How Can Administrators Best Support Professional Development in Education Technology?

At the heart of my current studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University is ISTE Coaching Standard 4, which focuses on how professional learning can be best support teacher practice and, ultimately, student learning. Professional development is often associated with the administrators who orchestrate it. As a result, recognizing how paramount administrators are to the implementation of good professional learning is the key to its success.

My exploration on this topic began by examining an additional set of ISTE standards, the standards for administrators. An excellent resource, these standards explore everything from modes of establishing a learning culture at one’s school to the development of school improvement plans. Most relevant to this post is ISTE Administrator Standard 3, which specifically calls for, “Educational administrators [t0] promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.” How is this achieved? 

How can administrators best support professional development in education technology?

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Ed Tech Professional Learning Considerations

For the past few weeks I have explored ISTE Coaching Standard 4b to try to understand how professional learning specifically impacts the use of education technology. School districts continue to take major steps, both in effort and resources, to provide professional development opportunities in the hopes of improving student learning. Unfortunately, the results continue to indicate that most professional development is unsuccessful (Jacob & McGovern, 2015). What are some potential options?

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Reflections on Peer Coaching: Experiences and Essentials

As part of my studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I recently engaged in and completed an exercise in peer coaching with a new teacher. I considered the additional challenges that face new teachers in the first few months of school and transitioned from an advocate to a collaborative partner, capable of leading and guiding inquiry. I practiced communication skills, including active listening and questioning strategies as my collaborating partner and I worked to build lessons together. Much of my work in this course centered around the study of Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Communication by Les Foltos

How can a school without a peer coaching program still benefit from the peer coaching method?

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Using Universal Design to Differentiate Instruction

"Universal Design for Learning" by Giulia Forsythe CC 2.0  https://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8527950743

“Universal Design for Learning” by Giulia Forsythe CC 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8527950743

As part of my recent exploration of peer coaching, I have recently explored what it means to peer coach and what 21st century learning looks like in the classroom. Now, my attention has progressed to think about lesson improvement within the peer coaching process. As previously discussed, effective learning challenges students to shift from simple consumers of information, to producers of knowledge in the real-world (Foltos, 2013). For many, this type of learning is not easily integrated into daily teaching (Foltos, 2013). What steps are necessary to co-plan an effective lesson plan?

Creating a Task

Foltos (2013) wrote that first you need to create a task that is complex and real-world. It shouldn’t be too simple or too easily solved (Foltos, 2013). While this concept sounds good, it can be difficult to translate into a learning activity that is both relatable and digestible for students. Foltos (2013) suggested that real-world problems presented are aligned with student interest and that requirements can be easily defined and understood by students.

Defining Standards

Next, it is important to define the standards being focused on. There can be multiple categories of standards to consider: curriculum standards like those found in the Common Core, 21st century standards such as those with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, and technology standards like the ISTE Student Standards.

Crafting Student Directions & Assessments

From here, the learning context can be defined. This might be more easily understood as a “series of carefully sequenced learning activities” (Foltos, 2013, p. 125). It is, of course, important to determine how the learning activities correlate with the standards (Foltos, 2013). Finally, student directions can be crafted, assessments can be created, and resources can be identified, all through a process of receiving and sharing feedback.

Differentiation

One of my collaborating partner’s current focuses is differentiation. As such, I thought it relevant to align this week’s guiding questions about co-planning lessons to questions of differentiation. Differentiation is easily discussed but not as readily implemented into the classroom. It remains a great theoretical concept that is difficult to implement on a daily basis, given time constraints and curricular demands.

What protocols can be used to collaboratively design differentiated instruction effectively?

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Why Do We Need to Define What 21st Century Learning Looks Like?

“Shared Vision” by Annie Tremonte created using Piktochart is licensed under CC 2.0.

This week in my studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am continuing to explore ISTE Coaching Standards 1 and 2 by investigating what effective student learning looks like. Just as norms are an important part of a peer coaching relationship, so too is a shared vision for what effective 21st century learning looks like. This shared vision creates a starting place for any collaborative work.

