Are You Ready to Use What You've Learned?

Oddly, I've been asked by several people within the last week about Professional Development. Along the lines of David Warlick's recent blog post, too many teachers take professional development courses but fail to implement the things they learn into their teaching. I see two solutions to this problem.

First, for effective professional development, teachers must be coached and mentored after the initial instruction. Without additional mentoring, teachers simply don't implement what was once "learned". The diagram below illustrates how vital this component is.

According to the research done by Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers, when teachers participate in professional development that includes the following four key features, then that professional development actually translates into successful classroom practice:

  1. Teacher training must be based upon current research findings.
  2. Teacher training must include sound educational theory.
  3. Teacher training must include a demonstration of the practices being learned (modeling).
  4. Teacher training must incorporate time for participants to practice what has been modeled for them.
  5. Teacher training must be extended to include future coaching and mentoring (follow-up).
Failure to follow up translates into a (nearly) useless session of professional "development". What are teachers developing? Why, their filing cabinet of un-used ideas, of course.

Now, even though my job includes duties as a "professional developer", I'm not convinced that traditional professional development is the only way we can get teachers to improve their teaching (gasp!). In fact, in our newly flattened world, I think that other ways of teacher improvement could be far more effective. Podcasts, online tutorials, and even (heaven forbid) Wikipedia are all excellent resources that teachers could/should use to improve their instruction - I mean, sheesh - our kids are learning this way, why can't we teachers?

I'll tell you why not.

It's a matter of attitude.

Our students aren't afraid to teach themselves. At no other time in the history of the world have our students needed us (as teachers) less. If they have a question, Google-ing the question is far easier than asking a teacher (actual results may vary). When a teacher has a question, however, the story is entirely different. Warlick sums it up perfectly:
I’ve claimed my own frustration at teachers who ask, “But who’s going to teach me how to do that?” Sadly, we are a generation who was taught how to be taught — not how to teach ourselves. It’s one of the many reasons why the experiences that our children have in the classroom must become much more self-directed, relevant, and rich. They/we need to learn to teach ourselves. Teachers shouldn’t need professional development. They should be saying, hey, I’m going to teach myself how to do that this weekend. It’s about life long learning. Not about a life of being taught.
In my opinion, David Warlick is right on the money with this one. Many teachers today are simply tired - tired of learning. They've answered one too many questions. They given one too many quizzes. They've pressed "Play" on one too many VCRs.

So how can we change? Begin with ourselves - don't be afraid to take the time to learn something new. But then again, if you're reading this post, you're probably a member of the choir to which I've been incessantly preaching.

Onward and upward.

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