Guest Post: Give It To Me My Way (via @MsFagin)

IMG_0349Leslie Fagin is an instructional technology coach for the Griffin-Spalding County School System in Georgia. She is a Google Educator and a Google for Education Certified Trainer. In her position as an ITC, she provides professional development to middle and high school teachers on Google Apps for Education, Safari Montage, Mimio, Web2.0/3.0, digital literacy, and digital citizenship. Prior to becoming an instructional technology coach, she taught high school English.  Leslie is a graduate of the University of West Georgia with a BA in Political Science and an MS in Rural and Small Town Planning.  Her hobbies include reading, traveling and spending time with family and friends.

You can follow her on Twitter @msfagin

“When we introduce new technologies into our classrooms we are teaching our students twice.” –Michael Joseph Brown

I love chocolate ice cream, pizza, lemonade, and lazy days at home. I also love traveling, spending time with my family, and playing on the computer. My love for playing on the computer is the reason I am no longer teaching high school English but serving the teachers in my district as an instructional technology coach.  I never would have thought that tinkering with computers, playing games, and teaching myself the ‘how-to do’ stuff on a computer would change the direction of my career in education.

0213151030Now that I have a different focus in my career, I feel like I have a mission. My mission is to get as many teachers as tech savvy as possible.  Some are already there, and I want to help take them to the next level of classroom technology integration. For those who are not, I want to help get them comfortable, connected, and confident. I am not naive enough to think that just because a teacher is having students use tech devices in class that they will suddenly become academic success stories. Learning is a process. Technology is a tool. Learning with technology can be transformational, but it will not solve all of the issues that are found in classrooms around the globe; however, it is a start towards preparing our students to be authentic 21st Century learners and globally competitive in the work force.

As an instructional technology coach, I am passionate about technology, but I am even more passionate about making sure teachers are prepared to integrate technology into their daily practice.  I remember what it was like being a new teacher and not being sure about just being a teacher. Later in my career, I remember what it was like trying to figure out how to get and keep my students engaged.  Some days were good and some were less than good. I want the teachers to have access to tools and resources to help make their jobs less stressful and more successful.  Having access to a strong and accessible professional development program will assist teachers in integrating technology in their classes.

I do not claim to be an expert in professional development, but in my many years as a classroom teacher, I have attended, participated in, and been critical of my fair share.  Based on my observations, I have come up with a list of ways to make professional development more engaging and beneficial to teachers. If the teachers are engaged, they will learn and make good use of the materials and resources. When that happens, the transformational learning that is necessary for student success can begin to take place.

  1. Differentiated – We, educators, are expected to differentiate instruction in the classroom. We are told that the research says students learn in different ways and at a different pace.  Does that change once they become adults?  If that’s the case, why do we not have differentiated professional development for teachers? Not all of the teachers in the school are new.  Not all of the teachers are comfortable with technology. Nor do they all need constant reinforcement about the latest and greatest theories on child development. Teachers should have the option to choose their professional development based on their needs. We are asked to do this for our students, so why can’t the same be done for us?
  2. On Demand – Teachers are busy people with a lot of demands on their time. In an ideal world, asking a teacher to attend professional development during planning would be well-received. Teachers would be actively engaged, not grading papers, and eager to implement the concepts.  Instead of taking precious time away from teachers during the already hectic school day, why not harness the power of the internet and allow teachers to complete professional development outside of the school day?  There are tools available that would allow a school district to offer various topics that could be viewed at a time convenient for the teacher.  Partner the video/podcast with an assignment to check for understanding or have the teacher include a reflective piece.
  3. Reflective – Give teachers time to think/reflect/plan after participating in professional development. Rarely does that happen when professional development happens during the middle of the school day. Teachers teach, attend professional development, shift gears and go right back to teaching. There is no time for reflection.  How are we supposed to improve our craft when we do not have time to process what we are being asked to do?
  4. Off-campus – Who doesn’t like to get away?  The same can be said for teachers. We do a lot of professional development in our buildings week after week, year after year. Sometimes the training helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s not to say that having a teacher leave campus for professional development will revolutionize education, but it helps teachers feel connected to others. Realizing that not all school districts can afford to send teachers to national conferences, start small.  Encourage EdCamp Griffinteachers to attend Edcamps. Most, if not all are free.  Networking, learning, and having fun is in abundance. If money is available, consider funding either partially or fully attendance at a content specific conference.  Teachers need to be able to connect with others to learn and re-charge.

This list is not all-inclusive.  These are just the things that come to mind when I think about delivering professional development and what I felt was beneficial to me as a teacher.  Not all approaches work with the students we teach and the same is true for professional development for teachers. As educators, we have to find what works best for us.   We also have to be given the option to find what works best for us.