CASTLE Advisory Board Here I Come!

The Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE) is the nation’s only center dedicated to the technology needs of school administrators. CASTLE helps  university educational leadership programs prepare technology-savvy school leaders and provide numerous resources for K-12 administrators and the faculty that prepare them.

I’m proud to announce that I’ve been named to the newly formed CASTLE Advisory Board.  I’m really looking forward to working with this diverse, accomplished group of people to assist with the important job of helping K-12 school administrators understand the role of technology in improving student achievement and creating relevant, engaging experiences for tomorrow’s global citizens.


Situating professional development

In my recent post, Six Degrees of Professional Development, I grouped PD: Academic coursework, Workshops/sessions, Formal research, Informal, Classroom embedded, Action research. One of the reasons I grouped the 6 types in this particular way is that it situates the professional development.

To me, one of the most powerful ideas in learning is the theory of situated learning. This term was first used by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in their 1991 book Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. I first read this book in grad school, and it has colored everything I’ve learned since. Situated learning happens in Communities of Practice, defined by Wenger on his site as, “… groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

Community of practice is a term often used when we talk about teacher professional development. But in fact, I think often it is confused with community of interest. Community of practice is where you DO something. Community of interest doesn’t have to be. When we chat with friends and Twitter buddies about teaching and how to do it better, or what tools to use, that’s a community of interest, not a community of practice.

The primary community of practice for most teachers is within the confines of their own classroom. The participants are the teacher and students. Sometimes other people visit, but these visits are few and short. While teachers may participate in other communities in a professional capacity, for most, the classroom is the only setting for their professional practice.

Traditional forms of professional development remove the teacher from their classroom and attempt to create a community of practice made up of teachers and technology experts. This community exists only for the purpose of imparting information from the experts to the teachers. While there is certainly a place for collegial discussion and access to professional improvement, it is not unreasonable that teachers often reject transparent efforts to force them into participation.

Wenger, in discussing designs for learning inside communities of practice, makes the point that they, “…cannot be based on a division of labor between learners and nonlearners, between those who organize learning and those who realize it, or between those who create meaning and those who execute.”

Common recommendations for technology professional development include that teachers be given more time for independent practice without fear of embarrassment, to watch expert practitioners, go to conferences and workshops, or participate in online learning communities.

The problem is, these attempts to fix technology professional development only serve to reinforce the separation between the teacher learning new skills and real change in classroom practice. In a book chapter called Teacher professional development, technology, and communities of practice: Are we putting the cart before the horse? Mark Schlager and Judith Fusco look at the use of Tappped-In, an online teacher community, for professional development. They say it “… tends to pull professionals away from their practice, focusing on information about a practice rather than on how to put that knowledge into practice.” Mark Schlager is director of Tapped In, so this is not just someone who doesn’t like newfangled online PD.

In short, mere discussion about practice does not create a community of practice.

Even if a great workshop excite teachers about new possibilities and tools, the teachers are removed from the successful context and sent back to the classroom to fend for themselves. They are expected to use their new skills without colleagues or experts present. One-on-one coaching that provides in-class mentors is expensive and rarely available. The technology specialist is not always there, and the “teacher-down-the-hall” that many schools depend on for technology help has their own class to teach. Online teacher communities can only take place outside of classroom time, too late for any intervention or advice to be useful. Maybe you can Twitter out a call for help, but that’s too unreliable to count on in crunch time.

So as teachers struggle alone in their classroom with questions, issues, and problems, valuable teachable moments are missed.

In an interview discussing what changes need to take place in classrooms to allow project-based learning, Seymour Papert says, “What we need is kinds of activity in the classroom where the teacher is learning at the same time as the kids and with the kids. Unless you do that, you’ll never get out of the bind of what the teachers can do is limited by what they were taught to do when they went to school.” (Interview on Edutopia site – Seymour Papert: Project-based learning)

So you know where I’m going with this. You have to look at the whole classroom and maximize the chance that teachers will learn alongside students. It has to be the norm, not the exception. By looking to students as co-learners in the effort to use technology, teachers end up learning more themselves. It takes a willingness to take risks in front of students and to model an attitude of openness to new ideas. I think seeing learning with technology happen through the eyes, hands, and screen of their students is the only way teachers will really understand the potential.

