Friday, January 30, 2015

Ending "Inservice Futility"

    I've been thinking a great deal about how to deliver the most "bang for the buck" during teacher inservice days. The purpose of an inservice is to enhance and improve the skills of our professional educators, to instruct and inform staff regarding changes or updates to curriculum, technology, protocols, and to provide pertinent information regarding local, state, and national policies. Most importantly, inservice days can be used for data analysis, instructional planning, and sharing best practices. Truly, there is no shortage of topics to be "delivered" on any given inservice day - so much, in fact, that each department, administrator, or program has to literally "carve" time to present anything on an inservice.
   Currently, a limited number of inservice days are sprinkled across the school year calendar. When they arrive, most educators are just looking to break the water's surface to gulp fresh air before diving back into the melee that comprises any given school day. And while they come up for air to take that gasp, we (administrators) often try to cram as much as possible into them. The result is they sink back into the waters with even more weight on their shoulders. What's more, there might be very little follow-through to assure topics presented have been effectively adopted or implemented. This lack of follow-through is in no way attributed to negligence or lack of effort; quite the contrary. It is a result of the innumerable tasks and responsibilities faced by both teachers and administrators upon returning to the "normal" school day. 
   As the instructional technology administrator for our district, I am faced with the challenge of providing the most effective PD possible during my "slices" of inservice day time. We have employed a coaching model in an attempt to provide "point-of'service" support for each building in our district. However, our coaches are also classroom teachers, so their time to prepare, support, and provide follow through on top of meeting "on-demand" technology needs is heavily restricted. We have worked to support the growth of PLN's by our teachers, and in some cases, our admins are using social media as a communication and PD tool for their staff. But the needs of teachers vary greatly. We're still trying to find the best possible balance in providing ongoing, on-demand professional development that has an accountability component while motivating teachers to take the time to learn, embrace new developments, and implement them in the classroom. Currently, we're planning to pilot an online PD service that will give teachers and administrators choices regarding both the kind and timing of technology training they want. We'll see if this approach proves effective, but it will still require both follow-through and accountability to work optimally. 
   I am not alone in this challenge. School leaders across the nation have been calling for an examination of professional development practices in an effort to find the most effective methods for developing and sustaining instructional improvement and student achievement. The authors of the MoreThanATech blog see the same concerns, and recently I saw a call by the Alabama ASCD to change how we deliver and evaluate professional development. I have included this link to the MoreThanATech blog; it is well worth reading to view how one district is trying to address PD and meet the diversity of needs among its staff. Hopefully, we can glean some wisdom and retool a practical, effective approach to PD that not only proves to be effective in the classroom, but also raises the level of expectation for teachers to take charge of their own professional learning outside of "inservice" days.