Reflections on Technology Feedback Sessions

This week began technology feedback sessions in each of the district schools. This is the 2nd annual meeting. Each meeting is attended by the technology director, the instruction and curriculum director, and the ITRTs for the school. Staff come to each meeting on their planning periods. A list of questions has been created, and staff are free to share their thoughts and opinions related on anything to technology as well. All responses are tracked in spreadsheets for later analysis. This helps the district to address needs and consider the wants of staff as well in preparation for the next school year.

Monday started with the middle school, and my fellow ITRT and I attended these meetings throughout the day. The ones with this school tended to last an hour on average. Wednesday I went to the high school, and since I am the only ITRT there, I was really focused.

My biggest personal focus was on staff opinions on professional development- thoughts on this year, suggestions for next year, and then questioning them about the possibility of the tiered system I have been designing. I know that I will be implementing it 100% at the high school level, but I still need to talk about some things with the middle school principal before putting into place there.

The general consensus was that professional development this year was okay, and staff preferred the small once a month sessions during the school day to after school. I have already eliminated this for next year, so I wasn’t too concerned when it came to that bit of feedback. Set times were also a drawback, as some teachers had other obligations to attend to, such as IEP meetings. Suggestions were made to put together video professional development, and that if we have a day for professional development, do a broad overview session in the morning and let staff sign up for individual, personalized sessions in the afternoon. Someone was also curious about having a site where they could check out links to look at later.

When asked about the tiered system, there were positive responses to it. Staff liked the idea of personalized professional development, and they also liked the way that it was designed for different types of needs. When I introduced the highest level, which requires more research and is more open-ended, many were not open to it, but that’s okay because that level isn’t meant for everyone either. The variety of options were good, and staff have provided some ideas as to what I could use for topics in the future.

Based on suggestions, I am considering or am planning to do the following:

  • Video-based PD: This takes quite a bit of time to put together, especially if the materials are not already available online. I did tell staff that I would be happy to put the work together around a solo tech byte (Level 3) so that they would be using them. If I had to make a new video every so often, I would do common tools that many teachers already utilize.
  • Tech Byte Flexibility: Tech Bytes are the lowest level of the tiered system I have. They are 30 minute sessions that cover 1 or 2 objectives on a topic. I have planned to schedule different sessions a couple of times a month. I am now adding a piece where if staff cannot attend the scheduled tech bytes sessions during a month, they are free to sign up for solo sessions on those topics so that they receive the information when the timeframe best suits them.
  • Fluco Toolbox: I am considering adding this to my blog based on the request for a site with links to look at. I am going to revamp my blog over the summer, and add additional pages. Fluco Toolbox would provide those links. However, the links would go to a blog write-up on the tool so that staff can see some of the benefits of the tool, and what it is capable of. I’ve done this before with some tools before moving to this district and I think I’d like to start it again.

You may have noticed that professional development in our district still focuses on tools, rather than problem-solving. We do still have staff at this very low level and mindset, and it is something I am going to work on changing. I want to start making the shift away from tools, but first I want to have a system in place. Once I have had time to implement the system, I’m going to branch out. I know my first way of doing this will be picking “themes” for the tech bytes each month, such as assessing in a digital age.

We do have a little ways to go, and I am glad I can look to the districts that already implement problem-solving professional development for ideas and guidance. We will get there one day! This is not a forever thing; our district is just slower to move forward, but we WILL move forward.

I still have plenty to think about, and I need to work my new ideas into my professional development plan for next year. I feel inspired to work hard for my staff and do even more with professional development than was done this year. Hopefully next year’s technology feedback sessions will bring good things!

EdcampNoVA: Officially Hooked

This past weekend, I had the chance to attend EdcampNoVA in Arlington, VA. It was a longer drive, and the weary was as dreary as it could possibly be, but inside was warm, dry, and full of conversations and learning. From what I’d been told by veteran campers, every edcamp will vary in the way it is setup and run, as long as it follows the basic rules of edcamp. I knew to expect this.

