This is the continuation in a series about the 6 Elements for the Implementation and Sustainability of Blended Learning initiatives that I helped develop for iNACOL. Yesterday, I talked about the importance of leadership. Today, the topic is professional development.
The second element of importance is Professional Development. This is the second element listed intentionally, because too often, technology or blended learning initiatives are implemented and the powers-that-be think that school administration and teachers will just get it and start using it. It is important to note that the Theory of Diffusion of Innovations is very much present in the implementation of a blended learning initiative and that results take time – at least three years to follow a course of action and to actually see the return on the investment. With that being said, the goals and plan for a blended learning implementation should include the ongoing professional development needed by administrators and teachers and staff.
In the 20th century, professional development meant bringing in a speaker for one day, having all staff attend the session and then expecting staff to implement the new concepts in the next week. The expected results would be that student achievement would soar and all would be well. In the 21st century, professional development needs to look different. Part of the reason it needs to look different is that implementing blended learning is messy, but the other reason is that teachers are very capable of learning on their own. With the variety of tools available today, an ongoing professional development plan should include face-to-face time but also developing online networks as well as professional learning networks that occur in person and online. There are such a variety of professional development opportunities now available online that teachers and administrators should be empowered to embrace them all – including blogs such as MindShift or Blue Skunk Blog, free webinars such as the Future of Education, Tweet Ups such as California Ed Chat or Ed Tech Chat as well as many other formal and informal ways to network with others such as Meet Ups.
Professional development should be a coordinated, intentional and systematic professional development plan based on the implementation goals. This would include both formal and informal learning as well as the initial and ongoing professional development for teachers, administrators and staff. Professional development for blended learning educators should include professional development delivered face-to-face, blended and online. Key questions to ask regarding professional development include:
- What are the professional development needs of blended teachers?
- What are the professional development needs of school leaders?
- How will professional development be delivered (online/face-to-face/blended)?
- Who will deliver professional development?
- How will ongoing professional development needs be identified and met?
- How will ongoing professional development be ensured, monitored and tracked?
Promising practices to facilitate professional development would include:
- Needs Assessment: Survey the administrators and teachers about the needed professional development. Many times, the knowledge and talent needed to teach others resides within the school. Administrators and teachers should be empowered to chart their own path and track their learning and progress over time. Every administrator and every teacher does not need the same learning nor the same type of professional development structure in order to make progress towards goals.
- Time: Time for involved teachers and administrators to meet on an ongoing way to share the things that are working and the things that are not working. Release time for this should be built into the regular weekly teacher schedule.
- Resources: Teachers need a variety of resources to access in a variety of ways including group workshops, one-on-one support, online resources, videos, etc. Identify ways that teachers can share resources with one another because the most effective professional development occurs within the school or system.
- Professional Sharing: Professional learning networks should be encouraged to develop with designated teacher leaders to facilitate the learning. Documenting these meetings and sharing meeting minutes will help to ensure progress towards the stated goals.
- School Support: Having a designated teacher or support teacher to empower and encourage action towards the blended learning goals facilitates the implementation. In most schools where implementation has been successful, there is this designated person that can be a teacher on the staff who is given release time or someone who may be hired as the implementation specialist that can be assigned to one or more schools.
Professional Development is essential for the successful implementation and sustainability for any blended learning initiative. In the planning and implementation phase, the following areas should be addressed in terms of professional development:
- Costs/funding: Which ongoing and one-time funds will be used for professional development? Initially, the cost will be to deliver and participate in leadership and teacher professional development courses. Initial offerings should focus on the pedagogy, teaching with digital content, analyzing data, and technology systems for teachers and technology, observing blended classrooms, and supporting the needs of blended teachers. Costs for ongoing professional development should also be budgeted.
- Evaluation/research: Several research studies and reports have been published over the last five years to identify the needs of teachers. These resources are essential in planning, providing, and evaluating professional development opportunities. Once professional development has been identified and delivered, it is recommended that participant satisfaction and needs assessment surveys, which are easily administered online, be used to evaluate a variety of professional development experiences.
- Quality: How will you determine that the professional development is at a quality level? Communicating and seeking input from all constituencies such as teachers, school leaders, professional developers, and support staff will help to ensure quality implementation. Teachers and leaders should be able to provide feedback after each professional development offering. In addition, parent and student feedback of their experiences can also assist in measuring the quality of their experience in learning and if additional professional development is needed. Finally, some ongoing process for the monitoring and tracking of professional development over time is needed to ensure progress towards the stated goals.
“Professional development is most effective when it addresses the concrete,
everyday challenges involved in teaching
and learning specific academic subject matter.”