Saturday, March 12, 2016

Adventures in Personalizing Professional Development, Act 1

Whew...what a month!

In fact, to give you an idea of how crazy February was, I haven't gotten around to writing this blog post for nearly two weeks!

Back in December, I attended the TIES conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was incredible. This was where I finally put the pieces together for something I wanted to try, as it related to Professional Development at my school. The catalyst? A great session on gamifying PD by Dr. Anthony VonBank. He spoke on how he tried a "March Madness" tech challenge with his teachers. You can see his wonderful slides here.

This, combined with hearing about the Gurnee district wide Tech Trek, I was equipped to go to the principals in my 5-6 and 7-8 buildings and propose a plan for February. That month was chosen due to a lack of days off, a well-placed late start at the end of the month, and the overall drag February is on everyone's psyche.

As February began, we put together a website, with challenges, teams, points, and prizes. Everyone was in the game, including aides and office staff. You can see our Fired Up for February Challenge here. I had a little fun with graphics and I also built a mail merge using formMule into our submission form so that the staff would get fun messages as a confirmation for their submissions:
Philosoraptor is always good for a laugh

The last piece, which was the biggest part for me, was that if teachers were going to invest their time in this, we needed to provide some rewards. In the future, ideally, we would great a progression or threshold in which all teachers could earn a reward if they surpassed the threshold. We settled on a compromise of top three rewards for individuals and teams at both buildings. Even better - both of our admin included prizes for individuals of "subbing" for that teacher's class. Awesomesauce.

When February launched, I was incredibly nervous. Would people give it a try? Would it make sense? Would this even have an impact? Needless to say, I was floored.  Over 70% of the staff involved (nearly 130) contributed something for the challenge. Keep in mind about 5% or less had attended one of our 14 after school sessions offered in the Fall. 

Our challenges asked teachers to reflect on their tech usage and look at it through the lens of SAMR (if you aren't familiar with it, you can learn more here). Here was the break down on what people submitted for:

The best part of this entire graph (the point breakouts aren't too surprising) is the large amount (one in every five submission) of leadership points. I wanted to weigh this heavily because I really wanted people to start branching out. Attend edcamps. Participate in Twitter chats. Share with staff. It is safe to say I am more than happy with the amount of teacher leadership I was able to witness. In the end, that can only benefit kids.

In total, there were almost 1000 submissions during the month of February of different things teachers were doing with technology. Since my initial focus was on the tasks being "new" things the teachers were trying, several more that are already integrating a lot didn't submit things they were doing (something to work on the future to make it more equitable). In any case, it was an incredible step forward for our staff.

You can see how I feel about it. But the big question is, how did the staff feel?  To find out, I surveyed the staff. 55 responded, giving me a fairly solid statistical significance. Here are some takeaways.

1.  This beats regular professional development. People crave choice. Edcamps are awesome and very successful. Twitter could be the best PD out there. Letting people choose what and when they learn is powerful. (For more ideas, I highly recommend purchasing "PersonalizedPD" by the Bretzmann Group):
2.  Teachers want to do this again. I believe the collaborative and competitive aspects, combined with the rewards for the efforts of teachers and the way this made our culture fun around technology, made this something that teachers, for the most part, enjoyed:
3.  Our late start format might be onto something. In late January, I had the privilege of being involved in the first ever Tundra Ed Tech Tool Slam.  The premise was simple - 10 presenters would demo a tech tool for 5 minutes. Then, there would be an hour for collaboration and deeper conversations. It was AWESOME. So, I modeled our February 24th late start after this. We were able to combine both of our buildings, and we had 11 teachers/teacher groups willing to share. Then, after that, we did five rounds of "Speed Dating" where teachers could rotate tables and have deeper discussions about the tools and strategies. To sum it up, I hear the same message from many teachers: "I've been in this district a long time. This was the best PD day we've ever had"
4.  We don't do enough.  We don't provide enough opportunities to learn in a variety of ways. We don't provide enough technology devices. Clearly, this was a positive experience, but several teachers commented that they don't want to commit much to tech integration when they know they can't have devices every day. While I still believe it is important, I can't fault people for feeling that way.

5.  Flipped learning is just one piece of the pie.  Like with anything personalized, everyone has different likes and interests. Professional development is no different. My favorite part of this graphic, however, is the number of teachers who said they prefer after school sessions. The amount if 11. Only 8 teachers/staff from my two buildings attended one of the 14 after school sessions offered in the fall. I guess I'm not sure what to take from that. Bad timing I suppose.

A lot more feedback is contained on the form. I am reserving the right to craft another post to include a few more graphs and a lot more specific comments from my colleagues.

What we achieved in February could be the start of something incredible. Hopefully, we can expand this so that the other 4 schools in our district can also take part. Perhaps more important, I hope we can make it part of what we do. Instead of being contained to a single month, I'd like to see a longer term "challenge" in which teachers can earn valuable rewards, like a period or two covered. I would also like to build in a progression, so teachers can do down different strands and build skills in a specific category.

If you have any say at all in the professional development in your schools or districts, I truly believe you should try something like that. You can certainly contact me and I'd be willing to help however I can to assist you in implementing this type of PD for your schools.

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