I’ve consistently said since I started my current job nearly two years ago that the era of one-size-fits-all professional development needs to end. It may have been appropriate to put 25 teachers in a computer lab for a training program in the early days when none of them had much educational technology experience, but that certainly isn’t the case anymore. Let’s take a theoretical example of a training session with those 25 teachers with the goal to teach them how to manage digital pictures with iPhoto. Of those 25, one-third will never has used iPhoto or a maybe even a digital camera, one-third will have enough experience with the tools to recognize that they would like to learn more, and one-third will be experience digital photographers who have 2,000 photos in their iPhoto library and could probably teach the class. No matter what group you target in the training, two-thirds of the group will go home frustrated because it went over their heads or bored because it was too basic.
This principle was reinforced to me throughout the professional development program for our one-to-one computing project. We did some training early on and it was obvious that the sessions were operating at too high a level for a substantial number of the teachers in the group. (Yes, we had actual tears from at least two participants.) Nothing like making a teacher cry to bring home the importance of this issue. We improved our training program substantially and by the end of the year we were offering much smaller training “electives” that teachers could choose from to help ensure that they were getting the material at an appropriate level. A mentoring model is an obvious next step, and I plan to work on that this year.
The final principle that I discovered was that teachers (and everyone else by extension) can only learn when they’re ready to hear what is being taught. It’s of little use to teach iPhoto to someone who’s never taken a digital picture. Ever tried teaching people about blogs who aren’t regular blog readers? They may enjoy the training, but the chance that they will begin blogging seriously themselves is practically zero. When I get questions from teachers about some bit of technology that they were trained on a few weeks or months earlier, it’s obvious that they didn’t learn it the first time because they weren’t ready to hear it.
This “just in time” element is evident in my thinking about our curriculum sharing tool. I’m convinced that the system won’t be used to its utmost unless the district’s teachers get timely suggestions of resources that they can use right away. Talking to someone about a technology tool that they might use in a few months isn’t effective. You need to get the information to them when the curriculum is already on their minds.