you are here > articles/pdforca.html

Demystifying Professional Development
Published in the February 1999 issue of Curriculum Administrator Magazine

© 1998 - Gary S. Stager/Curriculum Administrator

In the early eighties, I began helping teachers in one computer classrooms add computational technology to their bag of tricks. Eighteen years and over a thousand professional development sessions later, I find myself doing remarkably similar work. My efforts to assist educators in using computers as a constructive medium for learning, self expression and vehicle for school reform has taken me from the South Bronx to Sydney. For the past eight years I have worked with schools in which every student and teacher has a professional laptops. Even in these "computer rich" environments there is a universality to the challenges facing teacher professional development.

In order to develop meaningful systemic professional development (PD) we must be able to answer why we believe computers should be in schools. Computers increase opportunities for intellectual development and creative expression. The introduction of school computing can serve as a catalyst for educators to discuss the nature of teaching and learning while reacquainting themselves with the learning process.

I’ve thought a lot about these challenges and conclude that the critical issues determining successful professional development can be reduced to two factors; leadership and access to adequate resources.

Before exploring these two factors, we should debunk two pernicious myths.

The Osmosis myth

Countless tales have been published about school districts that provided teachers with a computer in order to assist with clerical tasks in the wide-eyed hope that someday this computer use would magically be used to enhance student learning. I have yet to be persuaded by empirical or even anecdotal evidence that this approach is successful. This approach falls short for the following reasons.

  • Teachers should do less clerical work, not more.
  • Teachers are employed to benefit children and computers are purchased to enhance the learning process.
  • The process of gaining comfort with the computer is often hard and frustrating. Associating this difficult process with a chore you don’t like to do is a sure recipe for failure.
  • Teacher fluency can be acquired and situated in actual student learning experiences.

The Budgeting myth

Much has been written about how 30-50% of technology budgets should be spent on professional development. While I agree with the need for PD, I reject this notion categorically. One hundred percent of technology budgets should be spent on technology. People value what they pay for and we don’t pay for art teachers out of the crayon budget. This is a mischievous accounting trick designed to make computers appear expensive and often ignores more pressing professional development issues.

If students rarely work on personally meaningful projects over a sustained period of time now, then computer-based constructionism will be out of reach. If students don’t collaborate with their classmates, then the online project with Belarus will be unsuccessful. If teachers are concerned about assessing computer-based work, you may need to address your resources to broader issues like authentic assessment, whole language and cooperative learning.

Suggestions for Meaningful Professional Development

Access to Adequate Resources

    Scarcity is a major obstacle to use

    In many cases there are not enough computers available for teacher and student use to warrant the effort of teachers required using them effectively. How many afterschool workshops does a teacher need to attend before she can get a new printer ribbon?


    Work with the living and do no harm

    Energy and resources are in short supply. Focus your initial PD efforts on teachers likely to create exciting models for other teachers to emulate.

    Cast a wide net

    Learning is life-long and PD is a form of learning. Your PD offerings need to be ongoing and varied in order to attract teachers with different interests and levels of readiness.

    High expectations

    Computers offer school leaders with a wonderful opportunity to achieve long-standing learning goals and even some unanticipated outcomes. Don’t be modest. Dream big. Imagine all of the new forms of expression, ways of knowing and powerful ideas now available to students. Then tell your school community that these are your expectations.

My answer is that if you have a vision of Someday you can use this to guide what do Monday. But if your vision of where it is going is doing the same old stuff a bit (or a lot) better your efforts will be bypassed by history. (Seymour Papert)

    Stay on message

    Don’t encourage teachers to take risks and experiment with new approaches without supporting them. Leadership requires administrators to articulate clear expectations, acknowledge teacher achievement and afford change the necessary time to occur.

    Practice what you preach

    Leaders should model the pedagogical and epistemological approaches they advocate. They should also use computers and the net.

    One-size does not fit all

    The two-hour afterschool workshop is not always effective for everyone. A range of PD approaches needs to be available, including mentoring, university courses, community education, conferences, institutes and teacher-led afterschool/summer programs for kids.

    Work on teacher’s turf

    Whenever possible, work with teachers in their classrooms to realize the potential of computing. Help colleagues create shareable models.

    Get ‘em outta here

    If your goal is to have teachers truly experience new forms of learning; you need to get them away from the bell schedule and family carpools for a few days of learning in a immersive setting. A community of practice including should be encouraged by including experts and newbies in these PD "slumber parties."

    In-school sabbaticals

    Teachers who have demonstrated creativity, fluency and collegiality should have a reduced teaching load in order to mentor peers.

    Action research

    Some schools engage in formal action research circles. All schools should have regularly scheduled meetings at which teachers are encouraged to share exciting things their students have done with computers. Eventually teachers will share what they have done. This is a way of valuing your teacher’s efforts and demonstrating your commitment to forward momentum.

    Acknowledge the present, embrace the future

    Kids have all sorts of technological competencies whether school contributed to their development or not. Take advantage of what kids know and the resources they bring to the learning process. Generation WHY is a fantastic embodiment of this idea. Prepare yourself for the day when every child has ubiquitous access to computing and communications resources. What will teaching and learning look like then? What can we do now to prepare for that eventuality?

Home | Search |Articles | iMovie | Bookstore | Bio | Booking Gary
Locations of visitors to this page
Copyright © 2003-2007 Gary S. Stager - All Rights Reserved.