I’ve been thinking a lot about professional development lately, especially about its critical role in shifting a school or shifting a community of teachers within a school, and then sustaining that change.

I’m thinking about how to support the vastly different needs of my colleagues across the school, but also to build in opportunities for connection, collaboration and communication across, between and among all of those different teachers. I’m thinking about professional development as a self-sustaining opportunity for learning – based on individual need and interest, but also allowing for cross-pollination of ideas and experience. I’m thinking about modeling professional development after my experiences with a personal learning network.

There are two models of professional development I’ve been delivering throughout my career, individual and whole school:

Individual PD

This is the type of support I offer on a daily basis:

  • Working one-on-one with teachers who are ready and willing to co-plan, co-teach, and co-assess units of inquiry in their classroom.
  • Setting up one-on-one meetings with teachers to help them learn new tools, or figure out how to work best with the ones they already have.
  • Casual conversations in the hallway that turn into inspirations for ideas to use in the classroom.
  • After school technology support for tasks that have to be done, but could be made even easier through the use of technology.

This model of support helps deepen learning by providing enough time on a regular basis, grounded in curricular needs, to build individual understanding.

Although this is great way to support an individual teacher’s personal professional development, it can sometimes feel very disjointed. Having enough time to work with all of the different individuals in one school can be challenging, and/or discussing the same ideas with several different people or not being able to cross pollinate ideas because it’s always a “private” discussion can be isolating.

School Wide PD

This is the traditional model of PD we’re all used to:

  • Whole-school or divisional presentations where a message is mass-marketed and delivered in one session (or if you’re lucky one or two day workshops).
  • When you bring in expert voices to build enthusiasm, share ideas from the “outside world” and kick start a new initiative or support a teaching and learning goal.
  • Sending a group of teachers to a conference and expecting them to share their new learning with the rest of the school when they return to campus.

As valuable as these experiences are, they are often a “one off”- offered once and never heard from again.

Keeping both of these models in mind, I’m thinking that there might be a place for something in-between. Something that taps into the power of community, but also supports the individual.

Group PD

This is, I think, the next step to building a community of learners in an institution, and one that can be especially enhanced by new web 2.0 tools like social networking. I feel like I’m at the verge of understanding how to help facilitate this experience, but I’m just figuring things out as I go.

Models of Professional Development

During yesterday’s K12Online LAN party with Heather, Sara, Ali, Chrissy, Silvia (via Skype), Diane, Susan and Joanie, here in my apartment, we discussed how empowering it was to be with a cross divisional group (elementary and middle schools represented) where we could all share ideas, ask questions and receive needed support. It felt like something more than just the one-on-one meetings where the ideas are limited to just the two brains in the room.

K12Online LAN Party in Bangkok

Being able to tap into a diverse group of experiences, knowledge and imagination means that we can learn even more, and everyone feels both needed and supported. We’ve already agreed to have another LAN party because this one was so useful! There goes that feeling of being a one-off. That’s the energy and enthusiasm I would like to tap into, and to spread throughout the school.

We also talked about adding an online component to our group – to help facilitate discussion, share ideas and inspiration, and to provide a repository for information. We talked about setting up a Ning so we could encourage outside educators to join to help continue and expand our discussions (just like Julie is doing in Qatar). Plus this would give us the added advantage of having a welcoming space to demonstrate what we’re doing to other interested colleagues across the school.

We want to make the group open to any and all that are interested, centered around a common purpose. We want to tap into each individual’s desire to learn, but also their desire to be part of a group, to be supported and to be needed.

I just watched Seth Godin give a talk about his recent book, Tribes (thanks to @roybot for the link), and one of his points was that it is human nature to want to belong to a group and to be identified as a member of that group. If there are groups of people at your school who want to learn about technology, why not create that group? Why not help facilitate a place/time/space for coming together and learning together?

This is all going to be an opt-in experience – only the people that are interested will join, but I honestly can’t wait to see how far we can go when we’re all working together.

Just being able to have a number of people (perhaps shifting and changing over time) to look to for support and inspiration makes it feel more sustainable (no longer reliant on the individual PD model). Plus, knowing that a group can continue to exist beyond the tenure of specific individuals at a specific school means that PD will be “just in time” whenever it’s needed, instead of a “one-off” experience. Finally, spending regular time communicating and connecting, and knowing that only those that are truly interested will invest their time means that the learning will be deeper than your standard afternoon session of PD.

We’re only just getting started, but I have that positive feeling, those excited butterflies in my stomach, that there is something to this idea. That, especially in conjunction with the other two types of PD we regularly experience, this could add a whole new dimension to our professional learning and that it could be just what we need to shift our school.

What do you think? Have you had any experience with this kind of PD? What are the critical factors to think about while we’re in the begining stages?

