Today I got away to Tech Forum NE, a regional technology conference sponsored by Technology & Learning magazine, and spent most of the day thinking about professional development. I find myself frustrated by the whole topic these days: tired of hearing teachers complain, “why aren’t we being given time to train for this?” yet groping to find a model that goes beyond the superintendent’s conference day and the one-shot click-here-drag-there workshop.
It’s a model that served us fairly well when there were a few applications and no one knew anything about technology. For motivated teachers, it was enough to get them started down the road. Others lagged behind. And all the while the pace of change increased, the number of tools multiplied, and the demands on teacher time continued to rise. The most interesting question of the day today was one that was posed to a panel that included David Warlick and David Jakes: do we want teachers to achieve mastery of discrete tools or to become master learners? Clearly the answer is the latter, but how do we get there? How do we motivate and empower them to learn on their own instead of reinforcing a model of spoon-feeding and dependency?
It’s a project I’ve been working on for many years now, but with few successes. Today we talked about personal learning networks, building learning communities, online learning– all of the things that are supposed to help make that transition, all things that I’ve tried with mixed results, at best. What’s missing? We know there are 21st century skills; we know schools have to change; we know technology continues to evolve at a breakneck pace; we know more now about how adults learn than ever before: so where is the professional development to make it all click?
In a roundtable on “professional development successes,” I really rained on the parade by airing these frustrations and asking where the table was for “professional development failures.” The silver lining I eventually found was this: the first step on the road to recovery is admitting that you have a problem, and at least I – and I suspect many others – are there now. So what will 21st century professional development look like? What’s act II?