Situating professional development in the classroom is, I believe, the only way that technology will really be integrated into every classroom.


Counting what matters in professional development

As some smart person once said, you have to count what matters to make what matters count.

Professional development plans often have “measurable outcomes”, accountability, and other such means to prove that professional development is successful. But very often, the evidence of success is simply “showing up”. You go to a workshop or conference, you get credit. It doesn’t matter if the workshop was boring or if you knit a sweater instead of participating. The measure of success unfortunately has little to do with the intended outcome.

As Mike Maloy pointed out in the comments on my recent post, What is Professional Development?, some of this is a matter of finding better ways to document what’s happening. What is the evidence that any professional development works. In the big picture, you hope that professional development makes a teacher better, and a better teacher will produce better results in the classroom. How do you measure better results in the classroom? Saying there is a certain amount of disagreement here may be the understatement of the century.

What Matters is Your Vision
When we work with schools as part of a grant, there is often an evaluation design that seeks to measure the effectiveness of the grant. When we sit down to talk about what to evaluate, we always advocate that the evaluation actually measures all the outcomes you would like to see. Not just the usual suspects that are easy to measure, like test scores.

What’s your biggest dream? What would like to shout to the clouds when you are finished?

Isn’t the real vision that you hope to see kids more engaged, teachers who feel that they are doing a better job, parents who see that their kids education is more relevant? So why not ask those questions. There’s nothing wrong with combining test scores with a survey that asks questions that go to the heart of the matter. If you don’t ask what you really want to know, the opportunity is lost forever.

It’s often dismissed as “touchy-feely” to include subjective questions and measures, and yet, this is often exactly what we hope happens when we implement a new project. Somehow, affective and subjective have become a dirty words.

Blending PD Models to Produce Measurable Results
In my recent post, Six Degrees of Professional Development, I grouped PD into these types: Academic coursework, Workshops/sessions, Formal research, Informal, Classroom embedded, Action research. The reason I these particular groups is that 1) they situate the PD and 2) illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of each model at creating evidence of success.

Some of the more informal PD types are notoriously bad at creating measurable results, because documenting them undermines the reason they are interesting and easy. Imagine documenting your Twitter interactions, as an extreme example, or counting your Diigo friends and getting a “score” based on friends and how many bookmarks you post. That’s a sure fire way to stop participation!

But sometimes it really makes sense. Blogging, for example, is something that creates “evidence”. As I outlined in the post, Six Degrees of Professional Development, combining the informal practice of blogging with the discipline of action research can give you the best of both.

Say for example that someone blogged every day and gave a “score” for how they felt the day went. For example, a teacher could rate their own feeling of satisfaction that the lesson went well, or how well behaved the class was, or any other item that might be important. A simple scoring system from 1-5 would end up giving you data. After a time, you could extract data from the blog. Maybe you’ll find that scores are always better on Fridays, or worse after a 3 day weekend. To delve deeper, you could try to connect events actually recorded in the blog with the scores. You may notice that every day you go to Starbucks, it’s a better day. You might keep track of greeting the class in a certain way, or using an active whiteboard, or turning up the air conditioning. Just because the criteria is subjective doesn’t mean it can’t be measured.

What matters is counting what YOU think will make a difference, and proving it by measuring what YOU think counts.

Next: Why situating PD is critical


6 degrees of professional development

In my recent post, What is Professional Development? I proposed six types of professional development that most teachers have access to. Today I’d like to take that a step further and talk about blending these models together to provide teachers a more balanced diet.

Here are the six types I came up with: Academic coursework, Workshops/sessions, Formal research, Informal, Classroom embedded, Action research.

If we represent these as a graph, we would probably see a pretty common pattern. Teacher professional development is overwhelmingly done in in-services and workshops. If it was a pie chart, it might look like this.


Not much of a balance here.

For teachers excited by new opportunities with Web 2.0 tools, technology, and probably readers of this blog, it might look a little different. The concept of building a personal learning community, documenting your own teaching in a blog, or building your skills by reading popular blogs about education creates new opportunities for learning — but only in an informal sense.

