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Thursday, May 12, 2005

A professional development philosophy...

Written for class, of course... but it also relates directly to the subtitle of this blog!

Put yourself in a leadership role. If you were in charge of planning staff development and/or training for your place of employment ......

I happen to actually be the coordinator of professional development in educational technology for the Orange County Department of Education. However, most of the time I am still not in a leadership role with respect to an organization, since individuals or schools seeking specific training are our most common customers. However, I am sometimes asked to work as more of a partner with a district or site to help them determine a long term plan for their educational technology professional development. I will approach this assignment as if this scenario is the case.

1.What would be your training or staff development philosophy?

In short, I subscribe to a constructivist philosophy of teaching and learning (though I acquiesce that some behaviorist teaching and learning is sometimes called for, I think for the most part we would benefit from a much higher ratio of constructivist teaching, especially once the learners, adult or otherwise, have learned to read, write, and compute... so that they are now able to read, write, and compute to learn.) About a year ago, I began trying to really break down my brand of constructivism into its constituent parts. After toying with the phrase of project-based learning and realizing the final product was not a critical component of powerful learning, I realized I was really after context-embedded, inquiry-driven, and socially negotiated learning.

In simpler terms, I now focus on the elements of context, inquiry, and collaboration for most courses or lessons I design.

In order to support a learning environment of context, inquiry, and collaboration within an organization, I have embraced the philosophy of Professional Learning Communities, which the county office is currently supporting.

It is also worth noting that I find the idea of teaching to adult learners to be (mostly) meaningless, in that when I read about the concerns and the accommodations that are necessary, it simply sounds like "good teaching" to me, principles that should be applied to any learner. All learners have lives outside the learning environment, all learners come to you with the baggage of their past experiences, all learners need to see the relevance of what they are learning, and all learners need to learn in a way that capitalizes on their learning style, interests, and aptitude.

2. Explain why you decided to choose this philosophy for your organization.

These precepts are well supported by research. In fact, the ideas of context, inquiry, and collaboration all appear in our week's reading.

Context is the least represented, but with respect to the organizational context in which professional development must take place, Butler (2001) suggested, in bold caps, that "STAFF DEVELOPMENT SHOULD BE BASED ON THE EXPRESSED NEEDS OF TEACHERS REVEALED AS PART OF THE PROCESS OF COLLABORATIVE PLANNING AND COLLEGIAL RELATIONSHIPS." She also shared that "Griffin (1982) identifies a number of organizational context issues that might affect the design of staff development and change efforts [including]... the school's history of change, and the importance of the leadership's ability to analyze the characteristics of the setting and school." In the case of professional development for educators, what they are learning must be embedded squarely into what they are trying to accomplish in a classroom (and the more this can be accomplished through simulations or role playing during a development session the better).

A big part of achieving this - of embedding learning in a meaningful context - is helping the learners see the relevance of their learning to their own work and interests. So, it is also important that "teachers identify and collect data in an area of interest, analyze and interpret the data, and apply their findings to their own practice" (Butler, 2001). And, because "the INQUIRY approach will become more widely used as the teacher-as-learner/teacher-as-reflective-practitioner paradigm takes hold" (Butler, 2001), it is important to help foster this paradigm shift. One way to encourage such reflection is to encourage more collaboration between staff teachers.

Butler (2001) shared the definition of collaboration as "focused interchange with fellow teachers to give and receive ideas and assistance." She went on to suggest that "staff development is most influential where it ensures collaboration adequate to produce shared understanding, shared investment, thoughtful development, and the fair, rigorous test of selected ideas; and where it requires collective participation in training AND implementation." However, this is not something that can be mandated; Butler goes on to warn that "induced collaboration" can carry "high costs in time spent on adjusting to working together and in risk of being exposed to new kinds of criticism and conflict in small groups" and that "forced collegiality doesn't work." Still, a collaborative atmosphere for learning can be encouraged, and "a collaborative culture that must be facilitated and supported by leadership so that informal collegiality supports the formal collaborations required in staff development programs." Ultimately, the leader must understand and support "the concepts of collaboration and norms of collegiality."

The concept of a professional learning community (PLC) embodies these principles of learning well. For brevity's sake, below is a succinct definition of a PLC offered by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

"The term professional learning community describes a collegial group of administrators and school staff who are united in their commitment to student learning. They share a vision, work and learn collaboratively, visit and review other classrooms, and participate in decision making (Hord, 1997b). The benefits to the staff and students include a reduced isolation of teachers, better informed and committed teachers, and academic gains for students. Hord (1997b) notes, "As an organizational arrangement, the professional learning community is seen as a powerful staff-development approach and a potent strategy for school change and improvement."

3. Given that staff development time is limited, what would you set as a priority for staff development?

As with any organization wide implementation, a needs assessment is absolutely critical, and I would set this as my first priority. (I should note that Walden's Dr. Howard Shechter, who works in knowledge management, has a different perspective on this... his clients usually come to him knowing what they need, and he often skips this step quite successfully... and I have found that this is often the way things work in "real life" - the needs assessment is an integral part of daily work and has logically already moved from the data gathering stage into the analysis stage by the time someone realizes there is a problem and that professional development is needed.) I would also make the focus on context, inquiry, and collaboration a high priority. (In fact, I am doing this right now for all the professional development programs I am managing.) I would prioritize the process of a PLC only in so far as it helped to achieve these primary goals.

Now, if the learners have not yet learned to read, write, and compute, then certain preliminary proficiencies may need to be made first priority. (This would be only for those learners - not for everyone!) Some behaviorist training may be most effective in achieving these preliminary goals.

4. Describe how you would approach the delivery of the training or staff development.

The model that is available at the county can be scaled down to a district quite effectively. Optional classes should be available for those interested in furthering their own growth. For development required for a department or site, custom training solutions should be created (that are delivered on site and on the systems the learners use, in an effort to embed the learning in the context of their work). Both the optional classes and the custom trainings should adhere to the philosophies of context, inquiry, and collaboration. Certification should be available (through optional classes and custom trainings) for teachers who need to master their preliminary proficiencies. Finally, online education should also be available, particularly for the optional classes, in order to ensure that the largest number of people could have access to the growth opportunities they desire.



Butler, J.A. (2001). sTAFF DEVELOPMENT NW Regional Educational Laboratory. Available http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/6/cu12.html

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. (2004). Professional learning community Available http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/content/currclum/cu3lk22.htm


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