Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Institute This!

My parents were educators for over 30 years.  Whenever I say Institute Day, they cringe.  Why is that? 

Instead of getting in to the multitude of reasons why that may be the case, I will offer a suggested plan for the use of Professional Development time to help teachers who are interested in getting better at their craft.  In the 1:1 environment, I can't stress enough the time that is required to implement strategies to enhance student learning.

To be a successful teacher in a 1:1 environment, the first thing that is required is time.  Last year, I spent endless hours trying to figure out how things worked -- workflow, apps, etc.  I was able to figure out how things would look from my end, but I also needed to look at how things looked and worked from the student perspective (Raise your hand if you have a teacher account with your apps and then a student account using your personal email address).  Any experienced teacher knows that seeing your teaching strategy (whether using technology or not) through the student's perspective is a must.  The time demand for learning and developing as a teacher in a 1:1 environment requires us as educators to look at how we use our time allotted for Professional Development.

Years ago, I attended a basketball clinic to hear current Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean (he was coaching at Marquette at the time).  One of the first things he said at the clinic was something to the affect of -- "I've attended so many of these clinics in my life, and it seems to me that most of them are just people telling stories.  I want you to leave here today with something you can use."

It's that philosophy that sticks with me when I attend clinics, conferences, or institutes.  I usually can tell in the first few minutes if what's about to happen can be relevant or useful to me.  This past year, I've had the opportunity to present at several of our institutes regarding my 1:1 experience.  I've tried to focus on things that other teachers could use in their classrooms -- right now!  The conclusion that I have come to is that no one really cares what I'm doing in my classroom, they care what they're doing.  Let me repeat that.  No one cares what I'm doing in my classroom, they care what they're doing.  This is why the focus needs to be on what any teacher can do right now.

On these institute days, each teacher should be able to choose their own development.  I know it's a lot easier to organize a Professional Development day with a series of speakers that teachers are forced to attend or a menu of workshops that teachers choose from.

When it comes to knowledge on using technology, teachers in your building are all over the map. I have a colleague who two years ago asked me where he could find microsoft word on the computer. I'm not joking!  Or the workshop I attended last year on flipped classrooms and another teacher in attendance asked what a prezi was . . .ugh.  When emphasizing technology in the classroom, one sizes fits all just doesn't work.

We have an opportunity with technology today to change the typical model.  There is a plethora of information that can be recorded and posted for teachers to watch or read at a more convenient time throughout the day, thus, leaving Professional Development days to be self paced.

I teach economics.  That means I use the cost-benefit analyis.  Anyone who has presented strategies in front of their peers understands that it might take hours to put together.  That costly time could have been spent trying to improve themselves and their students.  The benefits need to be more obvious with an audience that wants to implement what their learning immediately.

I know what I'd like to improve on.  I know what tools I'd like to try to implement.  I know I can do this on these Professional Development days with a small group of teachers.  They don't even have to be in the building.  We can collaborate using a social media.

Some may be concerned about accountability.  That's fine.  Just ask me how I spent my time.  Better yet, if I used to social media, it's all been documented somewhere.

Yes, there are some housekeeping items that require our attention on these days.  I understand that we need to spend time creating objectives, creating common formative and summative assessments, discussing homework policies, and discussing the bell schedule during homecoming week.  This can be connected to the Google 80/20 model where students get 20% of the week to work on something that interests them.  I'm reminded of that model from the book Good to Great.  Jim Collins states that the great, sustaining companies are the ones where professionals are given freedom -- the freedom to work on their own special projects that might lead to something or even might not.  Schools can follow this same approach on Professional Development days.

Strong building support is also required.  With the expansion of 1:1 learning in schools, more teachers are going to find that they need almost daily support.  Granting more experienced 1:1 teachers release time to be available for others in the building would be a great start.  This allows for individualized attention on helping others.

I can't teach someone how to handle workflow on the iPad in 15 minutes.  However, I can help them troubleshoot and improve their classroom performance.

One of the best professional development practices for me this past year was substituting for my colleague who is also a 1:1 teacher.  She left me a plan.  I observed and helped the students as they did their work.  The next day her and I reflected on what happened, and it sparked some good conversations that helped us improve.

Everyone is busy during the school year.  In addition to our teaching responsibilities, we have extracurricular responsibilities that require our attention.  During the basketball season, a minimum of 3 hours of my day are spent on that.  I'm not complaining; I love it.  I'm anticipating particular development needs that require our attention.  Attention that many of us are finding limited during certain days or times of the year.

It seems that there are a couple of conclusions here.  The first is time.  We're making changes to our teaching practices, and we need time to put these new practices in place.  Second is a the title of this blog - be accountable to always be learning.

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