For lack of a better term, I’ll call it an “edublogger” PD profile. It might look something like this:


And of course, someone who is getting a degree might look completely different for a while.


Now, none of these show much balance. And I think balance could be a really good thing to bring to professional development. Doing things only one way leads to complacency and a lack of perspective.

Bringing balance to professional development
So what might that look like? Just like a balanced diet, I think brainstorming blends of various types of PD is a terrific way to open your mind to new possibilities. Blending these models also provides a way to leverage the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of each type.

Take a look at this:


I’ve shown 4 different blends:

  • informal + action research
  • classroom embedded + workshop
  • classroom embedded + informal
  • academic research + workshop

So what do you get when you cross informal PD with action research? One idea might be that if a teacher is seriously blogging to uncover patterns in their professional practice, that’s a worthwhile form of professional development. A strength of informal PD like blogging is the personal passion and commitment people bring to it. A weakness is that it’s hard to measure or plan. But by incorporating some of the discipline of action research, you could come up with a plan that turns blogging into a more objective reflective practice.

classroom embedded + workshop: What does it look like if you move a traditional workshop into a classroom environment, complete with students? Imagine that you give the usual podcasting workshop directly to students, with teachers looking on. What might happen is that these teachers will see that students pick it up quickly, and can create podcasts without much direct instruction on the tools. They will see that their own reluctance to try podcasting is not shared by students, and the roadblocks that they have created in their own heads don’t apply to students.

By pushing the workshop into a live classroom, it solves the problem of teachers creating false complexity out of the technology and being the roadblock to classroom implementation.

classroom embedded + informal: I’ve seen a few examples of teachers video-streaming their class presentations and discussions, announcing them on blogs or Twitter, and random educators just showing up to take part. The connection to the outside world is great for the kids, but what this is doing is providing examples of classroom practice that might otherwise be hidden from view.

By drawing these lines and brainstorming the possibilities, we can find new approaches to a more balanced diet of professional development. And I think that instead of trying to define them all, it’s a better idea for these ideas to grow organically from the people who actually are involved in local professional development planning.

Next: Counting what matters so that what matters will count – how blending models of PD can provide new evidence of success.


What is professional development?

Everyone knows that “professional development for educators is important.” It’s one of those phrases you hear all the time without really thinking about it. I did a session at last year’s K12 Online conference called “Challenging Assumptions About Professional Development” that talked about some of the myths we believe about professional development, especially regarding technology. But even then, I didn’t think much about the question, “what is professional development?”

I’ve done some web research, and found lots of terrific resources about things like the essential elements of professional development, methodologies, how to do it, and much more. But what I didn’t find is a simple breakdown of the kinds of professional development that teachers can participate in. Because in my mind, breaking down the kinds of professional development into simple groups gives us a “map” of the possibilities. Sort of like food groups – it can help create a balanced diet.

Here’s my list – I’m open to suggestions…

1. Academic coursework

  • degree/professional certification awarded at completion

2. Workshops/sessions

  • workshops
  • in-services
  • conferences

3. Formal research

  • publish research
  • participate in research
  • apply research to your own situation

4. Informal

  • collegial activities
  • Personal Learning Networks
  • mentoring
  • being a mentor
  • reading, listening to podcasts, watching videos about education/teaching
  • blogging or creating other content related to education

5. Classroom embedded

  • learning from/collaborating with students
  • workshops given in a real classroom situation
  • in-classroom mentor teacher
  • team teaching
  • student teaching
  • observation

6. Action research

  • deliberate reflective practice to change your teaching

My suspicion, of course, is that most professional development falls mainly into one or two traditional groups. I’ll explore this in a future blog post, and how we might create a more “balanced diet” of professional development for teachers by combining different forms of professional development to balance strengths and weaknesses of each type.


Have a Learning Adventure This Summer!

Just announced, a fantastic adventure in computers and learning for educators this summer – the Constructing Modern Knowledge Institute. I’m excited to be participating in this event.

Constructing Modern Knowledge

Constructing Modern Knowledge will be a minds-on summer institute for educators July 28-31, 2008 at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, NH. In addition to four days full of computer-rich learning adventures for creative educators, Constructing Modern Knowledge features amazing guest speakers, a BBQ at a minor league baseball game and a night on the town in nearby Boston.

