Professional Learning has been around for centuries.
Why change now?
As an educator in my thirteenth year of teaching, I’ve had many different experiences with Professional Learning. When I first began teaching in the Spring of 2006, I can vividly remember sitting at my New Teacher Orientation and learning about the New Jersey requirements for Teacher Development. At the time, it was required that a teacher have one hundred documented hours of Professional Development every five years. While the number of hours was made clear, how to meet this requirement was not. In addition to not being entirely sure how to complete this task, every teacher that I spoke with about how they were meeting this requirement would roll their eyes. While I was excited to learn new techniques to improve my skills, the veteran teachers would simply say, “You’ll see.” After three years of having multiple proposals for attending outside conferences denied due to “lack of funds” and sitting through countless meetings that did pertain to my classroom or my students, I was beginning to understand why other teachers had such negative opinions of professional learning. I began to dread seeing the words “professional development” on Faculty Meeting agendas, and the thought of In-Service days full of irrelevant information would make me cringe. As a teacher, we are expected to craft engaging, motivating lessons that help meet the individual needs of our learners. Why were we being expected to learn through monotonous powerpoints while sitting in the same position for hours? While the situation did improve when I switched school districts five years ago, much of the professional learning opportunities in the district are still “one-size fits all”, “sit and get” style.
While it may sound silly, I am very grateful for my experiences with ineffective professional learning. These experiences motivated me to become a much stronger and resourceful educator. I began to seek out meaningful learning experiences on my own. I met with teachers inside my district who shared my passion for technology and digital learning, and we began to form Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to support each other through the changes we were making in our classrooms. Through social media, I found ways to collaborate with others who were seeking to improve their skills, increase the use of digital learning in their classrooms, and were also focused on the most important objective of professional learning: increasing student achievement.
The information I learned from my own “Individualized Professional Learning” plan led me to apply for my Masters degree in Digital Learning and Leading at Lamar University. This program challenged me to create and implement an Innovation Plan for my own school district. I created an idea for an “Innovation Station” that combined the ideas of Blended Learning and Makerspaces. After much planning and research, it became apparent to me that if I plan to lead a major change effort within my district, it is imperative that I develop a plan to help my teachers gain the skills necessary to effectively facilitate learning within the new environment. Additionally, it is crucial that I provide teachers with support as they incorporate the new ideas within their classrooms. As I plan my professional learning experiences, I will be keeping some key principles in mind.
According to Gulamhussein (2013), there are five important characteristics of highly effective professional learning. First, it must be on-going in the areas of time and support. Second, teachers must have explicit support as they seek to change practices within their learning environment. Third, teachers must be actively involved in the learning of new practices. As Benjamin Franklin once stated, “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn” (Goodreads Inc., 2019). Fourth, teachers should have the experience of watching new practices being modeled to help them fully understand how it will look in their classrooms. Finally, professional learning should be highly individualized for each teacher. It should cover the grade-level or discipline so that teachers can directly connect to the practice.
As Sineck (2009) once stated, “There are two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” As part of my plan to inspire a change in my district, I will be creating a “Call to Action” video that aims to revolutionize my district’s approach to professional learning. I want the teachers in my district to understand that they are not alone in their frustration with the current model and that the power to learn and grow lies within each us. I seek to show my administration that there are ways to approach professional learning that will drastically increase student achievement while simultaneously promoting stronger collaboration between staff members and administration. Ultimately, I want my audience to connect with my passion for personal and professional growth and the notion that our growth directly impacts our students. I want my audience to end the video feeling that with collaboration and support, the possibilities for student achievement are endless.