Upon walking in, I was met by some familiar faces from VSTE. I grabbed some breakfast and sat down, mentally preparing myself for the day and looking around me. This particular camp was set up in the common space, and there were a few bits of swag on the tables. Off to one side was the schedule board, as well as the photo area. Lined up in another spot were the prizes to be given out at the end of edcamp.

I knew what I wanted to discuss this time around. For EdcampNoVA, there would be 3 total sessions. I put my post-its up for Minecraft, School Branding/Social Media, and Professional Development. When the schedule was put together, I decided to attend the School Branding session, the Minecraft session, and Issues in PD session. I was eager to get started, as were the others around me. This particular space had all of the room immediately off from the center, and would also utilize the common space once we started. Each room was given a city name to make it easy to locate.

I went off to my first session, but was disappointed to see that no one else showed up. There were many sessions running at once, so I’m sure they had to pick and choose between them. So I did what any good edcamper would do: I looked at the schedule and picked another session to head off to attend.

I ended up in a session on professional development, as I’m still developing my FlucoTECH plan for next year and am always curious to see what other districts are doing. Many of the districts represented in this session were large school districts. In some cases, the largest high school encompassed almost all of our student population! I spent a lot of time listening here until I could speak up in the conversation. I did take away a new idea for my FlucoTECH plan, and I was also able to share the ideas behind it with the group. I have learned that we have a very long way to go and that if I plan to make any kind of impact, I need to start finding ways to convince those admin at the very top that a mindset switch and culture switch are ways to begin heading down that path.

The first session flew by, and before I knew it I was heading off to the second session. This one was on Minecraft. A lot of people in this session were unaware of the program, or seeking ways to utilize it. I was able to talk about the after school program, and resources they could look into later on. I am a proponent of the game sure, but it does take teacher dedication. One of the attendees after the session said that the after school scene and Minecraft is where I need to be because I have so many ideas. I talked about building challenges as well, and I was encouraged to keep designing more, which I will. I want to do something for teachers, kind of like a Let’s Play thing, but I’ve not hashed out the finer details on that yet.

Before I knew it, it was time for the third session. This time I headed off to Issues in PD. We got to talking about time and ways to provide time for professional development. That became a big proponent. There was also talk of what other districts do. It was very helpful to have these conversations. I feel like I am heading on the right track with FlucoTECH now, and will need to get back to it to jot down my new ideas.

To wrap up EdcampNoVA, there was a demoslam after all of the sessions, where attendees had a minute and a half to talk about a tool or program. Ten people were able to present. Then there was the prize giveaway. This took awhile, but there were actually enough prizes for everyone, so everyone got something. I ended up with a yearlong subscription to InsertLearning. I have since passed this on to one of the ELA teachers I work with at the middle school because I want to see it utilized.

Instead of providing lunch, this edcamp had an after party instead. Anyone interested headed to a nearby Mexican restaurant for food and conversation. I can’t remember how many people were there, but we had a packed table, that’s for sure. I ended up staying over 2 hours more, and am glad I did.

EdcampNoVA will be running again this fall, but I’m not sure I will be able to attend. If I can though, I will certainly be back! Edcamps give me a way to recharge my batteries and find other passionate educators who want to learn and discuss from each other. This is always nice after being exposed to those who are less than passionate about growing and learning.

Want to attend an edcamp? Check out the official calendar here. It’s always being updated, so check back often for new camps!

#IMMOOC: Standardized to Personalized Staff Learning

Some of you know I started participating in George Couros’ IMMOOC on The Innovator’s Mindset last fall. I stopped before it was finished because things just got too crazy and I couldn’t keep up. I am determined to finish the book now though and so I’ve been working my way through part 3. I just finished Chapter 9, and one of the discussion questions jumped out at me:

How do you move from “standardized” to “personalized” learning for your students and staff?

I knew that I had to answer this question because it is one that has been bothering me since around December of this past year. I kept trying to figure out ways to do professional development differently because our model wasn’t working. I began learning that no one had the correct answer, but that different groups were making progress and trying to do what was best for their staff.

