Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Re-Envisioning Faculty PD with the "UnConference" Model

So often faculty professional development (PD) isn't on target with teachers' needs, its lecture driven or its about new school policy or procedure. There is a drive to make learning more student-centered, personalized and connected to others in the local/global community. Unfortunately, most PD does not model this approach to learning. I challenge administrators and those involved in teacher PD: flip the operational details and policy and bring teachers together as collaborators and peer learners to model and promote learning innovation. 

Whether you are an administrator and have the ability to make changes in structure of professional development, from an organization that provides teacher PD or a classroom teacher, here are some good first steps:

Administrators can create in-school opportunities for teacher collaboration by creating a schedule that supports interdisciplinary collaboration, using in-service days in teacher-centered ways and support teachers that request new types of professional development such as EdCamp or other UnConferences. At The Ellis School we also have an Innovation Fellows program and an Innovation Grants program. These programs support and reward teacher innovators that act as collaborative peer coaches across the school. 

Learning Partners and PD providers should talk to key stakeholders (not just administrators) about their needs - personalize learning to the type of school, type of learners and community. Provide networking, unstructured conversation time and hands-on activities at your events. Recently, the concept of Maker Playgrounds has been a rewarding addition to professional development events. How about considering opportunities for teachers to earn digital badges? 

Teachers, form a learning community with your peers. Connected Learning isn't just for students. How Might We leverage the networking within our school and across our cities to come together to be educational innovators? Go to EdCamps, find the free events within your city, go to a TEDx event. 

I am a huge fan of the EdCamp model of professional development. This model of professional development is all about teacher-driven learning. The EdCamp Foundation says:

We Edcamp because…
-we are learners first, teachers second.
-we care about kids.
-we embrace a growth mindset, and we want to model this for our students.
-we know adults need social learning.
-we believe educators are the best change agents for schools.
-we are empowered.

It could be difficult to capture the Edcamp experience. That's because a "typical" day of learning at an Edcamp doesn't really exist. Each Edcamp is based on the needs of its participants. When you arrive at the venue, there is no preset schedule of sessions or presenters. Instead, there's a blank grid waiting to be filled. From that blank slate, everyone builds the schedule together. As people mingle and chat over coffee, they put up potential discussion topics on a board. The entire process is positive and organic. It's typical to see people who don't even know each other realize they have similar interests and end up running a session together. Other folks come with an idea, throw it out to the group, revise it, and post it with a refined focus. Because anyone who attends an Edcamp event can be a presenter, it's an empowering experience for everyone. 
Looking around the city almost three years ago, I didn't see a close EdCamp to attend or for other Pittsburgh regional educators. I went to Twitter and a core group of us co-founded EdCampPGH. This event has been hosted at a variety of schools and organized by public, charter and independent school teachers. We just had our third EdcampPGH on 10.25.14 and have brought together a couple of hundred teachers who otherwise may not have met or collaborated. 

Check  out this Animo of photos from our EdCampPGH events!

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