Inservice training for teachers has never been the most exciting time of the year. When we started our transformation to a digital age learning culture at Franklin West Supervisory Union (FWSU), we knew we had to look at this critical part of our system through new lenses.
As a system we want students to actively participate in the design of their own learning and building networks to guide and support that learning. The same should be said of teachers as they engage in their own professional learning. We clearly needed chart a new direction.
Fortunately, we had a Director of Curriculum who was up for the challenge. Mary Lynn Riggs, my co-author, has had years of experience designing training for new and experienced teachers. When we first sat down to discuss a plan for redesigning our inservice experience, we asked ourselves, “How could we start addressing the changes we were looking for in our students with our teachers?”
To start, we began with small projects. First, all administrators began to engage in connected learning, through iPhones, Twitter, hashtags, school Facebook pages, and LinkedIn. Until administrators could talk and model the use of technology to develop personalized networks, we could not expect widespread change in our schools. Shared reading and chats expanded the notion of professional learning for leaders. The rapid growth showed us what a professional network and personalizing professional development, with a healthy dose of collaboration, was capable of achieving.
The next step was to engage the schools in our district with a compelling vision. How would we communicate to teachers that 21st Century Learning was different for teachers and for students?
We started with our new action plan and used the targets, indicators of success and action steps to guide our work. Instead of looking for percentage increases in specific areas of the curriculum, we looked broadly at how we could redefine our teaching and learning.
The plan had four targets: student-centered learning, leadership, flexible learning environments and community engagement. To achieve the indicators of success, however, the concept of integrating technology would become essential to our day to day work. We started blogging everyday to make our vision real, sharingour action plan with stories and pictures from our classroom to showcase our work. We also we used the blog as a professional learning tool to make our vision visible to our teachers and to document our work.
Then it hit us--What if we made inservice/professional development personalized, similar to the concept of making our classrooms personalized for students? How could we build capacity within our organization rather than sending teachers out for professional development focused on how to use the iPad?
One of our principals designed an on-site class to introduce teachers to the power of virtual Professional Learning Networks (PLN). The class focused on the potential of social media as a learning tool. We put technology into teachers’ hands and asked them to think differently: how could they transform their practice to meet the needs of the learners today? The class was a success, and continues today with new teachers and an action research emphasis.
Over the next few years, we structured each inservice to include a brief joint session and then offered multiple options so that teachers made decisions about their own learning. This led to the introduction of the FWSU EdCamp to our choice offerings, which we now offer every year.
Once we started changing Inservice, we knew we needed build the capacity to offer “just in time” professional development in our schools. We made adjustments to schedules and teaching responsibilities, and we created positions to provide a new level of professional learning in our schools.
We also made adjustments at the district level to change from an old model of a district technology administrator and to a lead teacher model aptly named “digital learning specialist,” who we encourage to become Apple Certified Trainers. Working together, our building tech integrationists and our digital learning specialist are readily available to help teachers plan and take the risks necessary to transform their classrooms. They participate in regional and national leadership training opportunities to help develop and monitor training models.
Today we are just in the early stages of our transformation and we were are still wrestling with how to we make the work of professional learning even more personal. The nature of curriculum and professional learning has changed.
At FWSU, we are now deeply involved in making sure our teachers are using the skills they possess. We tweet everyday, we blog everyday, we try to make learning personal for all of our students everyday. We have recently started engaging with the SAMR model as a means of providing formative feedback on classroom instruction. We are also now beginning to work with an Apple Leadership cohort to take a systematic look at our schools through action research.
This year we offer a stakeholder survey to our students using a service offered by Panorama Ed. The survey posed questions about perception of their classes, their experiences as a learner, their use of technology. 93% of the surveys indicated positive responses. We know we have come a long way- and there is still so much to learn.