“I still need a formal introductory training for Atlas. In other words, an organized and thorough explanation and demonstration of what it is and how it works. Will the Q and A be productive for me? I’m afraid it is geared more toward people who are already trained and using Atlas to address issues that have come up during their initial application of what they learned in a more traditional training.” (Email from a teacher at my school)
These are the types of emails (from teachers) that provide an opportunity for my own professional learning and growth. I’ve been working hard this year to develop a professional development plan that will address areas of need in our teaching staff. For after-school professional development last week, I worked with our Curriculum Director, Media Specialist, high school science teacher, and an outside trainer to provide choice. Teachers were able to choose from four different simultaneous sessions including Smart Board, Edmodo, Atlas Rubicon, and electronic databases. I felt like the afternoon was destined to be a huge success. But I realized after receiving this email a couple days before our professional development afternoon that some teachers truly do need one-to-one instruction to feel comfortable with learning a new task. Although there was an opportunity to receive small-group instruction, this teacher clearly is a candidate for intensive job-embedded learning.
There are four conditions, noted by Zepeda (2012) that are necessary for successful job-embedded learning. I thought it would be useful for me to analyze where we’re doing a good job meeting these conditions (for this particular teacher) and where I need to re-evaluate and adjust to meet the needs of individual teachers.
1 & 2: Consistency with the principles of adult learning and trust in the process, colleagues and learner.
Some of the principles of adult learning include ensuring that learning goals are realistic, relevant and there are opportunities to practice the skill being learned. Included in chapter three of Zepeda (2012) is the idea of differing levels of readiness to learn. I understand this as two potential scenarios that may occur with adult (or any learner for that matter) learners; we’re not ready to learn until we decide it’s time, and different learners need different kinds of mental and emotional scaffolding needs that until met, will inhibit their readiness to learn. If there are issues of trust in oneself, the process or colleagues, then adult learners can be resistant and reluctant learners.
I believe the latter is true for this teacher based on the one-to-one work we’re been engaged in this year. I’ve noticed that until this teacher feels comfortable trying a new learning experience, they are reluctant to imagine the possibility of supported success, much less working independently. It has taken time for me to build trust with this teacher, trust that I may not know an answer to her question but I will follow-through and come back with a reply; trust that I will facilitate opportunities to work with others in ways that are beneficial and not wasting value prep time. It takes time to become familiar and comfortable in a new situation. The work I’ve done with this teacher has been curricular based and we’ve made some real headway in their ability to imagine success. It’s clear to me that I need to spend some one-to-one time offering support with our online Atlas Rubicon system as well.
3 & 4: Time within the school day is available and sufficient resources are available to support learning.
We have an amazing Curriculum Director at our school who is capable of creating short, explanatory videos that demonstrate the minutia of navigating even the most complicated grading program and our Atlas Rubicon curriculum mapping system. Likewise, he is able to lead whole faculty and small group instruction on various programs as well. What he doesn’t have a lot of time for is individual instruction. This is mostly due to the enormous amount of work that we (administrative team) are undertaking this year to get our school on-track. Much of his time has been spent trouble-shooting Admin Plus, our grading and attendance tracking system. He has also spent considerable time facilitating the training in and use of our online classroom portal called Edline, among the myriad other tasks he does as an administrator. He also teaches.
So, while there are numerous “resources” available for teachers to learn new systems, what has not been so available is a warm body to fill the chair next to them as they learn. Our schedule is 90-minute A/B Day blocks so teachers have a large chunk of time to devote to curriculum planning, mapping and collaboration with colleagues. Additionally, we have scheduled content-area meetings into teacher’s schedules at regular intervals; but there still doesn’t seem to be enough time to accomplish all that we must. I think that our approach to professional development around the learning of systems is too wide spread with just a surface-level of collaboration happening. We have not yet reached the highly interactive ideal that Zepeda (2012) recommends which is accomplished through peer coaching, study groups, books studies, learning circles and action research. While I am not nearly as knowledgeable as our Curriculum Director, one of my goals is to offer my time to teachers that feel most comfortable learning one-to-one.
How to support our adult learners?
The Annenberg Institute for School Reform believes there are four critical factors that must be present for professional development to effectively raise academic achievement:
2. Embedded within context-specific needs
3. Aligned with reform initiatives
4. Grounded in a collaborative, inquiry-based approach to learning. (Zepeda, 2012)
I believe that we are on the road to accomplishing the first three critical factors; there is room for improvement and continuous re-evaluation but we’re getting there. It is clear to me that we need to continue working on the fourth factor which is collaboration. I love working in an international setting and have experienced some of the best professional learning in my career. But as international educators Driscoll-Lind & Toweh (2013) point out “Yet working in international schools, which are frequently remote from each other, can become insular. As a result, schools often reinvent the wheel instead of seeking out assistance from another school that may have valuable expertise to share”. We are not yet in a position to share professional development days with another school, though the idea is intriguing to me, there are ways to learn collaboratively in an international setting. I will be out of town this next week attending to my own professional learning needs: I will participate in the East Asian Region Council of Overseas Schools (EARCOS) leadership conference in Bangkok. As an administrative/curriculum intern, I am excited and motivated by the opportunity to interact and learn in a collaborative setting with seasoned administrators. Though we each exist in our own independent school, we recognize and value the opportunity to come together as like-minded professionals to share and support. I am thankful for this opportunity and I look forward to sharing my experiences when I return. I also look forward to being a resource for teachers that desire some one-to-one time as they engage in their own professional learning.
Driscoll-Lind, A. & Towleh, J. (2013). Sharing Expertise: a New Professional Development Model? TIE Online. Retrieved from http://www.tieonline.com/
Zepeda, Sally J. 2012. Professional Development: what works, second edition [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.