Friday, February 12, 2010

Twitter and Quality Professional Development

There has been a lot of talk about Twitter as a useful tool for educators. Some folks I follow on Twitter rave about their Professional Learning Network (PLN) and how they receive so much support from folks far and wide tweeting from the comfort of their laptops.

I do appreciate the tweets that provide a link to material that I find helpful. I’ve bookmarked (“favorited”) links on learning to podcast, making sense out of Google Wave and teaching a lesson on the Bill of Rights. Good stuff.

On the other hand, I look back at questions I "tweeted" to the amorphous group of educators – my PLN – and most just stay out there in the cloud. Looking at the past 20 questions I have posted, about 4 have received direct answers. I’ve asked about resources for counseling first-generation college goers, understanding response to intervention, looking for sources of classroom simulations and researching performance based assessments. No response. Perhaps they were tweeted at the wrong time.

One new and pleasant development has been noticing certain tweeters out there who seem to be engaged in efforts similar to my own. When I rea their blogs or websites and contact them offline, it appears there may be some promising leads.

Specifically, I am interested in how to provide high quality professional development in a school or district. Research points to using local expertise, job embedded work, sustained focus over time and protocols to make the students' work and teachers' practice more amenable to study. This constrasts with bringing in experts and delivering some decontextualized set of lessons without sufficient follow up.

Here are some cool folks I have met virtually through Twitter who appear to be implementing high quality PD.

Neil Stephenson
@Neilstephenson on Twitter
Calgary Science School

Neil has launched an inquiry process around the work students produce in response to projects. I love that he has posted audio of teacher comments, powerpoint of his presentation and a clip of a professional development session. Check out his post on Examining Student Work – Reflective PD

Kim McGill
@KimMcGill on Twitter

Another great one. Check out Kim’s blog here and Open School Network. Kim takes a deliberate and reflective approach to professional development linked to dilemmas experienced by the teachers. The site has useful resources for developing inquiry based professional learning communities.

In fact, since I drafted the comments above about Kim and Neil, Kim organized a web conference using Elluminate and brought together a dozen consultants to discuss the meaning of job embedded staff development. I was inspired by some new ideas to better integrate our teaching context into powerful professional development.

Unbeknownst to these two, they have inspired me to push harder for quality PD as well as share more widely. They are examples of a great contribution to the field.

The Eagle Rock School version of professional development has some similarities. School leadership and staff identify an instructional need (i.e., literacy practices) and we introduce and model how some of that instruction can be incorporated into one's practice. Then teachers are asked to incorporate in a way that makes sense to them and they (a) are observed, videotaped and receive feedback from colleagues, (b) bring their lesson plans and reflections of how implementation went back to a small group and use protocols to receive feedback and (c) bring student work produced as a result of implementation and we use protocols to dig into what we can infer from the student work.

We keep this focus for one school year. Planning the time together is done with a core team of teachers and leadership but all meetings are open so interested additional teachers can come and plan sessions anytime they want. We run the PD planning sessions itself as a critical friends group using protocols to look at our plans and studying some common text together (i.e, reading Linda Darling Hammond).

I am excited about how we can improve professional development here as well as connecting with educators world wide to help me in this endeavor. Maybe Twitter does have something to offer. Follow me at @tiomikel.

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