The future of education is changing to respond to the internet’s information age. With an overwhelming amount of information accessible online, the role of teachers is less about possessing knowledge and more about facilitating learning driven by the students themselves. It is about preparing students for the emerging skills of tomorrow’s jobs. Resources like the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) set out to define what effective students learning looks like to get there. Commonly referred to as the four C’s, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity are referenced as the basic elements of 21st century learning. However, these skills can appear vague or nebulous compared to the daily needs of instruction. As a result, it is important for coaching teams to define which skills are most important to student success (Foltos, 2013). The work to define these characteristics becomes “a road map that describes what teachers need to do to improve their practice and specifics on how to shape teaching and learning activities to reach their goals” (Foltos, 2013, p. 105). Foltos (2013) provided a solid reminder that while it is easy to say that students need to learn 21st century skills, it is more challenging to transfer skills such as critical thinking to daily classroom practice.

How do we turn these frameworks, standards, visions and characteristics into realities? What does it looks like, specifically in an English language arts classroom?

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Coaching Relationships with New Teachers: Implementing Inquiry over Advocacy

Untitled Infographic (5)

This week in the Digital Educational Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am exploring the roles of communication and collaboration in peer coaching as they align with ISTE Coaching Standards 1 & 2. Foltos (2013) asserted that effective communication and collaboration in a coaching relationship, “emphasize[s] inquiry over advocacy” (p. 87). He stated that reliance on advocacy can result in too much reliance on a coach’s expertise (Foltos, 2013). Instead, inquiry and feedback cycles between collaborating partners build capacity for autonomous problem solving, which serves to best meet student needs (Foltos, 2013). 

For better or for worse, new teachers have the same amount of responsibilities that veteran teachers do. Additionally, they have to learn these responsibilities in real time. While coaches desire to build a new teacher’s capacity, it is still all too easy to advocate when daily problems need solutions. Unfortunately, reliance on advocacy puts the coach in the role of perpetual expert (Foltos, 2013). While I am not an expert in all realms, I do have an expertise that could be useful to a new teacher. On the other hand, I don’t want to influence a teacher too heavily from my one set of experiences and perspectives. Where is the balance between inquiry and advocacy in a coaching relationship with a new teacher?

How do you promote inquiry over advocacy, given the vast amount of new information new teachers need to acquire daily? 

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Revising a BYOD Action Plan: Creating an Online PD Space

Action Plan Feedback

This quarter, I have been working to develop an action plan centered around how the policy of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) fits into my ideal learning environment. Recently, my class came together for a face-to-face session to review emerging plans. We engaged in a practice known as a Tuning Protocol to receive feedback. Just as student learning isn’t as powerful in a vacuum, neither is the ongoing learning and development of educators. Dearman and Alber (2005) address using collaborative practices to analyze and reflect on student work, and claimed that the involvement of educators in reflection and decision making not only creates commitment, but propels and sustains instructional shifts. After my participation in this process, I can see how this would work.

I was astounded by the high level of my peers’ action plans. Their thoughtful reflections on their school learning environments seamlessly merged into their envisioned growth opportunities. The feedback I received on my own plan left me poised to dig deeper, clarify confusions, and make decisions about how it will all come together. For example, @EllenJDorr prompted me to remember that I have to address the connection between BYOD and student-centered learning. Student independence requires teachers to loosen some control over the use of technology in the classroom. Additionally, @Ingersoll_Ryan reminded me that it is not just about rationalizing the positive impacts of BYOD, but owning the distractions personal devices do cause. Yes, students will be distracted at times, and this will be challenging. However, we can own our role to instruct students how to manage this distraction.

Professional development has continued to be the focus of my plan. While I have continued to focus on the unconference model, I have struggled to articulate the research-based evidence of this choice. Additional research has highlighted the power of working in cohorts, who focus on content and engage in active learning (Desimone et al., 2002). The professional development cycle I graphically outlined above centers on these fundamentals. The first step of my plan involves introducing this professional development plan to staff. Many in my cohort suggested that I showcase what successful BYOD in the classroom looks like, share school demographics about student online and device use, and present the rationale for why BYOD benefits student learning, all in the pursuit of inviting staff to participate in the larger conversation (@MrsBTodd gave me a great suggestion to develop a simple infographic to distribute).