29 thoughts on “Sustaining Change: The Next Level of PD

  1. I think the most important part is to realize that this involves culture change, which doesn’t fit most of our learning models. If we try to “teach” people how to participate, it doesn’t always work. I’ve found there are several important pieces to stimulating viral professional development, and you’ve done a great job outlining them. One thing I found unsuccessful was a Ning. I encouraged instructors to share what they had learned with others, but found they were much more effective sharing in person and in live Elluminate sessions. When they posted online, there were rarely responses. For a year, the Ning remained mainly the home of the early adopters, and activity there was low, even when I put in a lot of effort. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t do a Ning. I think the combination of scheduled, informal support, and developing a culture of sharing, internally and externally are the key. I’m excited to watch what you accomplish!

  2. @Jen,

    Thank you so much for the feedback! I really appreciate your insights about the Ning. I was trying to think of a way that would allow people to interact without having to worry about the constraints of time and place, and maybe offer a starting point. But, I can see how it could end up being solely the domain of the early adopters.

    I wonder, though, is that good for them, and enough of an example for the others? Would it provide a bit of differentiated support – those who want to opt-in and use it to it’s fullest can, those who don’t, can leave it aside and come to the face-to-face sessions only? I’m trying to think of ways to provide as much support as possible – without completely killing myself ;)


    Thanks, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do for my school! I love the way that it has just happened organically too – one invite to my house for a weekend morning PD session and the concept was born. I’m thinking that is a great start for our new PLC – commitment and collegiality out of individual desire and interest. I’m looking forward to seeing where this all leads! Thanks for the link back to your thorough post!

  3. Some of our LS teachers recently had a writing discussion at one teacher’s apartment. I plan to attend the next one and I mention this because it’s a PLC that has started and writing is one area that is easily enhanced with tech.

    Perhaps it’s time to send out seeds of ideas and try starting a tech group as well. I wonder if it’s best to have a topic to focus on when meeting or let it evolve- probably more open in the beginning. Did you have specific K12 workshops you focused on?

    On a side note, I saw your invitation on Twitter and wanted to join your session but was swamped the days before- I’d love to join via Skype as Sylvia did. I mentioned this to some ASM teacher friends who are interested as well.

  4. I am new to the Professional Development position this year but I am working on a similar idea in our district. Instead of Ning, we are planning on using Drupal. This will be a place where ideas and resources will be shared, questions will be asked, discussions will develop etc. Teachers can build Professional Learning Communities online. I know that this model is very powerful, because this is the way I have build my own PLN for the last several years. The challenge will be to help others see the power and begin to participate. It will not be powerful until people are participating. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas. I look forward to following your progress and hope to be able to share our own progress as well.

  5. I have been experimenting with several models of professional development options at my school too. I even started a professional development blog and a Ning for our faculty over a year ago. Only few teachers post on our blog and most will only after reminding and encouraging them over and over again. The Ning seemed to have fizzled out or probably never got off the ground to begin with. I have not given up completely on either one yet though.

    As I see the positive impact of one-on-one, hallway idea/enthusiasm exchange, co-teaching and monthly workshops (that you all mention) are having, I am realizing that we just might have to understand that they are ALL ingredients to “brew magic”.

    As you responded in your comment to Jen, we want/need to give differentiated support to the teachers in our school. Once size will never fit all and in adding more opportunities to our repertoire of offerings the more learning styles of our colleagues we will reach.

    We are realizing that the traditional PD presentations at faculty meetings do not work well and we need try to re-create that excitement that WE feel when we are learning in these “un-traditional” new ways: In the hallway, as a skype-in across the world, outside the doors of the official workshops at a conference, in 140 characters or less, etc.

    How do we give our colleagues a taste of that and re-create it for/with them?

  6. Kim,
    Thanks for pushing my thinking! I work in a system that has poor leadership and vision for the future. Our focus is NCLB and test scores. I sustain what I do by building small groups of colleagues and build out. It is real slow and very frustrating at times.


  7. @Nancy,

    Great to hear that your writing discussion group is going well! It is so inspiring to find a group of teachers interested and enthusiastic about learning more about a common topic.

    When we had our K12Online LAN party we didn’t specify which videos we would watch in advance – we actually decided while we were there based on Silvia’s recommendations and the title list (which I shared with the group). We were only able to watch two during our session and will be watching another two in our next session.

    We would love to have you and your teachers join next time! We are planning to host another one on Thursday, 20 November from 3:30 – 5:30 pm our time. I’ll post it on my blog as soon as it’s finalized!


    I agree that the model is powerful because it also works for me. I do agree with Jen (above) that it needs to be something that’s relevant to everyone though. So maybe it’s a matter of providing multiple options? I would definitely love to hear about your progress as well – it’s great to see how others are going about accomplishing the same goals!


    I really like your idea that we needs lots of methods and opportunities for learning to “brew magic.” It is these “untraditional” new modes of learning that you discuss that makes the experience magical. I think we need to keep our enthusiasm up, keep offering many ways to connect, keep bringing in those outside voices, and keep engaging our staff at the level that is appropriate for them to build that excitement. I do think there is a piece where teachers have to take responsibility for moving themselves to the next step as individuals, but we can certainly provide the gateway to this new model of learning consistently and in an open and exciting format.