As I learned more, I began developing FlucoTECH. It’s still ever evolving and I’m still working on the details, but I have the basics of the current version down now. I think that it’s off to a pretty good start, so I’m willing to share the proposal I’ve written up for the program here:

FlucoTECH is a professional development system that features 3 levels of differentiated learning for teachers. Just like students, teachers need to have their professional learning differentiated to meet their own needs. One size fits all no longer works for these teachers, and it is one of the least successful methods. Traditional PD hasn’t really changed, even though we expect our educators to change with the times.

In a traditional professional development session, teachers are typically mandated to attend. Session sizes can bloom to very large numbers. All teachers receive the same information at the same time, regardless of what they already know. Sessions are presented in a “sit and get fashion”. During the training, teachers may find themselves doing other things instead of listening to the presentation. The information is thrown at them in large amounts, and there is little to no follow up on the learning after the session. Many teachers will toss their notes and handouts aside, deciding to do things the way they’ve always done them. For them, the professional development was just another warm body to fill the seats, and (if the training was paid for) a way for the administration to get their money’s worth.

This system is set to fail us time and time again. No matter how many times we get knocked down, it is still the method we turn back to using. This is archaic and WRONG. Something has to give, and that something begins with changing the way professional development is viewed and given.

Professional development should not be sessions here and there on a topic. It should not be a one size fits all, fill all the seats with warm bodies, ordeal. It should not be an information on full blast session, never to be followed up on again. The mindset should not be “If I go to this session I’ll get X amount of points.”

With all of these “nots” what should a professional development session be? A professional development session should be differentiated to meet the needs of its learners. The session should be about giving information in small chunks. If small chunks are not possible, consistent follow up after the session should occur to help guide teachers along the way. The mindset should be “I want to grow and learn in X area, and can’t wait to see what will be taught.”

FlucoTECH (Teachers Exploring, Creating, Hacking) works to bring a new style of professional development to Fluvanna County. It is designed as a tiered system of levels to meet the needs of multiple types of learners. Teachers are able to choose the level that best suits their needs and ability and move forward from there. There are 3 different levels in FlucoTECH that range from bite size sessions with multiple chances for follow-up to self-study sessions that last for a semester.

Level I – Tech Bytes: Level I sessions are offered during the school day for 30 minutes at a time. A topic is selected for the month and sessions are offered on a weekly basis throughout the day to meet teachers’ planning needs. 1 or 2 big objectives are taught during each class. Teachers have time to digest and play around with the new learning before coming to another session. Teachers pick and choose the sessions they attend based on what they already know and want to learn.
Recertification Points: ½ point for every Tech Bytes session

Level II – Solo Tech Bytes: Teacher chooses to complete a self-study on a topic. They meet with the ITRT to determine what they already know, what resources they should look into, and the topics they need to cover. Teacher studies on own, and sets up 1:1 sessions with ITRT as needed. Once teacher has researched and time to practice, they must demonstrate their knowledge to the ITRT. If the topic is determined to be a large and/or more intense one, recertification points may be added to the initial ones.
Recertification Points: 5 points for each Solo Tech Bytes

Level III – Semester Tech Study: ITRT assists teacher in reviewing ISTE-T standards. Teacher selects a standard, develops a SMART goal, and then researches on their own to find ways to implement the goal. They use the ITRT as needed, to help gather resources, to bounce ideas, and to create any kind of implementation plan. Teacher begins working to implement changes based on SMART goal. Teachers ends Semester Tech Study by evaluating the results of their smart goal, and their own growth.
Recertification Points: 20 points for each Semester Tech Study

Each level listed above progressively changes to give the teacher more freedom and choice in their decision-making when it comes to technology. Each level is also designed to meet teachers’ needs in both time and skill level. Teachers are free to move from level to level as they wish. They are not “locked in” to just one level for the entire school year.

With the implementation of FlucoTECH, there would no longer be a need for after school professional development. Staff would be able to complete all professional development during their planning periods or on their on time as they chose to fit it in.

