Friday, July 10, 2009

Making PD Sticky

I've been thinking a lot about professional development (PD) and technology integration the last little while.

Questions by Oberazzi

My Questions:
  • How do you make PD sticky?  We've all gone to a conference or PD day, learned some wonderful (or not) things, then gone back to our classrooms never to revisit those ideas again.  How to make them sticky? 
  • How do you encourage teachers to start their own Professional Learning Networks (PLN) and provide them with the skills to be successful? 
  • How do you support the sharing of ideas and resources within your local area?  I've been very lucky to connect with wonderful educators from around the English speaking world, but know very little about the teachers in my own small school district.
  • How do you truly integrate technology and support your teachers while doing so?
Over at Charlie Roy's blog I left this comment on technology integration:
The training element of introducing new technology is always a challenge. The approach that you took this year sounds like a good start. You definitely have to meet people where they are at. In my dream school the director of technology would be a consultant. S/he would meet with teachers one on one; the individual teachers would outline what their objectives with a particular unit or project are and the director of tech would come up with a variety of ways to integrate technology. Doing a poetry unit? Let me suggest using Wordles, or Voice Threads, or... and here's how to proceed.
I think that you also have to find the people in your school or district who are really into integrating technology into their teaching and/or professional learning and support them like crazy.  You're going to see great things from them and the goal is that they will inspire others.  I'm not sure that converting people overtly is going to work, but diffusion just might do it.

What do you think?  Do you have answers to my questions above?  I'm happy for some push back and sharing of ideas.  Cheers!


  1. Such an important consideration for all PD - one I have been thinking about a lot - will be quoting you about making it 'sticky', it is perfect.
    One-off workshops / presentations often get me all excited but it is difficult to keep a focus and develop momentum. PD over time is the only way to make it stick. I agree that if you select a group of people who are motivated progress can be made- especially if they are interested in getting support initially with the understanding that they will be willing to support others moving forward.
    Our school was recently involved in the BCUDL project through SET BC. They select schools and districts who already have some level of familiarity with the concepts and with technology. Since then we have been spreading the ideas we got during that project to others in our school and district. Next year in my new job I will be supporting teachers in their classrooms learning to use technology to differentiate instruction. Will need to be very focused on your 'making PD sticky' question and will post my thoughts on my blog.

  2. Well, these are some big questions! I assume the "sticky" phrase is in reference to the book Made to Stick. I do think the book provides some insight for PD providers as it really is based on a lot of the psychology of learning.

    First, I don't think you can make much stick in a "one-shot" workshop. You really need to provide an iterative process that involves learning a bit, messing around in the classroom, reflecting, learning more, implementing, reflecting...etc.

    Second, you really need to introduce a bit of conflict to make things stick. Piaget (perturbations), Conceptual Change theories (cognitive conflict), and plenty of other research shows that a conflict between what a learner expects and what a learner observes is often the starting point for real learning.

    Third...building a PLN. I think this really takes a lot of trust between participants and facilitator. They need to commit to putting in effort over a period of multiple weeks. I am currently teaching a grad course on using web tools in science. I introduced the concept of PLNs in the second week. Some grabbed on right away. Others are starting to see the benefit after a few weeks. I am sure a bunch will not see the benefit and drop the effort as soon as the course is done. An effective "PLN" takes quite a bit of effort and trust - it is beyond the comfort level of many people. Also, there often is not immediate gratification, so the benefit is not immediately apparent.

  3. Great questions about technology integration and ProD. In fact these are the same issues that I've been debating this week in one of my Masters courses. A lot of time and effort goes into converting people to the tech-side, but I firmly believe that the greatest change will come from within and schools need to support those that have the knowledge and desire for technology.

    Leading others in greater technology integration can quickly become a very time-consuming task when you have a full teaching load as well. Helping others feel comfortable and confident requires patience, support, and problem solving skills. I really like your ideal vision of the technology director being a consultant. Providing opportunities to mentor, play, and team-teach will go a long way for professional development and "stickiness".

    Glad I found your blog!

  4. I agree with the solving a problem for people. when you take time to listen to a current problem and then offer a tech solution, you can affect change. It may be slow, but it sticks because it is personal. In a training session I held this week, I gave minimal directions and then opportunity to play and create. It is obvious that it is an approach foreign to what teachers are used to. It would be great if they had something concrete to take back. But once they get into the classroom, how can you make it stick and make changes there?

  5. First, thanks to all of you for taking the time to comment! I really appreciate hearing your ideas--it definitely helps me to understand these issues better :-)

    @Brunsell, I agree that one off workshops are not going to stick unless there is follow up. I'm curious to hear how you would see introducing conflict into teacher PD. Your last point about starting up PLNs is well taken. If I think about my own PLN it is not something that I consciously set out to create, at least not at first. It took time to grow and as you said, there was not immediate gratification. That is where supporting those teachers who are already building their PLN can help; others will hopefully start to see the wonderful rewards these people are reaping.

