In this day and age of school reform, many are looking to how we train teachers as the key to educational improvement. Research shows that on average school districts spend the equivalent of $200 per pupil on professional development and these learning experiences add both time and effort demands on a teachers already impossible day (Killeen, 2002).
The federal No Child Left Behind Act’s emphasis on results has prompted school system leaders, staff developers, principals, and
teachers to become much more deliberate about the professional-development choices they make.
While our profession more than ever needs to build capacity in its teachers, we also need to be sure that time, energy, and resources are used only on "quality programs that teach with and about best practice" (Dede, 2006, p.1).
The World is Changing
Today, new and emerging Web technologies are connecting our children in ways never before possible. Through blogs, social networking sites, multimedia and other “Web 2.0” tools, their worlds are becoming more and more networked and engaging, creating environments for learning and collaborating
that look little like our traditional classroom spaces.
Schools, Not So Much
Conversely, schools have by and large been resistant to these shifts. Teachers complain, maybe rightly so, that they simply do not have the time to master the needed strategies. Attempts to gain the knowledge needed through workshops are often fragmented and unable to provide the ongoing daily guidance needed as teachers attempt to implement needed change in practice.
The Role of Community to Bring about School Reform
However, the development of professional learning communities (PLCs) across schools districts is one solution experience has shown me really works. Using a combination of face to face, synchronous and asynchronous meetings in a variety of settings (school-based, state-wide, and global) professional learning teams can participate in professional development that is tailored to teachers' busy schedules, while drawing on the valuable resources/experts not available locally, and that provides work-embedded support.
My Contribution to Educational Reform
Using the experience I garnered from the pilot I helped to develop and lead in Alabama, Will Richardson and I have recently teamed together to connect small teams of educators from around the globe in 21st Century learning environments. Our approach is different than the work in Alabama, but the intended outcomes are the same- bring education into the 21st Century.
Will and I are also working with administrators within the participating schools and districts in the development of systemic plans that lay the groundwork for a three and five-year vision for principled change. Our Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) project is currently helping educators to experience the transformative potential of social Web tools to build global learning communities and re-envision their own personal learning practice.
Outcome-Making the World a Better Place
The opportunities for learning thus far have been incredible. But the one that simply rocked my world is a project that one of the teacher leaders involved with our work helped her daughter create.
Laura, a ten-year old girl in upstate New York started a blog Twenty Five Days to Make a Difference that in just a week’s time has caught the interest of a whole bunch of kids from around the world (media too) who want to make a difference as well. Talk about transformative! Laura offers a classroom challenge- as teachers you will want to check it out and get your class involved and there is an opportunity to match funds for the winning "Make a Difference" project too!
Laura on Day 1 of her 25 Days to Make a Difference Project
Killeen, K. (2002). School district spending on professional development: Insights available from national data. Journal of Educational Finance. 28 (1) pp 25-49.
Dede, C. (2006). Online professional development for teachers: Emerging models and methods. Cambridge, Massachusetts:Harvard Education Press