Friday, March 16, 2012

Professionally developed

My post titles are entirely for me, you realize this, I'm sure. For example, last week, the "I love technology" title was entirely because I wanted to sing this song inside my head for the whole week.

When I think Professional Development (PD), the first thing that comes to mind is a room of teachers, dozing off as a psychologist or superintendent drones on about the need to improve scores on reading grades, with no real clear direction in how to do that. Janice Gilmore-See starts out on the same thought train in Staff Development--Teacher-librarians as Leaders. Why is this what we see? Probably because, for far too long, this has been the case. Librarians can help lead the way by demonstrating a more effective way of doing PD and putting themselves as leaders in the field of learning needs.

One of the most difficult things I see is knowing how to identify PD needs, but after reading Conducting Effective Staff Development Workshops, I feel better prepared to tackle PD the next time around.  For example, the PD I taught a couple of weeks ago was part of an ongoing series on Google Apps. The school district recently decided to go with Google Education apps (out of necessity, their computer systems can no longer handle Microsoft Office, nor can their budgets). Teachers are eager to understand the new programs and how they can more effectively use them in their classrooms. What about schools where the needs aren't as apparent? How do you find a need, perhaps when the teachers don't even realize it's a need? You can do this by surveying staff, informally asking, observing, or speaking with school administrators. Daily interactions with co-workers and an objective eye can go a long way to helping identify where a need might be.

Getting teachers to come to your PD is a whole other story. In my case, the teachers had signed up for this at the beginning of the year, knowing they would be attending 3 sessions. Sometimes you might need to market your skills, with fliers, websites, email announcements, and getting other staff members to talk up your skills. Don't be surprised if you're giving workshops to practically empty rooms, it takes time to develop the relationship where teachers will take time off their busy schedule to learn from you.  Youth feels like a burden and an advantage. A burden because teachers might not trust you (I'm a lot closer to the age of their students than they may be), an advantage because the youth know their technologies (at least that's the assumption). Plan, promote, and be patient.

Once you get them to the PD, I see it very much like you were teaching a lesson to students, only the audience is taller (and sometimes more talkative). Do a pre-lesson assessment, have an agenda, let them know what your goals are, demonstrate, use guided practice, have plenty of time for them to work on their own, evaluate, and follow up.

Taking this to the next level, use the collaboration skills that we've talked about previously. This was demonstrated most effectively in  Teachers and Librarians Collaborate in Lesson Study by Linda Bilyou. Learning needs to be contextualized to be effective, PD is learning, so contextualize it! Help develop a unit of study, it will teaching new skills while also creating useful classroom materials.

One of my favorite ideas comes from the idea of a maker space. Give teachers a safe environment to test new things, no plan, no expectations. Tools to use, and someone there to help them if they want it.


  1. Yes - the maker space idea is one of the PD models we are featuring in our June book is an Exploratorium. You can see an early version of this Exploratorium model in Ahlfeld's article here (may need to authenticate w/your uniqname):

    I don't know why I didn't put this in the readings ... it's one of my favorite models, and the approach is soooo teacher-friendly.

  2. PS - Full citation:

    Ahlfeld, K.. 2010. Hands-On Learning with a Hands-Off Approach for Professional Development. School Library Monthly, February 1, 16-18. (accessed March 16, 2012).

  3. No- your titles are for me too;) Does this mean I will have an advantage getting my teachers to PD because I'm "non-traditional" and closer to teachers' ages. I'm probably older than a lot of them:) How can you get (and keep) teachers coming? Some sort of incentive seems like a good idea. I wonder it would help if you offered to assist in an in-classroom lesson using the new technology being taught with the teacher's class?

  4. Amen, contextualize that PD! So necessary and often so overlooked.


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