The Changing Nature of Professional Development In Education

This blog and it's sister blog has as its focus bringing to light the game changers of 21st century technologies and globalization as related to Education and how teaching and learning gets done in (U.S.) schools. The very first posts were critical commentaries about the perceived fear and obstruction of schools in terms of adopting new and potentially transformative learning tools.
Around this time online resources were being born where like-minded teachers began to mingle online to share ideas, resources and experiences as they, too, struggled to make sense of the paradigm shifts they saw around them and how they could use new tools for better, more relevant learning in their classrooms. Some examples are Social Network sites like Classroom 2.0, The Future of Learning, Fireside Learning. Individuals emerged as leaders in the field: namely Steve Hargadon (founder of Classroom 2.0/Future of Learning), Will Richardson (of Weblogg-ed), Dean Shareski (of Ideas and Thoughts) among others.

Projects and organizations were created to dive deep into the new world of learning through technology. One example is the Flat Classroom Project. The Flat Classroom Project is a 'global Hands-on working together project for middle and senior high school students'. It was founded by Vicki Davis (Westwood Schools, USA) and Julie Lindsay (Qatar Academy, Qatar) in 2006.

At this point (May, 2009) there are literally thousands of outstanding blogs, wikis, videos, social networks, essays and articles all dedicated to the advancement of learning in networked environments. An upstream battle ensues for many brilliant, creative educators as they find resources and websites blocked in their schools. Appeals are being made to unblock the good stuff. But it goes beyond just websites and tools: As TeachPaperless says, "After all, it's not just tools and sites we're trying to get unblocked. It's attitudes and preconceptions that we're trying to unblock."

Which brings me to Professional Development. The traditional brand of professional development was to bring in an 'expert' for in-service days to teach staff about some initiative related to good teaching/learning. The topic was usually backed up by research (ie..Cooperative Learning, Standards-Based Education). The problem with this mass approach was that topics had to be general enough for teachers of all subject areas. How to go about implementing the initiative was up to the teacher which usually meant a low adoption rate. Surveys of teachers about professional development offered by districts paints dismal pictures about the relevance of in-service in schools. But that was yesterday.

The reality we have before us now is the potential 'decentralization' of professional development and the rise in the autonomy of individual Educators. All the blogs, wikis, videos, social networks, essays and articles are available 24/7 for any interested Educator to investigate, study and use. In other words, the opportunity to learning for teachers, as well as students, has exploded online. Professional development, after all, is just learning for grown-ups. When that learning is put to strategic use in a classroom by a teacher for the benefit of student learning, professional development has been achieved.

Official recognition of this type of learning is what's needed now. It will require a leap of faith for school districts to 'trust' staff members to independently pursue their own relevant professional development but that's exactly what's necessary now. Imagine a professional development day where the in-service memo indicates that "all teachers will independently find, read, investigate, and synthesize any information they may find relevant to their classroom teaching assignment and share that information on the school professional development network. PDP's will be issued once a reflective essay is published on the school's server indicating the learning you achieved and how you will apply it to classroom teaching."

That would be meaningful Professional Development, 21st century style.

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Tags: development, education, learning, professional, teaching


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