Blog Archives

Empowered Learning: Transforming the PD Paradigm

Power Plant PD

I’m currently immersed in a doctoral study involving some of the most innovative and effective school leaders in the country.  My research is focused on the Professional Development (PD) experiences of elementary principals in a digital age. The process of reviewing hundreds of peer-reviewed research articles and talking to countless practitioners in the field of education has been a deeply reflective exercise. I’ve been convicted of some of my own personal PD leadership failures, and I’m also gaining clarity on what I believe we need to do to create conditions in which teachers are supported in their learning.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that attending a dynamic presentation or well-organized workshop is the gold standard for PD. The traditional PD paradigm espouses that an “expert” in the field can share information about a topic with an audience, and that this transmission of knowledge will increase an audience’s capacity, motivation, etc.  We’ve relied on this “Power Plant” approach to PD for several decades. This type of PD may recharge our batteries for a period of time, but it is unlikely to cultivate an educator’s long-term ownership of his/her learning.

“Power Plant PD” may have represented best-practice and sound pedagogy in the past. However, it’s the same approach we are asking our classroom teachers to migrate away from. We want students authentically engaged in relevant learning that includes opportunities to hone 21st century skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. To usher in a new learning paradigm the predominant voice in the room must include our students’ voices. Why would principals and PD planners hold themselves to a lesser standard?

Empowered Learning

Image Credit: Tim Lauer

Image Credit: Tim Lauer

The most powerful PD comes when the learner is empowered…not the presenter. Teachers who are empowered are conduits for high-voltage learning. They possess an authentic yearning and fervor for growth that cannot be completely satisfied through traditional presentations.

If we are to foster an ethos in education in which staff learning is truly revered our teachers will no longer be treated like batteries needing a quick recharge. Teachers will be honored as the true “sparks” in our schools and connected with other educators across the globe. A powerful connected-pedagogy will emerge that supports teachers in securing the time and skills needed to collaborate.

In order effectively leverage the student-centric connections made possible by technology including social media, it’s critical that we are engaged in our own digital age learning. Each of us is a digital leader…the only question that remains is, “How effective and relevant are we in this role?” I’d encourage you to check out the Digital Leadership Challenge blog post and sign-up to participate in the personalized mini-challenges using the Google Drive link embedded within. If we don’t walk-the-walk and own our learning how can we expect anyone else to?

Finally, here are four additional PD questions I’m encouraging educational leaders to reflect upon. I’ll be holding myself accountable to the same four questions and encourage you to check back with me. I can’t think of anything more important than empowering the true “sparks” that are working with our students every day. Transforming the PD paradigm is paramount to supporting student learning in the digital age. We need to rethink the very definition of Professional Development; PD can be a conversation, EdChat on Twitter, written reflection on a blog, flipped faculty meeting followed by purposeful face-to-face time, or an asynchronous dialogue via Voxer. We must empower our people!

4 Questions

Powerplant Bar

Image Credit: dispatchesfromthegypsyroller. wordpress.com

1.) If the PD and/or staff meetings you plan were optional would your staff still show up?

2.) How might we more effectively model current-best practices in PD; the same practices we’d expect our students to benefit from in the classroom?

3.) Is the topic of failure regularly discussed and modeled? Do staff understand the explicit value of failure in the learning/growth process?

4.) How are we leveraging technology and social media as tools for personalized learning? How are we supporting staff on this journey?

 

 

 

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Finding Twitter

Nemo 2

Since finding Twitter, my professional growth and love of learning has been supercharged.  Being a “connected educator” has contributed to my being able to more effectively serve our school while increasing my ability to provide digital leadership.

Twitter provides me 24-7 access to research on best practices, blogs from innovative teachers, and information about communication tools that principals are using across the country.  Best of all, I have access to the creative work that authors, educators and parents are sharing around the globe thanks to the Professional Learning Network (PLN) we’re building.  Twitter allows me to share some of the amazing things that our talented staff and students are doing every day as well.

It is difficult to explain the sensation of being a connected educator until you’ve experienced the impact first-hand.  Instead, I offer an analogy that comes pretty close in the hopes you will consider getting connected.

Do you remember the East Australian Current (EAC) scene from the movie, Finding Nemo?  That rapid and exciting ocean current that connects warm water from the tropical Coral Sea down the east coast of Australia is very much like Twitter.  Those that are not a part of the EAC never really miss it…yet they may be missing out on the trip of a lifetime.

Let me explain. The fish that are meandering happily outside the EAC are perfectly content.  In fact, they are probably thriving just like many amazing educators that have not discovered the power of Twitter yet.  (Just like me before I took the plunge!) Once a fish breaks through the initial confusion and misperceptions of the EAC he’s in for the experience of a lifetime…just like Twitter.

I’m often inspired as I visit classrooms in the school I serve.  The work that teachers are doing is truly amazing.  Twitter is a tool that allows each of us to share our experiences and connect to others for additional support and perspective.  Chances are that YOU can add value to somebody else’s PLN too!

Consider expanding your bubble and growing your PLN.  When educators collaborate on their craft and embrace a learning mindset our students win!

Nemo 3

Image Credits: Disney/Pixar

When things get Messy

Creative and Messy Learning Pic

Any parent will tell you that the term “messy” is not such a good thing when it’s describing the condition of their children’s bedrooms.  However, as a principal I need to clarify one thing; when learning gets “messy” there is potential for creativity to be unleashed!

I recently observed how magical “messy” can be.  3rd grade students were learning about the phases of the moon, and small groups were participating in multiple conversations occurring simultaneously (gasp!).  They had clear learning targets and plenty of choices to immerse themselves in.  There were songs being composed, iMovies being created, and sculptures of the moon being carved out of Oreo cookies.  Click on the video below to see for yourself…it was marvelous!

Click the video above to see how our students collaborated!

Click the video above to see the action for yourself!

The introduction of the iPads in our school has been a game-changer.  They are tools for learning and offer limitless potential for research, collaboration, and creation.  The Wayzata Public Schools’ MyWay approach is truly transforming the student learning experience and providing increasing levels of personalization.

Don’t just take my word for it!  A parent recently sent me an e-mail sharing how her child was at a birthday party when somebody noticed the moon and said, “Look you guys, the moon is a waxing Gibbous!”  The parent went on to explain that the kids at the birthday party carried on an animated discussion for 5-10 minutes about whether the moon was waxing or waning.  I’m told there were some younger children at the party and the 3rd graders took time to teach them all about the moon’s phases too.  Students really are talking about their learning.  It seems as if technology is fostering some of the engaging conversations about their learning!

A research study focusing on the technology explosion in early childhood classrooms found that young students’ spoken words DOUBLED while working with computers, and were twice as high as other activities like art, games, play dough, etc. (Hertzog & Klein, 2005).  We are seeing high levels of engagement in our school as well!

Messy learning really sticks…and inspires!  When highly-skilled teachers integrate technology and the arts in meaningful ways the creative genius in EVERY child is celebrated.  Kids are communicating like never before and exploring new mediums to connect in safe and supported environments.

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