    @Anita, thanks for sharing your experience with the BCUDL project. It makes sense to focus support to those schools and individuals who are already familiar with the technology; you'll see results faster and then hopefully that school will inspire others to follow suit.

    @Jaki, you said "A lot of time and effort goes into converting people to the tech-side, but I firmly believe that the greatest change will come from within and schools need to support those that have the knowledge and desire for technology." I agree; you definitely cannot foist technology on people. It is still important to have those workshops or sessions aimed at everyone; this is how the message will get out to those not using tech. But you can't expect big results from this approach alone.

    @Louise, the approach you used in your training session is one that I enjoy from a participant's point of view. It is very easy to get information overload, especially when discussing the myriad of web 2.0 tools out there. And this looser structure is encouraging active participation and models independent learning. Something we should be safe doing with our colleagues, right?! I'm facilitating a couple of professional development days at the end of the summer and I really want it to be an opportunity for people to explore different tools, at their own pace, and create things that will be useful to them and use-able right away.

  6. Hi Claire,
    I think it's helpful to think of pro-d as one would approach daily teaching. How do we make things 'sticky' for our students? Varying the type of activities and strategies, making some learning active and hands-on, incorporatiing movement, discussion and social aspects of learning - all the tricks teachers use in the classroom to really engage and motivate students can be used for adult learners too. Perhaps teachers are more seasoned learners, but we're still human!

    I wanted to mention one way that my little district approaches sharing ideas/resources within the district. There's a fairly large pool of money set aside each year for collaboration. All you need to do is approach your admin with a viable collaborative project/idea involving two or more teachers and the district pays for TOC time so you can have a day or a couple of afternoons off to work together. I think that a lack of time is one of the main reasons that pro-d doesn't always stick - teachers are just too busy and don't have the time to integrate ideas and change their practice.

  7. For a time long ago I was acquainted with a man who had advanced degrees in both finance and psychology, who was an organizational consultant to top corporations. When I asked him "How do you do it?" his first comment stuck with me. "First," he said, "You have to get the top person in your hip pocket,and then whatever you ho will work." I have wotched that principle operate over time--how whatever has the top boss "in its hip pocket" is what prevails. This holds also, I believe, with transfer of training back to the work site. Are people trained in what the boss wants, and does the boss immediately and continually support and ask for the things people have just learned? If there is any distance between the training and the ruling concept on the job, remove that first, and the rest can be negotiated.

  8. @Errin, I've often wondered why many PD sessions (not all!!) do not use the instructional strategies that we know to be helpful with our own students. Trying to fit too much information in too short a time, perhaps? The approach your district takes to support collaboration sounds good. Lack of time is definitely a big obstacle.

    @Fritzcove, you said, "does the boss immediately and continually support and ask for the things people have just learned?" Definitely an important part of the equation--thanks for the reminder!

  9. @Ken, thanks for sharing what you do regarding PD. Reporting back would force me to do what I always *mean* to do: go back and revisit the notes I took and think about how to incorporate what I learned into what I do. Sharing this reflection with colleagues makes it even better :-) Not only does it get everyone thinking, but in some cases they might even act!

  10. Hi Claire,

    I agree that change will come from more than within, but I believe it's a strategy that isn't always given the credit it deserves. Technology integration will take commitment on all levels to be successful. If districts and schools supported the idea of a technology consultant it would informalize the introduction, instruction and mentoring of technology as well as provide opportunities for collaboration. When it seems like technology is becoming a directive, people may back away. As with students, some teachers are not comfortable with risk taking, especially where success doesn't seem imminent. These are the people that need more of a side-by-side approach.

    @Ken brings up a great strategy that allows us to learn more from within. Sharing! Teachers don't do enough of this ... often because of time, but setting time after PD to debrief and share is really beneficial. I know when I have done this in the past it has really helped me solidify my learning as well as I review PD notes. I hope to do a lot of sharing next year (as I move back into a brick-mortar classroom and to a school that is beginning to embrace more technology) in my subtle efforts to entice more people to the "tech-side". :)


  11. @Jaki, if I understand you correctly, you're saying that a top down approach to technology integration isn't often successful, and I would agree with that. I like your notion of "informalizing" the process. We know that there are teachers who are talented and committed when it comes to using technology to help students learn. Finding these people, nurturing and supporting them will be a successful approach.

  12. You understand me completely :) Thanks for the great blog posting BTW. I'll be continuing to follow.


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