I’ve been thinking a lot about professional development lately, especially about its critical role in shifting a school or shifting a community of teachers within a school, and then sustaining that change.

I’m thinking about how to support the vastly different needs of my colleagues across the school, but also to build in opportunities for connection, collaboration and communication across, between and among all of those different teachers. I’m thinking about professional development as a self-sustaining opportunity for learning – based on individual need and interest, but also allowing for cross-pollination of ideas and experience. I’m thinking about modeling professional development after my experiences with a personal learning network.

There are two models of professional development I’ve been delivering throughout my career, individual and whole school:

Individual PD

This is the type of support I offer on a daily basis:

  • Working one-on-one with teachers who are ready and willing to co-plan, co-teach, and co-assess units of inquiry in their classroom.
  • Setting up one-on-one meetings with teachers to help them learn new tools, or figure out how to work best with the ones they already have.
  • Casual conversations in the hallway that turn into inspirations for ideas to use in the classroom.
  • After school technology support for tasks that have to be done, but could be made even easier through the use of technology.

This model of support helps deepen learning by providing enough time on a regular basis, grounded in curricular needs, to build individual understanding.

Although this is great way to support an individual teacher’s personal professional development, it can sometimes feel very disjointed. Having enough time to work with all of the different individuals in one school can be challenging, and/or discussing the same ideas with several different people or not being able to cross pollinate ideas because it’s always a “private” discussion can be isolating.

School Wide PD

This is the traditional model of PD we’re all used to:

  • Whole-school or divisional presentations where a message is mass-marketed and delivered in one session (or if you’re lucky one or two day workshops).
  • When you bring in expert voices to build enthusiasm, share ideas from the “outside world” and kick start a new initiative or support a teaching and learning goal.
  • Sending a group of teachers to a conference and expecting them to share their new learning with the rest of the school when they return to campus.

As valuable as these experiences are, they are often a “one off”- offered once and never heard from again.

Keeping both of these models in mind, I’m thinking that there might be a place for something in-between. Something that taps into the power of community, but also supports the individual.

Group PD

This is, I think, the next step to building a community of learners in an institution, and one that can be especially enhanced by new web 2.0 tools like social networking. I feel like I’m at the verge of understanding how to help facilitate this experience, but I’m just figuring things out as I go.

Models of Professional Development

During yesterday’s K12Online LAN party with Heather, Sara, Ali, Chrissy, Silvia (via Skype), Diane, Susan and Joanie, here in my apartment, we discussed how empowering it was to be with a cross divisional group (elementary and middle schools represented) where we could all share ideas, ask questions and receive needed support. It felt like something more than just the one-on-one meetings where the ideas are limited to just the two brains in the room.

K12Online LAN Party in Bangkok

Being able to tap into a diverse group of experiences, knowledge and imagination means that we can learn even more, and everyone feels both needed and supported. We’ve already agreed to have another LAN party because this one was so useful! There goes that feeling of being a one-off. That’s the energy and enthusiasm I would like to tap into, and to spread throughout the school.

We also talked about adding an online component to our group – to help facilitate discussion, share ideas and inspiration, and to provide a repository for information. We talked about setting up a Ning so we could encourage outside educators to join to help continue and expand our discussions (just like Julie is doing in Qatar). Plus this would give us the added advantage of having a welcoming space to demonstrate what we’re doing to other interested colleagues across the school.

We want to make the group open to any and all that are interested, centered around a common purpose. We want to tap into each individual’s desire to learn, but also their desire to be part of a group, to be supported and to be needed.

I just watched Seth Godin give a talk about his recent book, Tribes (thanks to @roybot for the link), and one of his points was that it is human nature to want to belong to a group and to be identified as a member of that group. If there are groups of people at your school who want to learn about technology, why not create that group? Why not help facilitate a place/time/space for coming together and learning together?

This is all going to be an opt-in experience – only the people that are interested will join, but I honestly can’t wait to see how far we can go when we’re all working together.

Just being able to have a number of people (perhaps shifting and changing over time) to look to for support and inspiration makes it feel more sustainable (no longer reliant on the individual PD model). Plus, knowing that a group can continue to exist beyond the tenure of specific individuals at a specific school means that PD will be “just in time” whenever it’s needed, instead of a “one-off” experience. Finally, spending regular time communicating and connecting, and knowing that only those that are truly interested will invest their time means that the learning will be deeper than your standard afternoon session of PD.

We’re only just getting started, but I have that positive feeling, those excited butterflies in my stomach, that there is something to this idea. That, especially in conjunction with the other two types of PD we regularly experience, this could add a whole new dimension to our professional learning and that it could be just what we need to shift our school.

What do you think? Have you had any experience with this kind of PD? What are the critical factors to think about while we’re in the begining stages?