Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Want to be a great teacher? Don’t go to PD.

Guest Post by Peter Kent

As a professional development (PD) provider for a Public Ed Department in Australia, I lead and coordinate the strategic delivery of PD to support the use of tech in schools in all its different forms and flavours. If feedback counts for anything, I am very good at what I do. I have been in this position for 3 years and have seen countless teachers and schools improve their practice.

However, one thing I have noticed when it comes to integrating information communication technologies (ICT), is that the teachers and the schools that really fly, the high performing schools...they don’t come to my PD. They don’t go to any PD. They understand that they, and their professional networks, are their own PD.

Our beliefs limit our potential

The following video sums up for me what is wrong with the ‘I need PD’ way of the world. It is this belief that limits our potential as teachers.

“There are two teachers, we have just been given (insert your technology here) and we need help”. As you can see from the video it is not a helpful attitude to have.

The problem with PD is that on the whole it treats teachers as ‘consumers’ of professional knowledge, and discourages teachers from thinking for themselves. The reality is that most of good practice with ICT is still to be developed. Teachers need to be ‘creators’ of professional knowledge.

A mindset that insists on PD before you integrate ICT, is flawed because the world is changing too fast. New technologies, new Web2.0 (and soon Web3.0) tools are being developed on almost a weekly basis, and this rate of development is only going to increase. While these new tools are being created other old ones are becoming redundant, does anyone use ICQ anymore. It is not possible to create PD courses to keep pace. There is a concept in ‘futures thinking’ that is important here:

If the world is changing faster than you can change, then you lose control of the future.

The context of education is changing very rapidly. Teachers and schools that cannot change fast enough to keep up lose control. When you lose control you become frustrated and angry. I occasionally hear people say that it has never been harder to be a teacher. If you cannot change and adapt your practice as your students and ICT changes, then yes – it will be very hard for you to be successful as a teacher.

However I think it has never been easier to be a teacher. No teacher throughout history has had access to the powerful ICT tools that we have. We can bring richer content into our classrooms, we have access to high quality student data on which to base our lesson planning, and we have the capacity to allow students to be creators of their own knowledge and controllers of their own learning. So while it has never been easier to be a teacher, the proviso is that you use technology well, and for that to occur you need to let go of the notion of PD.

PLN not PD

Great teachers see themselves as ‘creators’ of professional knowledge. Through a continuous cycle of ‘planning, application, reflection’ great teachers develop improved ways to educate students, tailoring their teaching to the specific needs of the context within which they teach.

I use three key questions to guide the reflection within this cycles – the reflection being the most important part:

  1. How well did that go? (what I tried to do?)
  2. How do I know how well it went? (what data am I relying on?)
  3. How well could that have gone? (this is probably the most important question)

It is best if you get the others, including students, to help you answer these questions.

Growing your professional practice, becoming a high performing teacher is a journey. Like all good journeys they are best done in groups. This is why your professional learning network (PLN) is so important.

I go to quite a lot of conferences each year. When I started out teaching in the mid 90s I used to judge a conference as a good one if I learnt two or three new skills that I could adapt to my classroom. I still look for good ideas, but now a conference is a good one if I met two or three people who will add richness and diversity to my professional network.

But this is just my view, my thinking. What is important is what you think.

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