The role of the ITRT varies depending on the level of FlucoTECH. At Level I, the ITRT is designing and implementing the professional development, relying on feedback from those who attend to improve future sessions. At Level II, the ITRT is coaching the teacher to help determine prior knowledge and objectives, as well as evaluating the teacher’s final product. At Level III, the ITRT is reviewing ISTE-T standards with the teacher, helping develop a SMART goal, and assists teacher as needed throughout the research process.

FlucoTECH is a tiered system that differentiates professional development instruction for staff members. Staff members are able to choose the level of instruction that best suits their needs, and can opt to move to other levels at any time during the school year. The ITRT’s role changes depending on the level, and they adapt all learning to the needs of the teachers. Teachers can and will earn recertification points for completing levels, but the points are not the main focus of the program. FlucoTECH aims to help teachers to learn, grow, and change the way professional development is completed in Fluvanna County.

It’s definitely not finalized yet, and I know that even the proposal will change as time moves on and I tweak and redefine things. FlucoTECH does move away from the one size fits all traditional professional development though, and that’s what I love about it most. It has taken a lot of research and learning from others to get this far, and I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.

I’ve got PD on the Brain…

In between my other work assignments, I’ve been thinking a lot about professional development. I want to make changes for next year, and after all of the different sessions I’ve attended this year, I’ve found plenty of ideas. Some are things I want to incorporate; others not so much. I know that whatever I do has to be doable by a small number of ITRTs. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my ideas will need to be able to be managed by myself, which is why I’m limiting them to the two schools I work at each week. I work at the middle and high school, so if I can make them work here, they would be easily worked into the elementary schools.

Originally I had the idea to take Chesterfield County’s LITE Cohort and mix it with another district’s ideas. I ended up designing FlucoTECH. I presented the draft idea to the administration team, and they did enjoy it. Like Chesterfield’s LITE Cohort, it applied to those teachers who wanted to work on designing their own PD with the assistance of the ITRT. The goal was to meet the needs of the staff who wanted to grow in the way that best suited them. I was happy with my draft, but that’s all it was. It still didn’t address the needs of my staff who weren’t finding themselves at that level of learning. I was stumped.

Then along came EdtechRVA and Bite-Sized PD. Here was the solution that I was looking for! My staff that needed assistance learning in small chunks would be able to hand bite-sized PD and attend only the sessions that applied to them. The sessions would be easy to offer during the day, once a week, and follow up sessions were also easy to take care of as well. I was pretty elated to solve that issue because it also let me eliminate after school PD. To be successful with bite-sized PD, I would need to take the concept and break it down into chunks of information so that I could run multiple classes on the topic.

While I was pretty pleased that I now had ideas to address the low and high level learners, I still didn’t have anything for my mid-range learners, the ones who wanted the attention and break down of bite-sized PD, but also the ability to work at their own pace and time like the FlucoTECH PD.

That led to me thinking of a tiered system for professional development. So far, I hadn’t seen anything like it. I’ve seen districts have one new solution for professional development that tended to address only certain types of learners. So what if we did have a tiered PD system? What if there were 3 levels in this system, and teachers could choose the one that best suited them? They would be free to move back and forth between the levels as needed. Maybe they want to learn on their own for one topic, but for another they’d rather attend bite sized PD instead?

These are just a few of the questions that have been bumping around in my head this past week. I want to make this a reality for my teachers, and I need to work on designing level 2 and revamping level 3. I also believe I would call the entire thing FlucoTECH, and then just use the levels to designate the different programs. FlucoTECH Level I, FlucoTech Level 2, FlucoTECH Level 3… Oh that’s right I haven’t said what the TECH part stands for: Teachers Explorers Creators Hackers.

There is definitely still a lot more work to be done in order to make this idea a successful reality. I certainly don’t believe it’s the end all, be all solution, but I do believe that it’s a step in the right direction. It’s definitely a step toward getting away from the old traditional methods. Let’s see what happens…