and common vision for student achievement"? Does it include quantitative measures?
- What role do administrators play in establishing a culture of technology integration - and how might we succeed when building administrators aren't really on board?
- Is it possible for District-level Specialists to build "strong ties" with those involved in teacher-led PLCs? What mechanisms might be put in place in order to facilitate ties that extend beyond an individual school?
I can't tell you how much I'd appreciate your take on the answers to my questions.