    Oh boy. Your situation sounds difficult (and you remind me just how lucky I am). But, I have hope! Your enthusiasm and energy will be contagious! Keep that positive outlook and others will perceive it within you and want to be part of whatever you’re doing.

  8. Hey Kim,
    Great work! Sounds really motivated and looks like you have worked hard on PD. Your ideas are truly inspiring. Your future schemes of work with teachers are brilliant and hope you get all the success on this planet

  9. Hi Kim,
    We have a similar place for people to post their ideas for tech and it rarely gets used. I don’t think this is limited to tech though. I once asked teachers to submit their best lessons so we could build a sort of best lesson compendium to share and received very few. At the time I was completely discouraged. Lately I am pondering a different method that will definitely move more slowly but I’m hoping it will pick up momentum. I have gathered a small group of cross-divisional teachers to work on one unit with the first grade teachers. Our focus is not technology, however, it is my goal to embed the appropriate tech into the lesson as we go. If I can do this I believe I can begin to force the shift. Wish me luck.

  10. I think you have once again made a key leap; groups are key, for all the reasons you mention. However, even before I read the comments, I was thinking Jen’s idea. I’ve joined quite a few Nings over the past few years and none of them have really taken off except Classroom 2.0. Best I can figure, it is because it is pull, not push; you have to go to it and look around and we are all very busy. Would be different if we were teens and all our friends were there.

    You can turn on email notification in certain areas, to make it a bit more push, but in my experience, since you can’t reply via email, it is still a pain and it begins to feel like spam.

    And you can use RSS, but how many of your teachers are using that effectively yet? Trying to introduce it at the same time is yet another “place” they need to visit in their already crowded schedules.

    I think one reason Twitter was such a hit was that it was always active whenever you chimed in. However, it is so much less than soul-satisfying communication for most people, a sense of belonging but not really, so it isn’t the answer either.

    I suspect we don’t yet have the killer app for this purpose. I hope it arrives soon.

  11. @Nelly,

    Thank you for your kind comments!


    I definitely the resource really needs to be supported by a small group of very committed teachers. I agree that it’s easy to fall by the wayside if you expect the general population of the school to just pick it up and run with it.

    I think you’re totally on the right track about embedding technology into your teaching needs – that’s the way to make it realistic and practical for your teachers. Best of luck to you!


    I agree that Ning might not be the perfect place – and in fact there may not be a perfect place yet – but I also think it’s part of my responsibility to provide something. Even if it is only meeting the needs of a smaller group of teachers, at least we would have something for them. The trick is finding all the different tools and approaches that can meet all the different needs of our teachers… Hopefully our small group of committed teachers can come up with something that will work – and that everyone will play a part in developing, sharing and promoting that resource.

  12. I tried implementing a Tech PD Calendar last year at my school, to try to tap into the talented and diverse faculty that we have. The idea is to have a multi-author calendar available where anyone can populate it with events where they using/integrating technology in their classroom, and are effectively/virtually opening their doors to visitors/observers. Key information for each event is to have search-able keywords embedded in the event (like the tools being used), numbers of visitors the teacher can accommodate (limited by time, space, resources, or simple comfort levels), the specific place and times that the event is happening (which can be all or part of a class, an actual presentation, or even just a training session where you can accommodate more people) and a sign up place so people will know if the event is over-subscribed or not. I was trying to find a way to tap into and spread the wealth of knowledge across our faculty, without coaxing teachers into “presenting” something during a general Tech PD time. Instead, teachers would just go about their business of conducting their class, faculty from any school division could sign up and observe, and what they take away from the event is entirely up to them. By publishing the event on the calendar, the “presenting teacher” also becomes a resource person for the types of tools they are using, for other staff to collaborate with and learn from.

    I think this idea has some real value and speaks to moving to more of a model of collaborative and professional sharing, but getting it off of the ground is very challenging. Read between the lines here – I created the system but it fizzled and died a slow death due to inactivity and lack of support. What we learned is that you need a pre-established group of people to populate the calendar to begin with and a culture of sharing/collaboration in order for people to access/use the calendar. Unfortunately, I don’t think that my school has the collaborative culture (yet) in order for this to really work. You mention above that expecting people to take the new idea and run with it does not happen, which is exactly right. The right culture needs to be in place for the idea to take hold and flourish, else it wilts on the vine.

    I have not given up on the idea yet, but am working on building a stronger culture to support it as well as a stronger structure (of people) to get it rolling and make it work. But how do you build a stronger culture of collaboration and professional sharing across a diverse school staff? What do you think works, that people “buy into”? Anyone reading this – feel free to borrow/adapt this calendar idea as I would like to see it work (and hear about it afterward ;-).

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