Finally, the feedback I received also pushed me to realize that I need jump in and start designing this professional development process. My biggest struggle has been how to blend the unconference model, which fosters interest and participant-driven conversations, with the inquiry model, which supports instructional growth via experimentation and collegial feedback. Participating in both of these practices led to my own instructional shifts this past year, so their value is fresh in my mind. So how do these two ideas come together? I thought the only way to figure this out was to start to build it…

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How BYOD Fits Into An Ideal Learning Environment

This week I am continuing to work on my Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) action plan as part of my Digital Learning Environments course at Seattle Pacific University. I am working to get to the heart of why utilizing personal devices in the classroom is part of an ideal digital learning environment. If I remove the word digital, I see that my ideal learning environment encourages students whose learning is a result of their personal curiosity. It challenges students to persist in their learning despite ongoing challenges. And, it develops a student that is able to adapt to shifting situations.

What does a learning space that supports the development of a curious, persistent and adaptable student look like? It is clear that challenging assignments and remediation do not make a student persistent in their achievement. Similarly, asking higher level thinking questions does not make a student curious. And, assigning students to different projects or partners does not make a student adaptable. These skills are learned through the fine craft of a teacher who focuses on each student as part of a larger puzzle. Students have individual needs: they learn at different paces, have different interests, and need support in different areas. Our classroom environment has to be one that challenges students when they are ready for it, encourages students when they need it and teaches lessons that require thinking alongside all types of people. It pushes students to ask questions stemming from their own inquiries and personal interests. It also creates a student who can reflect not only on what they have been learned, but how they have learned.

"High Ropes Course Climbing Forest" CSU under CC BY 2.0 Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/high-ropes-course-climbing-forest-246113/

“High Ropes Course Climbing Forest” CSU under CC BY 2.0 Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/high-ropes-course-climbing-forest-246113/

Engaging students in this type of environment requires an awareness of current cultural norms with emerging technology. Awareness of how today’s youth are using technology on their own time provides a window into possible approaches (Morris and Stommel , 2013). A lack of awareness can potentially short change our students and push them away from genuine learning experiences that they already understand, enjoy and want to expand upon (Morris & Stommel, 2013). Recently, my district conducted a survey of 8th graders, which included questions about technology. The survey results showed that 91% of 8th grade students had their own cell phone last year. Bringing personal devices means that students are arriving to school with some of the most modern applications available, and my ideal learning environment does not prevent students from accessing the most current tools used by society on a daily basis.

The use of personal devices in the classroom creates opportunities for students to not only access digital tools, but to own their learning literally and figuratively. They have a comfort level with their personal device. They care about their personal devices. Part of being curious and adaptable is being able to resolve individual challenges in real time. The challenges that come with BYOD are also some of the learning benefits. Troubleshooting setbacks on devices, as well communicating with peers to do so is not only real world, but builds a persistent and adaptable person. Personal devices in the hands of every student can also actively engage everyone in the room, motivating students to make choices about how to independently implement technology to meet the demands of a task. The technologies on personal devices are moving targets, putting students in charge, as they need to adapt and learn to dodge obstacles. An ideal learning environment involves students in this process. It includes teachers who are willing to work alongside students to navigate the confusions and shifts of emerging technology to support the development of these skills. This may create anxiety in education, but many effective shifts in educational practice have done just this (Morris & Stommel, 2013).

Morris, S. & Stommel, J. (2013) Why online programs fail, and 5 things we can do about it. [Web Post]. Retrieved from http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/why-online-programs-fail-and-5-things-we-can-do-about-it/

 

The Unconference Model: Valuing and Engaging Active Participants

In my last post, I examined how perceptions shape our beliefs. I also commented on how this has impacted the implementation of educational technology. As I think about how perception has prevented those in my own school community to resist a BYOD practice, I have been thinking about my past exploration of unconference models. Many attest to the fact that teachers learn best from one another. Knowing this, I have been wondering how I can broaden the practice of learning collaboratively to my entire school. In a past post, I investigated the unconference model, a more informal collaborative form of professional development. I shared what I’d learned from attending two EdCamps, noting how collegiality and collaboration impacts instructional practices. I also commented on the impact of autonomy and personalization on our development as educators. I have also previously shared my informal collaboration with a colleague last year, exploring technology enabled learning by holding conversations on practices that worked and didn’t. The inquiry model infographic I designed below showcases our method.

