Recently, the Blended Learning Team at my school took some concrete steps to differentiate our professional development for the whole staff. It was an experiment, and for the most part, it has been a step towards the direction we want our own students to experience.
We had our first “official” technology PD back in January, and we collected some data from teachers through a survey regarding wants/needs. The next step was to use that data to plan our upcoming PDs. Thanks to just how things worked out with the weather and schedule changes, the Blended Learning Team was on the PD calendar for three fairly close dates: Thursday 2/27, the following Thursday 3/6, and the third one on Thursday April 10th.
Before the first whole staff session, we brainstormed with + Kevin Croghan, and we came up with the idea to use the first two back to back sessions as “learn something new/ask for help/ work on something” sessions. Then for the third session, everyone will convene as a large group to share something that we learned/implemented/what worked/what didn’t work etc in triads. This format would partially address the issues of time constraints in learning new technology, vertical collaboration, and building on what we’ve learned. Our objective was to keep teachers thinking about how they could use technology in the classroom or in a professional capacity.
Using the data we collected from the wants/needs survey, we decided to provide four options for our 45 minute meetings, repeating the same offerings from session 1 for session 2:
2. Google Apps for Education/Digital experiences (Safari Montage, Brainpop etc.)
3. Interactive whiteboards (Promethean & Mimios)
4. Technology Lab (Work time/Ask for help)
We divided up the pilot teachers so that two to three pilot teachers facilitated each session, and other than the overarching theme, we left the content up to them. All we asked was that while it was important to show the attending teachers something to spark their creativity, we wanted teachers to have most of the time to collaborate, work, and ask questions.
Teachers will choose one topic for the first week and decide afterwards where to go the second week (stay with the same topic or learn something different). Then during the third PD day, they can choose to share anything with two of their peers. Prior to the first session, we sent out reminder emails regarding location, equipment, and session topics. How did we do?
Thursday February 27, 2014: Day 1 of 3
Unaware of what we were going to ask of them, teachers started trickling in and sitting down. We started with a few business announcements and then preceded to explain what we were going to be doing with the next three technology PD and why we were doing it. The staff was receptive, and in a matter of minutes, all of them dispersed to the sessions they were interested in.
That was probably the shortest “whole group” meeting I’ve ever attended. Other than our "Technology Lab", the other three sessions all had a specific theme. Our “lab” room was the room for everything else outside of those themes, and we actually had some people. Several teachers took care of technology stuff they couldn't do during the school day: move desktop computers from the lab to their classrooms, worked on getting their students their correct Google sign ins, fix ______ (insert document camera, projector, laptop, printer etc.) and more. Other people stayed in the lab to get one on one help (myself included from +Jessica Raleigh!). It was thrilling to see teachers talking and learning from each other.
Thursday March 6, 2014: Day 2 of 3
We met in another teacher’s classroom that was more centrally located to the not movable Promethean Board. This time, I made sure to write down the key points to cover during the introduction, so that everyone was on the same page for expectations. As they had already tried this the previous weeks, teachers knew what to do and quickly left the main room and headed for their session. Also like last time, I was co-facilitating the “Technology Lab” and could peek in the other rooms as I was delivering the sign in form.
Things We Learned/ Changes We Made Between the First & Second Week
- Move rooms closer to each other
Three of our four rooms were close to each other, but the fourth was all the way at the hall and couldn't be moved (Promethean board). The second week, we asked teachers to gather at the end of the hall closest to the Promethean board and clustered the four sessions around there instead.
- PA Announcement to fill out surveys 10 minutes before the end
Our goal was to get all participating teachers to share their thoughts through a quick exit survey, but we realized that from the first session that some of them didn’t have time to fill in their survey before picking up the students. By reminding them over the PA 10 minute before the end, we hoped to increase our response rate. How did we do?
Baseline: 25 teachers total, 9 of which are pilot teachers
Response rate for session 1: 9 teachers*
Response rate for session 2: 8 teachers**
*The initial response rate was two, not including pilot teachers. After there was talks of chocolate and special gift, it went up to 9.
** This was the response rate with principal making a PA announcement ten minutes before the end of the session.
Did it improve? Well, it depends on how you look at it. If you looked at the overall numbers, we didn’t improved that much. However, if you took a peek at the notes, you will notice that we only got two survey responses before we started using chocolates. For week 2, we got eight teachers with our PA announcement only. If we were able to follow up with chocolate reminders, I suspect there would have been more.
- Sign in at the sessions vs. at the whole group
Because of how the rooms were laid out the first week, we think we lost a few people as we broke out into the sessions. We glanced at the rooms and noticed that the numbers didn’t add up to our total of 25. Our principal also told us that when he went downstairs to take a phone call, he saw some people ducking away from him. To mitigate this, we met as a group, reviewed the expectations, and provided sign in sheets in each of the break out rooms. Attendance improved though it was still not 100%.
After some reflecting, we realized that what it all boils down to is that we are all adults, and we expect each other to be professional. Everyone will be expected to share something on April 10th, so if they chose not to use this time and use other times, that’s their choice.
-Sent out a reminder email about materials
During session 1, we noticed some people didn’t bring their hardware and had to go back to their room to get it. This time, in the reminder email, we made sure to include that as well as the location and time.
Everyone (the pilot teachers, administration, the BL field coaches etc.) came together as a team, and we successfully pulled off this new-to-us way of PD. Each facilitator brought their own knowledge to share, and people started making connections as to who they could go to for help on which topics. Many of the comments left on the survey referred to specific presenters and things that they had taught them. Everyone left with something they could use.
Several people have lamented that even though they liked this format, they felt that they needed some more one on one help on topics that was not covered. With this insight, we have started talking with our field managers about scheduling additional times for people to get some one on one technology help.
Our third PD in this series will be on April 10th. Our goal is to get everyone to share. The details of that haven’t been ironed out yet, so I’ll just have to keep you posted on that part of our journey in two months.