I am sitting in a room planning a technology-skills lesson with a group of teachers from my school.
We’re doing our homework to understand our students’ needs: We’re pouring over surveys and needs assessments that our learners have completed. Considering their individual academic profiles, we place the learners with strong skills strategically within the small groups we are creating. We decide on options we will offer to learners so they have different ways to access the lesson content and choice in how they demonstrate what they have learned. Educators at the top of their game know these are best practices.
The difference in our case, however, is that the ”learners” are our fellow teachers.
Just as we personalize instruction for students, effective professional development for teachers should be personalized as well. And these days, technology can help: by enabling the simple and painless collection of vital information about learners that informs planning and instruction.
No student, classroom, school, or teacher have the same needs. Therefore, our PD committee, composed of myself and teachers from across the school, is committed to replacing the one-size-fits all approach with lessons built to suit specific teacher needs.
To that end, we use Google forms to assess and survey our teachers. These are instrumental for identifying individual strengths and needs. The questions we ask are specific, adaptive, and based on information we gather through observation and discussion with teachers.
The goal here is to provide individualized instruction, which requires (just as it would with children) adequate prep time and planning. As an example, for a particular 2.5 hour professional learning session on using Edmodo and Google Apps for Education (GAFE), we started planning about two months ahead of time.
All of our teachers began using Edmodo as a replacement for a class webpage at the beginning of this year. The county had also purchased GAFE tools the year prior to include Drive, Sites, Contacts, and Calendar.
We began our preparation for this training by attending grade level team meetings to ask teachers what they thought of our ideas for their upcoming staff meeting, which we wanted to dedicate to learning and support directed at these two tools. Right from the start, our goal was to engage the learners in their own learning.
Teachers answered survey questions on a Google form as one step in their meeting agenda. Questions for this step included logistical preferences like, “Do you prefer to work in teams of 2,3,4, or 5?”, or, “How much time during a session do you think should be devoted toward practicing the use of the tool with guidance?” We also wanted basic information about their confidence with the tools, gathered mostly in the form of scale questions like, “Rate your ability to (or the frequency with which you) use posts in Edmodo to communicate with parents.”
This all took place before even considering a more formal needs assessment that would shape what instruction an individual teacher would receive. We met again as a committee and invited teachers we wanted to enlist as small group session leaders based on their responses to the survey. With their specific strengths and our goal for the outcome focused on moving everyone forward in their skills with these tools no matter where they were, we were ready to gather more specific information and build our lessons.
We split up into teams of three based on objectives and created skills lists put into proficiency levels for each tool. From there, we created a needs assessment using Google forms once again.
This assessment was designed to capture each teacher’s needs from a common starting point. So, a teacher would be asked, “How often do you use Edmodo with your students during class?” for example, and from there the questions would adapt to the responses, narrowing down the data collected. Looking at trends and specific responses using both the summary charts and spreadsheet in the Google form allowed us to plan the content, create the learning communities, and place session leaders in appropriate groups based on their expertise.
They are enlisted and paid as teacher mentors and together, we pour over the results of the assessments while considering individual academic profiles.
The learning communities naturally take shape based on this information and this leveraged expertise. Ultimately we strive to create groups that have similar needs and match them with expert colleagues that can model the successful use of the tool or skill. This formula has proven powerful as the comfort level, familiarity, and common association with content and students facilitates effective teaching and learning.
This approach is only successful if you’ve built trust and understanding with the learners. To do this, I observe our teachers first before I teach one bit of content. This allows me, as their teacher, to get a better understanding of their needs and to build trust and acceptance of my role as a professional learning instructor. Once a relationship is established and I understand the approach and methods used by a teacher and the goals of the lesson, it is so much easier to work together to enhance student learning with the infusion of technology.
I know none of these practices are new, they are just good teaching. And teachers deserve good teaching. Now we have the tools to better understand our learners, whether they be students in a K-12 class or adults who come together to improve their practice. It’s time we start using them.