Professional Development

Leveraging Online Tools for Teacher PD

By Anthony Rebora — December 09, 2009 4 min read
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More From NSDC, St. Louis-- Yesterday, my co-live bloggers Nancy Flanagan and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and I put ourselves in the spotlight and gave a presentation at the NSDC conference on “Leveraging Online Tools for Teacher Learning.” I offered a short contextual intro (after figuring out how to work the microphone and realizing I shouldn’t stand in front of the projector, that is), and then the pros took over. Nancy gave an excellent primer on the art of facilitating online training sessions, and Sheryl provided a stirring look at the transformational potential of new learning technologies (complete with a live Skyped-in visitor and contributions from her twitter followers).

Further practicing what she preaches, Sheryl had also put all our presentation materials online before I even arrived in the conference room. The slide show is below; other resources are available on her wiki. In addition, after the jump, Nancy and Sheryl--who apparently don’t stop thinking about teaching and learning, ever--share a dialogue they had about their respective presentations.

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Nancy to Sheryl: Today, you talked about the absolute transformation of what we “know” about school, teaching and learning. I’m with you--I believe that all of these total shifts will happen. Here’s my question, though. Will these reconceptions happen intentionally, guided by a kind of educational enlightenment, a new mindset--or will change wash over schools and educators, driven by technological tsunamis, economic and political forces? Will we plan for change--or will it happen to us while we’re ordering unnecessary textbooks and thinking that putting a Smartboard in every room is “cutting edge?”

Sheryl to Nancy: I think some of the most powerful transformative events in society have been organic in nature, almost catching us by surprise as we are swept up in the moment. In this era of fast pace change certainly some of the shift will be tsunamic like, however, I also believe some of it will be intentional - designed by caring leaders in an effort to meet the struggle to remain relevant in the lives of the students we serve. But this change will happen in profound ways as we connect and begin to understand that by developing social fabric, embracing human talent, and leveraging capacity we will be investing in the new economic values of the 21st Century.

Sheryl to Nancy: You mentioned that in your work with Take One! that more times than not teachers are hesitant to share online at first, but that through the efforts of a skilled facilitator, trust will build and the conversations will deepen revealing some powerful conversations around improved classroom practice. What suggestions do you have for online facilitators who are trying to move their online learners to this place of reflection? Why in your opinion is reflection so difficult- on or offline?

Nancy: Good facilitators honor the craft knowledge that experienced teachers bring to online conversations, whether those teachers are comfortable with technology or rank novices. When the focus is on learning to use the tech tools (and--often--participating in an on-line community involves a learning curve, revealing perceived “weaknesses” and technological knowledge gaps), teachers are focused on how to use the tools, rather than why we’re learning together. So--facilitators can begin with easy questions. Not “icebreakers"--but simple prompts that involve low-risk sharing, letting teachers find points of commonality or muse about what it is that they truly value. We don’t often have these conversations in real life--it’s paradoxical that stepping away from the classroom and seeing each other in a virtual environment lets us get away from bells and buses, and gives us time to think.

Good facilitators also share their own wonderings, uncertainties and questions. Facilitating is not telling participants what you know, but pulling out their beliefs--sharing, comparing and perhaps changing ideas about practice. What makes reflection difficult online is the risk involved--but that’s the same thing that makes reflection difficult in a faculty meeting. It’s not the tool or the setting that makes reflection difficult--it’s the fact that we often come into teaching with the idea that we have to know, rather than the idea that what we know for sure will necessarily change from day to day.

I work with novice teachers--the very folks who are supposed to be comfortable with technology, proficient users. While they’re not afraid to learn to use a new virtual environment, they have not had experience building professional communities of practice, and are unsure about how to reveal their own uncertainties. Veteran teachers can be role models in reflective practice--and novice teachers can teach them how to navigate the tools.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.