“Professional Development … with Fries”
Ewan McIntosh is New Technologies Research Practitioner with Scotland’s national education agency, Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS). His work involves applying new and bleeding edge technologies in classrooms across Scotland to measure their effectiveness, and the development of policy and guidelines on using social software. He also has a professional interest in encouraging more public bodies to converse with their public through social media.
He now blogs regularly at edu.blogs.com, but has worked with social media for four years in schools, helping children produce one of the first podcasts from a school in Europe and some of the first open comment blogs from UK schools.
Professional Development needn’t be on others’ terms. When was the last time you chose who, what, when and how you were going to learn something new? Do your colleagues know what they need to know to learn something new? Are we independent learners or interdependent learners? Are teachers learners at all? Ewan takes us through what one education authority and one country is doing to change the face of continuing professional development while bringing the profession along with it. You might pick up some ideas for your own education area, but you’ll also see how important your personal learning environment really is.
(Since this presentation is audio-only, a YouTube version is not available)
A Word From Ewan
For the past year I have been responsible for the development of an online professional development project for Modern Foreign Languages teachers. The MFLE was a pilot for how things might me delivered through Glow, the national intranet. When I inherited the project the spec written back in the early part of the century was concentrated more on the online world as a discussion forum and resource repository than on a collaborative space where teachers can share, construct their beliefs and knowledge and try out new ways of teaching and learning.
After a year of promoting the use of social media for professional development we now have a burgeoning community of modern linguists and other teaching professionals connecting to each other and sharing their ideas, thoughts, complaints and congrats through complex social networks. My current role as New Technologies Research Practitioner with Learning and Teaching Scotland aims to explore these avenues further.
The difference is substantial between the ‘traditional’ means of professional development, which inspired the MFLE, and the ‘connected’ means of professional development, which the project has, to some extent, helped begin to bring to the mainstream.
- Things have changed
But it’s not policy or CPD providers that have changed by and large. We are still seeing top-down provision of development opportunities, certificates and “logged hours” spent on courses counting more than reading the thoughts of a peer through their weblog.
But the community of teacher-learners has changed / grown (though, how would we know whether it had begun or simply grown since there was no record of this community’s existence before?). The community of practice has changed and become more accessible because of technology.
Before, good teachers’ “secrets’ had never been known. Now, teachers and students can, together as learners, reflect on each other’s work. Teachers are being forced to think about the way they think, but, for me, it’s not happening fast enough or deep enough.
Excellent teachers will continue to reflect with colleagues in the staffroom, at informal meetings, over Chinese meals 😉
The majority of teachers will save their reflection for annual conferences and occasional collegiate time activities.
* Teachers as learners – a real-life concept?
This is a great concept that is widely accepted and ignored simultaneously. When so many professionals adopt a clock-watching attitude to CPD can teachers really be lifelong learners?
Learning styles and formative assessment techniques which help our students learn seem to be ignored when it comes to professional development – we happily sit for hours in conferences while someone stands and delivers. It’s like those ‘good classes’ we love to get but which occasionally become a poisoned chalice, where we feel we can get away with lecturing to them or thumping through increased content, but at far less depth than we would like to get into.
But these are the very classes with whom we can offload some of the boring necessity and concentrate on motivating and having fun while learning deeper in class with each other face to face. We can do this using social media to continue the learning beyond the four-walled classroom.
In teacher development we can also try to inspire teachers to become better learners themselves. Clock watching is not an issue because the teacher is so motivated to learn we can’t stop them. If you’re reading this post then this might be true for you.
The accompanying podcast to this blog post is very much ‘stand and deliver’, but I would appreciate every effort to have a conversation afterwards on the blog – mine, theirs or yours. The conversation is permanent and changing (permanently changing). The presentation will date (or be dated already). The conversation will take on a life of its own and move with the times.
* Teachers as learners is taking time
The ‘flattening’ of the teacher-learning process is taking time, a situation further compounded by teaching professionals who feel they have the upperhand on their colleagues (we are not worthy) – I’ve even been made to feel that while preparing for and interacting with this conference. If we can’t keep a learning blog for fear of being unconstructively criticised then there’s little hope for further development of peer-to-peer professional development, because the top-down quality police will be in there before we’ve had a chance to work through our idea, get to the end… And then there’s the issue of whether, in keeping a learning blog, one’s thinking through is ever… well… finished…
But let’s ask the Big Question about why people feel compelled to share their experiences as teacher-learners. If you’re a teacher what’s more important – validation from successful learning in the classroom or validation from a conference certificate or validation from a group of academic peers?
* Quality of information vs. Abundance of information
Tools like this can help find quality information – but quality is not as objective as some would have us believe. There is often little “proof’ that one thing over another has made a difference: the kids in my classroom, the state of my classroom fabric, the curriculum I’m aiming to cover, my teaching style, how interesting or boring I am perceived as being by my kids… all these have an effect on whether my classroom practice is ‘good’ or less good. What I report on my learning blog as being ‘proof’ something works may end up falling down in another classroom.
So, we need to resort to personal recommendation, trusting one individual’s ideas, suggestions or advice because we’ve ‘known’ them online over a long period of time. The longevity of my relationship with some fellow professionals who keep blogs has given me more successful learning opportunities as a teacher than attending some “5* status’ conferences.
Doing this doubles the amount of material you will be exposed to, so coping with this is essential.
* COPING WITH ABUNDANCE
It’s the way of our world that if you are involved in the information or knowledge industry (and we are) your destiny will only be a happy one if you can cope with the increased availability of information. Getting to know these skills has been vital, as far as I have been concerned:
- Skim-reading and scanning relevant posts
- Good typing skills to write blog posts
- Good cross-referencing skills to give credit where due
- Knowing whether to blog something (can I add anything to this? if not, let’s just…
- del.icio.us it – online bookmarking keeps things shared and in a useful, findable format.
- GTD – you’ve got to live your online life in an organised way to cope with large amounts of info.
* Seven Fears (from Seth Godin‘s Marketing Blog)
- The fear that you’ll have to implement whatever you dream up.
-Routine good? Always assumed that routine makes things easier-Dreaming and talking to yourself are important in order to articulate possibilities and then adopt or discard them-Efficiencies (GTD, RSS, Mobile devices)
-Scaling (Exc-el) – more dedicated teams required. Human/social networks might be easier (Social Software Adoption strategy) – avoid micro-management, micro-help.
- The fear that you will fail.
-You give up after the first post
-You give up after one year of doing it
-The fear of not knowing everything (flurry of can’t cope blogs)
-Lack of community
-Too much community to handle
-Presumption that what was going on before was good.
-Moving away from a template comfort blanket
- The fear that you will do something stupid and be ridiculed by your peers for decades.
-Skyping turns heads, phones do not
-Animated gifs were the future in 1998. Then came podcasts and vlogs.
We don’t know what we don’t know
-The community are your peers – they want to know you. They might not be in your immediate geographical space. That’s OK. Power comes from networking communities for local action. Act local, be global.
- The fear that you’ll get fired.
- The fear that there will be an unanticipated backlash associated with your idea.
-Getting your idea out there in the first place – can you?
-Keenness can hold things back
-Personal gain first, the group later?
-K12 conference backlash
-Change in a non-threatening way – we’re all teachers out there
- The fear of missing out on the thing you won’t be able to do if you do this.
-Time, efficiency – what else would you be doing?
-Speculate to accumulate
-Have some imagination!