When Schools Get PD Right

Yesterday, I sat through one of the most productive collaborative days of my five-year teaching career and it made me wonder what made that one day so much better than all the rest? How could a day with 30 teachers in the Career Center of my school be so much more productive and better than the past five years? 

I tried to find one thing, one magic component that made it stand out. Was it the trainer? Was it new resources? Was it the technology? Was it the snacks? I realized as I pieced together the day that it had nothing to do with the day in isolation, there was nothing particularly special about the day itself but instead, it had everything to do with the past year and a half leading up to this point. 

You see two years ago, as it became clear that our school would be adopting a BYOD program our school leadership knew that in order for BYOD to be successful teachers would need more training and support. Our leadership also knew that we had an invaluable resource for blended learning on our campus: Amanda Sandoval. If you have no idea who she is, you should start here with her amazing collection of presentations. Most people refer to her as an edtech guru but the reality is she is a trailblazer in engaging personalized learning and she sees the value of how tech supports that goal. Because of this passion for personalized learning and student engagement, Amanda really is an expert on edtech tools and how to use those tools effectively for blended learning.  

Because of her skill set and because our school was about to have 1000+ students with laptops in their hands for the very first time, our school leadership put her in a position where she was teaching fewer classes and using the rest of her time to build PD days and work with teachers. She put together a team of teachers representing each department and helped them create lessons and plan PD's tailored to their department needs. She created hundreds of tutorial videos and lesson templates and consistently met with teachers to provide support. Every month, she hosts a variety of training days and PD's and whether she knew it or not (knowing her, she probably knew), her approach took our teachers from learning basic tools and fundamentals of blending learning to creating engaging and meaningful lessons. 

So for the past year and a half, teachers on our campus have had access to an active classroom teacher who has provided them with training, support, coaching, and resources. She is literally a phone call away and if you need help or coaching she will often just walk right over to your classroom and help you through the challenge you are facing. 

And then, yesterday happened and I had the most productive collaboration of my entire career. It didn't require any consultants, it had nothing to do with having the latest devices or the flashiest LMS, and we didn't need anyone dictating to us how to use every minute of our time to ensure results. 

Instead, I saw a year and a half of training and support pay off. We were still a room of people who were all at very different levels of tech knowledge and comfort but we had a much clearer shared vision of why and how to make this kind of learning happen. 

The reality that I think is often forgotten when rolling out new initiatives or expectations is that it requires a thorough plan of training, support, and time for teachers to be able to effectively change their practices. When our teachers were given consistent and meaningful training from someone who was still connected to and understood the realities of a classroom they were able to really learn. They were able to learn more than just taking one new thing from a conference or a presenter. Instead, they were able to consistently gain knowledge and resources. When our teachers were then also supported by trained teachers in each department and the resource of Amanda being available to coach, they had a support system in place when they ran into issues or needed someone to bounce ideas off of. 

And then came the most productive day of my teaching career: when it became time for teachers to start putting it all together, they were supported with a day to work through it collaboratively with teacher leaders walking the room to support and help as needed. 

And literally magic happened. I sat with members of our World History team, a group with a wide variety of tech comfort, and watched as they created an engaging lesson that allowed for student collaboration and communication and tied current events to the standards we were teaching. I watched as a science colleague coached her team through a hyperdoc and helped them learn how to collaborate using EdPuzzle. I watched as teachers around the room worked together all of us using a common language and understanding of what educational technology can do and why it has a place and purpose in the classroom.

I felt the need to share about this day because too often professional development and training for teachers comes in as one and done and then we throw our collective arms in the air and wonder why the heck no one is really doing that initiative we all trained on. 

The greatest thing you can give teachers to strengthen their practices is a system of training, support, and time. If all you give is training, teachers won't have the time to apply that training or the help they need when they run into issues. If all you give is support, teachers won't know what to ask for because they don't know what they don't know. If all you give is time, it will get used but it might not get used to further a collective goal. 

Training, support, and time were the magical ingredients that made the day so successful and it is a model I wish more leaders in decision making positions around the country would really understand. If you don't truly provide all three consistently you can't magically expect teachers to be able to adapt to your latest round of expectations.


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