I merged this inquiry method with my reflections on the unconference model to come up with the video below, a vision of how this model might transfer into monthly sessions at my school.

Some questions posed by @RMoeJoe and @EllenJDorr left me thinking further about how to accomplish an unconference model as part of a BYOD action plan.

  • How have unconference models worked in the past?
  • Where are evident spaces for it in my K-12 environment?
  • What do I need to invent on campus to help it foster?
  • What supports can I offer to help my colleagues and system to continue growing?

Although this approach to professional development saw its start in the tech industry, its influence is growing in education. The significance of the unconference model is that, as the name suggests, it dispels some of the previous notions of how professional development should work (Howard, 2010). For example, unconferences are propelled by the attendees, not the facilitators, bringing democracy to professional development (Howard, 2010). Normally, professional development asks attendees to choose from pre-determined presentations. With the unconference model, attendees propose the topics for workshopping and discussion together, not for presentation from one person at the front. Howard (2010) shared that an online space be created for participants to suggest ideas of interest and exploration. I did broach a similar idea in my video above, suggesting users pitch ideas on a forum like Padlet for popular vote. AnswerGarden is another tool that can be great for this, and I’ve seen it used spontaneously at EdCamps as late as the very start of the session. And, if interest isn’t high enough, the topic isn’t discussed (Howard, 2010). With the motto that “user-generated is the guiding principle,” the focus is on teachers’ needs, not the directives of administration (Howard, 2010, para. 4). Fostering personalization and leadership for all teachers involved is an extremely empowering practice which might influence buy-in.

Attendance is usually smaller than that of a real conference, which does make it an easily transferable model for recurrence in a K-12 school environment. It is loose, informal, but not without norms and procedures. I thought a lot about the word informal during the crafting of my last posts on this topic. I felt that the work I did with my colleague last year was altogether informal, but I realized that we did have norms for our conversations which is how I came to link our practice to the inquiry model above.

It Belongs to Everyone

The sessions don’t belong to the facilitator; they belong to everyone in attendance (Watrall, 2010). As a result, decisions, conversations and leadership are driven by everyone in the room (Watrall, 2010). Budd et al. (2015) called this “participant-centric thinking” and noted that this style is what separates it from traditional models (2015, p. 3). The empowerment of participants, who are aware of their important contribution to the process, leads to more investment and often better results (Budd et al., 2015). This is also perhaps the key to fostering buy-in and sustainability. Just like the teacher is shifting from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side, so too is the PD facilitator. My colleague @Ingersoll_Ryan said in his feedback that my focus on valuing the input of teachers is key. Perhaps part of valuing teachers to participate is to seek out and encourage colleagues in my building with unique expertise and perspectives to participate (Budd et al., 2105). I hadn’t thought about reaching out beyond those who show up. I should reach out to colleagues who have reservations about implementing technology BYOD. I should reach out to those I know are doing interesting tech-enabled learning in their classrooms. I should reach out and invite administrators and our IT support personnel to take part in conversations. This will send the message that all teachers are valued in this conversation, not just those who are already interested.

I wholeheartedly agree with Budd et. al (2015) that some of the most influential conversations to instructional development and relationship building often take place in the space between typical professional development, as well as during before and after school visits with colleagues. Budd et. al advocated that the unconference model should “prioritize conversation over presentation” (2015, p. 2) I wonder if it might be useful to survey my colleagues on their perception of how they best learn professionally. Might they also agree that we often learn better from each other than we do from large scale presentations? Involving my colleagues in this initial question might lead to more interest and buy-in.

The Details: Environment, Anxiety and Communication

Breaking down the formality of a classroom or presentation hall should also be considered. Just like we are shifting our own classrooms to be more student-centered and collaborative, so too should this model. Arranging desks to form circles or clusters for breakout sessions, or even getting out of the classroom in pursuit of more comfortable seating shouldn’t be disregarded as helpful (Watrall, 2010) .

