Saturday, September 3, 2011

Now THAT is Professional Development!

Last year at the beginning of the year I was approached by my assistant superintendent and asked if I was interested in being part of a small group that would be learning a lot about technology. Of course I jumped at the opportunity, and I was joined by 8 other individuals representing our new faculty in this venture. Looking back at the end of the year, all 10 of us (our group and our assistant superintendent) said that we really had no idea what we were getting into when we said we wanted to be part of the PLP teams from our district. But what an opportunity it was.

I know technology and have been trying to use it in my classroom, but I really wasn't sure about how to take the next step. As part of a Year 1 PLP team I really began to understand the many Web 2.0 tools that were out there and how I needed to start using them to help my kids prepared for their futures. My PLP experience really changed my philosophy of education, and it gave me the confidence to Teach Dangerously!

After a few months of personal learning, we selected a topic for our project: to infuse our new building with 21st century learning. Our teams worked extremely hard on our idea, and we thought we had a great idea when we went into our Elluminate session to present it to Sheryl and the other Year 1 teams in our cohort. We left the session feeling like we were not on the right track; we got some amazing feedback, both in personal and through the backchannel chat, and had a lot to think about.

What we realized as we reflected upon the questions we were asked and suggestions we were given is that while the focus of our professional development was using Web 2.0 tools to enhance learning, what we REALLY wanted to do was help our new faculty develop professional learning communities (PLCs) where they viewed each other as teachers and learners. With this realization in mind, we developed a professional development day for the start of our new school year that involved introductions to tools geared towards learners' levels, the opportunity to join a PLC of one's choosing, time for hands-on work with the tool, and the opportunity to walk away with a plan in place for how they would use the tool in the upcoming days or weeks. Even better was that our plan included follow-up sessions throughout the year so it was not just the typical "once and done" professional development.

The glitches came over the summer: an Open House was scheduled the day of our professiona development, and teachers needed to be trained in the basics of how to hook up and use their SmartBoards. With a short meeting we were easily able to revise our initial plan to shorten or take out some parts while focusing on the most important idea: there is a group of people who are learning how to use this tool, and we can all help each other with this new learning.

Finally on Thursday we had the opportunity to put our plan into action. After a short introduction by our "least techie" teammate, who really doesn't give himself enough credit, teachers moved through four sessions to get introductions about Glogster, Blogging, Google Docs and iMovie and how each could be used throughout the curriculum. After the introduction sessions teachers returned to the library, reviewed what they heard, and selected the PLC group they would most like to be part of. We then broke into these groups, and the teachers had the opportunity to use the tools and begin creating lessons, blogs, glogs, movies and documents that they could use during the first weeks of school.

The response from the faculty was overwhelming: they liked the quick sessions about the tools so they weren't too overwhelmed with information, they liked being able to pick the tool they wanted to learn more about, and they really, really appreciated the opportunity to spend so much time working with the tools. The best part is that many of the staff asked if we would be having another chance to work together on the tools. Without even knowing it, they had requested the next part of our plan so we were happy to tell them that our principal is letting the PLCs meet during our faculty meetings each month!

As team we could not have been more pleased with how our plan became reality, and it was great to get so many positive responses from our fellow faculty members. I am extremely proud and honored to be part of such a hard-working group of people. We're all looking forward to not only moving through this year with our new faculty, but also being part of a Year 2 PLP team!

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