From Now On

The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 13|No 5|January|2004
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How Teachers Learn

By Jamie McKenzie

(about author)

© 2004, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.

We know a great deal about the best ways to promote professional development. Unfortunately, most of what we know was ignored when new technologies were installed in schools during the roaring nineties.

Perhaps the leading organization in the States promoting smart thinking about teacher growth and teacher learning is the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) - a group that has been a clear and steady voice for two decades now.

If promoters of new technologies had paid attention to the planning concepts and research base offered by NSDC, we might have seen a better return on our technology investments.

The NSDC annual conference in New Orleans this December offered dozens of sessions that spoke to the challenge now facing districts that networked classrooms without seeing widespread, effective use of new technologies by the teaching staff.

How can we optimize use?

While conference sessions rarely address the technology challenge in particular, the adult learning strategies and planning concepts advanced by NSDC make a good starting point for those anxious to revise technology plans that originally overlooked or neglected professional development.

Sara Armstrong led a session on how to employ new technologies while orchestrating project-based learning units. The session was focused on pedagogy and lesson design, questioning and research.

Project Based Learning Research and Practice  
Students who work on "real world" projects where they collaborate, engage in problem-solving and critical thinking; and bring together knowledge from a variety of disciplines do better on tests, stay engaged in school, and become lifelong learners. See examples of successful projects from K-12 classrooms; learn about online and offline resources; discuss aspects of successful projects; and engage in a design process for developing classroom applications, including appropriate technology tools.

Sara Armstrong, Educational Visions, Berkeley, CA

Standards for Robust and Effective Professional Development

Few school districts have made an explicit commitment to robust adult learning programs that are adequately funded and anchored in research-based strategies. Effectiveness requires a clearly articulated set of beliefs that shape both the invention and the implementation of the programs. NSDC offers a superb set of standards that a district can adapt, adopt and then employ to shape the learning opportunities for the teaching staff - NSDC Standards for Staff Development.

Click on any of the standards below for an explanation as well as a research base to validate the standard.

Click here to purchase a printed copy of these standards from NSDC.

"School board adoption of standards is a first step," by Stephanie Hirsh, September 2003 Results

Once the standards have been adopted, the invention process should move ahead through a needs assessment. A Standards Self-Assessment instrument available is available in PDF format at "Complete directions for facilitation and a scoring guide are included along with the four-page assessment itself." This exercise will help a district team to set priorities for growth and change.

Many of the NSDC conference participants are leaders in the field eager to share stories of success as well as tales of difficulty and frustration.

A Source for Research-Based Strategies

NSDC provides a free comprehensive online library for educators seeking research findings to guide decision-making and planning. The scope, depth and value of this collection is remarkable.

Go to NSDC Library.

Market Segmentation

Unfortunately, educators sometimes focus their conference attendance, their memberships and their reading too narrowly so that those with a major responsibility for educational technologies may not avail themselves of resources such as NSDC or curriculum groups such as ASCD. In a similar pattern, one may not find many classroom teachers or principals attending conferences of teacher librarians (AASL) or higher ed researchers (AERA). This segmentation stands in the way of cross fertilization and helps to explain how a venture as robust as the networking of schools during the roaring nineties might have proceeded with so little attention to adult learning concepts and with such meagre investment in professional development. It also helps to explain how organizations can still promote models of TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) that leave out professional and organizational development.

Back to January Cover

Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie .

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