Since knowledge is a consequence of experience, Constructing Modern Knowledge, is designed to create a context for remarkable learning experiences. Instead of spending a conference listening to an endless series of speakers, Constructing Modern Knowledge, enables participants to spend time working on hands-on projects, learning how to create minds-on classrooms, and interacting with educational pioneers and colleagues from around the world.

  • Alfie Kohn – one of education’s most provocative speakers and bestselling authors
  • Bob Tinker – director of the Concord Consortium, inventor of science probes for learning, and a foremost authority on technology for math and science education
  • Cynthia Solomon – co-developed the Logo programming language with Seymour Papert
  • Peter Reynolds – beloved artist, software designer and children’s book author

The rest of our team has expertise in creativity, multimedia authoring, student empowerment, programming, robotics and a whole lot more. I’m honored to be part of this team – this is so in the GenYES spirit and I hope to see some GenYES teachers there!

Hotel accommodation is affordable and Manchester, NH has one of the most convenient and affordable airports in the United States. Constructing Modern Knowledge is also within a reasonable drive of most cities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states.

I can’t wait to spend four days working on creative projects with like-minded educators.

Space is limited, so register today!


Conferences must change with the times

TCEA Tweet-upWhen you work with schools across the nation, you soon realize that February and March are never going to be your own again. These are the months where many states schedule their state educational technology conferences. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to Texas (TCEA), Washington (NCCE), Washington DC (CoSN) and of course, my home state of California (CUE).

If I could have cloned myself, I could have gone to Florida (FETC), Illinois (IL-TCE), Arizona (MEC), Michigan (MACUL), New Jersey (NJECC) and probably more I’m forgetting. (I can’t even bring myself to find all the full names and links to these terrific conferences! Bad blogger!)

TCEA Tweet-upThese conferences give technology-using educators a chance to reflect and recharge, hear inspiring speakers and talk to colleagues from near and far. This year, more than ever, I met folks who previously have only been virtual avatars, Twitter buddies, or names on blogs. The opportunities to use Web 2.0 tools and social networks to build a Personal Learning Network has changed many educator’s lives, and brought new spark to a traditionally isolated profession.

I believe conferences must change as well, or risk being a relic of the past.

Technical difficulties, of courseAt CUE, I participated in a day long “unconference” event called EdubloggerCon West run by Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 (a social network for educators.) Instead of submitting session ideas months in advance, and a faceless committee deciding which sessions are presented, the attendees shaped the day to our own needs. A wiki was used to plan the event. People signed up, and added their ideas to another page for ideas about what to talk about.

At the event, the first item on the agenda was to decide what the day would become. Imagine that, the attendees shaped their own day of learning to their personal needs!

Alice Mercer and Gail DeslerSomeone volunteered to edit the wiki, and an agenda emerged on the fly. Some people wanted to talk about technology and language development. Some people wanted to talk about project-based learning. Concepts got merged and people stepped forward to offer new ideas. There were some mini-sessions (5 minutes!) on various tools. At the end of the day, the wiki stood as both a record of what happened, and links to the tools and ideas we talked about.

It was an interesting day, both for the learning taking place and the concept that conferences could change and adapt to new technology that allows more personalized learning. It felt like a mash-up of the best conference sessions you’ve ever been to, combined with the most interesting conversations you tend to have when committed, passionate educators gather after-hours.

Lisa Linn at EdubloggerCon WestWhile this exact format might not work for thousands of attendees, there are certainly elements that can be adapted and experimented with. Conferences as we know them today are going to change as technology and culture change — or become obsolete.

Steve is getting to be pretty good at structuring these events. It’s an interesting combination of leadership, experimentation on the bleeding edge of technology, herding cats, and stepping back gracefully to allow others to share the spotlight. It’s one of those skills that looks magically effortless when it’s done right, but isn’t. Sort of teaching.

EdubloggerCon WestThese days, change happens quickly, even for those who feel ready for it. In fact, the name EdubloggerCon seemed cutting edge a year or two ago, but now it’s too focused on one tool in a universe of possibilities. It’s really about changing education for the modern world.

Congratulations to CUE and executive director Mike Lawrence for allowing this experiment to take place and not being afraid of the future.

