For those interested in better schools, another bomb dropped in August—though I’m not sure many of us heard it. TNTP, a teacher-training and advocacy group, published a report called “The Mirage,” a damning assessment of teacher professional development. Despite being an $18 billion industry, with costs for services of up to $18,000 per year, per teacher, professional development doesn’t appear to have much effect on teaching quality. As Education Week reported, TNTP found that “PD doesn’t seem to factor into why some teachers get better at their jobs and others don’t.” Said one observer quoted: “It just doesn’t look like we have any purchase on what works.”
But what if, in fact, we do know “what works”—but haven’t acted on it? If this were the case, the TNTP report might be the catalyst for a transformation in teacher preparation, training, and student outcomes that was not unlike the one undergone in medical training after the 1910 study known as the Flexner Report. That similarly damning assessment from the last century led to changes that, according to the historian Page Smith, may have saved more lives than any event in the history of medicine.
It’s Time to Restructure Teacher Professional Development
This is a really important article that warrants careful review. How effective are our current models of teacher development and what can we do to change the way teachers receive effective PD?
To me this is a huge question these days, especially with the implementation of digital technology in our schools. More than ever, we need to find effective ways to train our teachers on a regular basis so that they can use the tools that are becoming prevalent in the classroom.
For our school, going 1:1 using Chromebooks has been relatively easy – the machines are cheap and we have a small school population. Every student from grade 4 to 6 has their own Chromebook and they are required to bring it home to continue their class work at home.
My job as administrator now is more difficult. I need to provide excellent digital content and make sure teachers have the time to learn how these systems work. We now have access to Mathletics, Raz Kids, Discovery Edu, Dreambox and as a supporting application, Atomic Learning.
teachers from three schools taking part on a Mathletics webinar during the school day
Mathletics and Atomic are entirely new to our staff and Discovery is a huge program that needs time to learn and use properly in the classroom. I am developing a micro training model to give teachers the resources to use these tools in the classroom. There are a few key points in this model:
1. Time – make sure that digital integration is central to your PD plan. Teachers need blocks of time embedded into the regular day to absorb the various features of these programs. I use the term ‘micro teaching’ because you have to be realistic on how much staff members can take in at any one time. So far, all our training sessions have been no more than a half-day and we have never looked at more than two programs during a session.
2. Connect to people working with the programs you are using. I have found that it is essential to make personal connections with staff responsible for professional development at the various companies we are working with. In the case of Discovery, Mathletics and Atomic, people have been very happy to set up training webinars for our teachers that can outline in detail how the programs work. Discovery goes the extra mile by offering a series of training sessions through their Discovery Ambassador Program that will allow you as the lead learner to help teachers to better understand the many features of Discovery.
3. Connect to a learning resource that teachers can go to when they need to learn more. We have purchased licenses with Atomic Learning for all our teachers for the year. Once they have had an introductory webinar on how the program is structured they will be able to sign up for modules on their own and learn at their own pace. I am hoping that by January, we will be able to give teachers release time so they can work on the Atomic modules that are most important for them.
4. Take the long view – a digital integration plan can take years to implement. Teachers are not going to learn everything they need to know in just a few sessions. My plan for this year is to offer them three webinars – one each from Discovery, Atomic and Mathletics and three lessons from Discovery and that’s it. I hope to have all the structured lessons done by Christmas so that teachers can choose what else they want to learn starting in January. Next year, we will continue to focus on digital integration, but will look for additional webinars and lessons teachers need to continue their professional growth.
Right now these seem to be the key points. I think it is next to impossible for a district to organize training for all of its members on all the new technologies. It is up to school leaders (principals and lead teachers), to come up with plans that will work for their own staff. If this is not done, staff will not adopt the new programs our district is offering them. Their implementation of technology will remain superficial and BYOD or 1:1 plans will not be successful.
The key point here is not to wait for someone to do the training for you. Schools need to take the initiative to get the training that they need for their teachers. Stop thinking about system-wide training and think more about micro training.
Remember, getting the machines into your building is relatively simple, training people to use them effectively is not.