In 2011, we are embarking on the first phase of our Digital Futures Learning Program. This will entail rolling out laptops to our entire year 9 cohort in a take-home program. The next phase, 2012, will include all students 9-12. A key ingredient in the success or failure of this program will be meeting the PD needs of teachers involved in the program.
After school PD does not work. Not only are teachers tired, but the instructional activity usually does not tie into the context of the curriculum unit teachers are involved in. Likewise, event driven PD sessions that takes a teacher out for the day (at great expense) shows little spread into the classroom or even to the rest of the faculty/ teaching group.
There is a great dearth of information/ policies on this within Queensland and around Australia (see Aussie Educator ). The most useful is Professional Learning Effective Schools from NSW.
A search of the net reveals that the most effective PD for teachers and ICT is anything relevant and in-context. The other feature touted was the presence of Peer Coaches, Mentors or eBuddies. However, these require funding that is usually lacking. I have used a Mentoring approach previously that was hugely successful; then priorities and funding shifted.
So, what to do with little funding? The only answer is to develop a community of practice based on adult learning; or professional learning community. For this, I have adapted some of the ideas from Jamie McKenzie (Creating Learning Cultures with Just-in-Time Support, http://staffdevelop.org/adult.html). I have also incorporated some ideas around learning circles, drawn from Rudi Aksim and the Learning Circles Teachers’ Guide.
Strategy 1 – Outlining the Journey
Each teacher is to plan a Professional eLearning Journey, based on the indicators of the Smart Classrooms Professional Development Framework. This is based on ISTE NETS.
A template to use to plot your journey can be found in attached (My Professional eLearning Journey)
This will occur within the first learning circle meeting. These will be blogged within the online learning community that will be created to support this program.
Strategy 2 – Establish Learning Circles
A Learning Circle is a group of people who meet regularly to discuss, explore and learn about issues that concern them. Learning Circles are built on fundamental principles of adult learning. They include:
– Value and build on life experiences
– Put learners in control of their learning
– Encourage and support critical reflection
– Provide a relaxed and informal environment
– Cater for different learning styles
I recommend organising learning circles around faculty groupings. This way all learning will be in the context of the curriculum. These meetings should be held as often as other competing schedules allow.
NOTE: Learning Circles for processes and procedures associated with Learning Circles.
Learning circles will be organised along faculty lines. HODS will manage these and incorporate them into their regular meetings. Opportunities will also be sought during SFDs.
All outcomes from these meetings will be recorded online as a blog within the online community created to support this program.
Strategy 3 – eLearning Champions
Every teacher is good at something and having the nature of teachers, is willing to nurture that in others. This strategy is about sharing responsibility broadly. The model of having an expert who trains teachers can lead to resistance and resentment for technology. This is more of a “more the merrier” model where everyone can make a contribution.
I have created an excel spread sheet (eLearning champions list) for this purpose. The way it works is that teachers place a tick in the intersection of the column and row that matches their name and the skill they are willing to help others with. This table is displayed in the staff common room and is also available online for quick reference. Then when a teacher needs help or would like to try something new, they know who to go to for help. This is a vital tool in developing a community of learners.
Spread sheet to be posted in common areas so that teachers can indicate which areas they wish to help with. This will be made electronic and available online.
Strategy 4 – eBuddies
I have read a lot about Mentor and Peer Coaching programs and have used a Mentor program in the past. Since then, my funding for a Mentor program has vanished, so I am now turning towards an eBuddies model. These ideas are taken from Lessons learned by the ICT cluster Education & Training 2010 programme.
“The eBuddy concept, in particular, may provide a lasting effect on teacher development due to its low threshold approach. eBuddies are teachers who are experienced in the use of ICT in the classroom and who are willing to share their experience with colleagues, who might not feel competent enough to cope with difficult situations. eBuddies offer a personal training focused on the trainee that is based on two important aspects: participation in each other’s lessons (trainees may get inspiration by attending the eBuddy’s lessons and eBuddies on the other hand may help trainees with their first steps in technology supported teaching) and the creation of a learning sequence together.
This one-to-one training concept creates a comfortable atmosphere in which teachers may learn and develop further by directly trying out new ideas in the classroom instead of discussing them in seminars far away from their schools. eBuddy training may extend over the period of eight weeks, then a standardised report has to be submitted by the eBuddy, which provides the basis for further scientific studies. The eBuddy concept provides an opportunity to reduce anxieties, to introduce teamwork at schools, to make teachers familiar with sitting in on classes and giving and receiving feedback. The key to success is an approach based on many small steps that give teachers the chance to gradually adapt their methods and teaching style.”
I would like to run this in parallel with the Learning Circle. Here, buddies can be drawn from the same group as they are working on the same issues. They can also feedback their progress to the group and this can always be on the groups agenda.
eBuddies to be chosen from learning circle. eBddies are to report on their activities during each learning circle, to ensure that the relationship remains established.
Strategy 5 – Professional Learning Networks
Teachers need to be able to learn and organise the learning “just in time”. One of the best way to do this is by developing/nurturing Professional Learning Networks. This is not only a transformative way of working for teachers, but is also an essential skill that students need to learn for their digital futures; so why not model this and work this way.
The three dominant social networking tools are:
Social bookmarking (Delicious)
There are also secure groups such as those found on edna (http://www.groups.edna.edu.au ) and email groups such as:
These should be accessed according to the following hierarchy (developed by Jesseca Oram: Jessica.email@example.com):
Use of these should form some of the goals set by learning circles. Then each group can reflect/act as appropriate to their learning needs.
Small chunks of these new skills are to be presented at whole-staff meetings. These then become an agenda item in learning circles and actioned according to the needs of the learning circle.
Strategy 6 – Tutorials
Adult learners should be able to make choices from a rich and varied menu of learning experiences and possibilities. Any tutorials offered should be short and sweet (no more than 15 mins).
I propose that a tutorial roster be drawn up, with all staff delivering a short tutorial based on their identified area of expertise. With all teachers involved, this should support a culture of the shared responsibility for learning.
HODs to determine who will present a short tutorial/presentations. These will occur in whole-staff meetings. There may also be opportunities during SFDs. These then become an agenda item in learning circles and actioned according to the needs of the learning circle.
Strategy 7 – Invention Sessions
Teachers must have scheduled time away from the classroom to translate new ideas and strategies into unit and lesson plans. A large proportion of Student Free Days must be dedicated to this. Teachers need the equivalent of one week a year.
These will occur when possible.
Strategy 8 – Master Classes
There are also several conferences and events throughout the year. A major one is the eLearning Expo during August each year. A delegate teacher should be sent to this each year and then bring back their findings to the learning circles.
Another source of new ideas is the Learning Innovation Centre on the Sunshine Coast. They regularly communicate their offering. Again, a delegate should be sent to relevant sessions and then bring back their findings to the learning circles.
It is vital that there is sharing with the learning circles. This way, the circle can reflect and act on the new knowledge as appropriate.
Those that have attended master classes are to present a short report of their findings and make any resources available online in the learning community. These then become an agenda item in learning circles and actioned according to the needs of the learning circle.