If you are attending the National Educational Computer Conference (NECC) in San Antonio in June, there is a similar event being held two days before NECC starts. More information here.

Five on Five: A Dialogue on Professional Development

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a podcast about technology professional development. The interviewer was Matt Vilano, editor at THE Journal. Matt said afterwards that it went so well that it might become an article, and sure enough, it has!

Five on Five: A Dialogue on Profession Development

A quintet of educators gathers to sound off on what works and what doesn’t in the ongoing mission to train teachers to use technology in classroom instruction.

Sylvia the cartoon versionThanks Matt for turning an audio interview with 5 people on the phone into a great article! Plus, they did caricatures of us — kinda cool.

If you are an auditory learner try this:

Five on Five: Professional Development Podcast

Thanks also to the other podsters – Kristin Hokanson, Jim Gates, Bob Keegan and Cathy Groller. It was so much fun we kept talking after the time was up!


“I’m the luckiest teacher in Philadelphia”

SLA Teachers Rock!Last month I attended Educon 2.0 in Philadelphia, an “unconference” that grew out of a grass roots movement by many educators who blog and work with Web 2.0 tools. In my opinion, it was a spectacular success, not just because 250 educators showed up on a wintery weekend in Philadelphia, most on their own dime, but because of the showcase it provided for the Science Leadership Academy – especially the teachers and students.

While it was terrific to meet the people behind the avatars and screen names, it was even more impressive to get a chance to see what a well-designed, well-executed progressive school looks like up close.

It looks like teachers.

Sure, I could go on and on about how the principal, Chris Lehmann, has shaped this school based on an “ethic of care” — meaning you teach kids before you teach subjects. The idea is so simple it’s almost startling. Brilliant leaders excel at making the simple, powerful truths concrete. Of course, caring about kids is not a secret, and Chris would be the first to admit that he stands on the shoulders of giants as he guides this school.

And the kids, of course, the kids were fabulous. Smart, friendly, look-you-in-the-eye teens who got up early on a weekend morning to make this event work. And not just help, but participate. SLA studentThese teens waded into discussions and spoke their minds. They facilitated discussions of diverse educational issues, sharing their opinions and experiences with people they’d never met before. It’s obvious these young adults are being listened to and know they can share their voice.

But when I get discouraged about the future of this thing we call school, and whether it can make systemic changes needed to survive and serve our society well, I’m going to have a new vision to call on. And it will be these SLA teachers who painted this picture for me more clearly than ever.

In one session in particular, four SLA teachers presented their experience of their first year. Learning to Teach: First Year Teaching in a Progressive SchoolSLA teachersJillian Gierke, Melissa Yarborough, Matt Kay, and Kenneth Rochester. They discussed what they learned, what they tried, what worked and what didn’t. It was a fabulous session. There is a video and handouts online, but there would be no way to capture the energy of the room as we moved to various centers, each run by one teacher who shared their classroom experiences with us. We tried our hand at designing a lesson using the Understanding by Design method, and found that 1) it was hard fun and 2) different groups came up with some really interesting yet completely different approaches.

SLA sessionOne teacher shared the lesson he learned over the year – “less is more,” he quietly said. And you could see the conviction in his eyes that this wasn’t the third bullet on a list of rules he’d been handed. He’d lived it and learned it. Another teacher shared how her ongoing discussions with other faculty shaped her classroom style, and how she planned to continue this as new faculty joined the SLA.

But finally, one teacher wrapped it up for me, “I’m the luckiest teacher in Philadelphia,” she said with a smile. She looked around at the chaos of voices, papers, computers, backpacks and jackets littering the room and continued, “I can’t small group discussionimagine being anywhere else.” The ethic of care at this school obviously includes the teachers, and that makes all the difference.

The truth is, great leaders have to do more than lead, they have to transfer their leadership abilities to everyone in their sphere of influence. And everyone has to accept that gift. Kids can, and will do it easily, given encouragement and consistent support. Adults are harder. Their habits are set, their expectations are lower, and their life lessons ring in their ears, drowning out the voice of hope. But it is possible.

Sometimes, when I visit a great school, I wish I was a student there. At SLA, I wished I was a teacher.