I have been asked multiple times by my cohort and professors how I will lead my colleagues to be active participants in the discussion of BYOD and/or the pedagogical approaches to technology. Asking teachers to engage in regular conversations is a good place to start, although this might incite anxiety. In my first EdCamp, I was very anxious about being asked to lead or speak. In my second, I spoke but still had anxiety about it. Fears such as public speaking or engaging in debate can be concerns in the transition from a passive listener to an active participant (Budd et al., 2015). However, creating an environment that values those in it and carves out a place for all those involved, by giving credence to contributions can build confidence (Budd et al., 2015).

Part of valuing participants is creating a public online space to contribute ideas. Whether through a living online document or via ongoing online conversations, this creates an additional opportunity to be heard by one’s peers, to have a clear influence, and to gain confidence (Budd et al, 2015). It also provides the opportunity for the work accomplished to be lasting. I mentioned the use of Padlet and AnswerGarden, but Twitter is often used to stream conversations occurring during and after. Google Docs is another tool often used to document collaborative activity in real time.

@EllenJDorr also asked how I can prove my theory of action and offer entry points so anyone could join my movement. This is a tough question. The need to accrue clock hours towards re-certification makes professional development a paperwork issue. My school has strict policies for how to run PD and while I could choose not to worry about getting paid as a facilitator, negating clock hours for participants would certainly prevent buy-in. Accountability is required from sign-up to attendance so registration unfortunately stays rigid. As a result, adding additional participants throughout the year might be a difficult to approve. I’ll have to this on this!

Conclusion

Budd et al. stated that “The idea that no individual person has all the answers promotes a spirit of generosity, interaction, and respect amongst all participants. Every voice is valued” (2015, p. 3). This seems to say it all. I think I should even post this for my students in the classroom.

Resources

Watrall, E. (2010). Notes on organizing an unconference. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/notes-on-organizing-an-unconference/24028

Howard, J. (2010). The ‘unconference’: technology loosen up the academic meeting. The Chronicle of HIgher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/The-Unconference-Technology/65651/.

Budd, A., Dinkel, H., Corpas, M., Fuller, J. C., Rubinat, L., Devos, D. P., & … Wood, N. T. (2015, January). Ten simple rules for organizing an unconference. PLoS Computational Biology. pp. 1-8.

 

Perceptions, Emerging Technology, & Instructional Shifts

Questions of Perception

The Lumiere Brothers’ 1895 Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat is considered one of the first silent documentary films. The story attached to this film is that audience members ran from the screen terrified, mistaking the two-dimensional image of an approaching train for reality. Over time, this story has been debated, but it still poses some interesting notions. If the story is true, then it is an interesting commentary on the manipulation of our senses by technology. If it is simply folklore, the lasting prevalence of the tale might be a reflection on how the effects of emerging technologies continue to bewilder.

Episode 1 of Berger’s (1972), Ways of Seeing, focused on similar notions of technology’s effect. Berger’s BBC miniseries began with the exploration of technology’s effect on famous art. He invited the viewer to grapple with how photographic reproductions have changed the meaning of one-of-a-kind works. The ability to reproduce, crop, enlarge, and alter the composition of original images has potentially altered our understanding of them. The sound and juxtaposition of images on television similarly produced shifts in our perception. At the same time, photography and television has allowed people to interact with artwork on a global scale. Either way, the technology that produced these shifts is undeniable and everlasting. Berger (1972) claimed that our ability to see is dependent on our individual habits and conventions, leading us to ask ourselves how our beliefs stem from these perceptions.

What does this have to do with education technology? Questions of perception are tied to how teachers, students, and administrators respond to emerging technologies. In my last two posts, I reflected on the place of education in an age of mobilism (Norris & Soloway, 2011). I began to flesh out my action plan for a BYOD initiative by considering the how and the why of BYOD, as well as the benefits, challenges, and criticisms of it. I am turning my attention this week towards the idea of perception.  As I consider the obstacles faced in professional learning environments in the implementation of technology such as BYOD, I am wondering how our perceptions of emerging technology impact our practice. What are our perceptions of students use of technology? Personal devices? How do teacher perceptions, and resulting beliefs, shape their instructional choices?

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