Project Based Learning - a relatively new idea in high school education, but something I was exposed to many years ago (21) as a freshman at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). I received my Bachelor's Degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1992 and my education at WPI has served me well in a variety of capacities. WPI is mainly a science, technology, engineering, and math school, with some other majors mixed in.
Professional development is constantly listed as a major factor in improving teaching and learning. Effective professional development is not always delivered and funds are sometimes wasted. A survey by Education Week shows that 77% of respondents feel that their schools and districts do not use professional development funds effectively. In today's financial crisis, this is a major issue. So, how do you deliver effective professional development with less funding? How do we make sure that professional development is timely, interesting, and relevant?
The first option to save money is to use in-house "experts". There is no need to go to expensive outside contractors and consultants when you probably have staff with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in your own building. Look for staff who have extra experience or knowledge in technology, curriculum development, tips and tricks, and other ideas. Have them run professional development sessions. In lieu of payment, offer them double CEU credits or other incentives that are free or low cost. Talk to local businesses about donating gift cards or items to your school and use those, or buy them at a discount. Even if you pay them contractual rates for this kind of thing, it will still be much less expensive than bringing in an outside person.
Another idea is to utilize some of the free professional development available on line. Many conferences have virtual conferences that faculty and staff can attend for free on line. Some colleges and professional development providers offer sessions online for free or reduced fees. You can also give staff a list of web sites that go over the material you want them to gain experience in and then give them time to review the sites.
A great resource that I use is the Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook, from the publisher of Education Week. It is available for free in print twice a year, and also available online. They have great ideas, articles, tips, and resources for professional development.
Some other resources online include:
Connected University - over 60 courses available on the site, including technology integration, educational leadership, and curriculum. A yearly fee provides access to all classes.
iSafe - free training for educators in Internet safety.
JASON - Jason, part of the National Geographic Society, has online professional development on its science curricula.
Microsoft Office Online - free, self-paced training courses for Office 2003 and 2007.
National Endowment for the Humanities - grants for teachers
PBS Teacherline - online professional development
Look for educational web sites and magazines that offer free web casts. Use these web casts, either live or archived, as a way to present information to your staff.
This is just a small list of professional development resources available. Have your professional development committee do some Internet searches, check out the Teacher Sourcebook, and see what you can find to improve your professional development offerings without increasing your budget.
When planning Professional Development, make sure you involve a group of teachers in the planning. Have some veteran teachers, mid-career, and newbies in the group to make sure your professional development plans address all of their needs. Work on a small number of topics each year instead of dropping 10 different topics on the teachers with no time to implement or get follow up. Zero in on initiatives that are already in place and help teachers implement them in their classroom. Don't try to bring in every new idea or initiative as this will overwhelm your staff and let to none of it getting implemented. Get feedback from the faculty and staff on what kinds of training they need and want. Use a survey, or other feedback device to get their needs and wants to use when planning the years training. If teachers are involved in the planning and decisions, you will get more buy-in during the training.
Make sure that every professional development session ends with practical tips on how to implement the idea, topic, or initiative in the classroom. Teachers need to know why this is a good thing to do and how to use it in their classroom. Concrete, specific examples are a must.
When teachers attend off-site training, have them come back and present what they learned to the rest of the staff. Set up a blog where these teachers can post their notes and observations for others to see. Post links to the training provider's web site for reference. Teachers can even post to the blog while they are at the event.
Remember that one size does not fit all. Tailor some professional development by subject area or grade. This will lead to more concrete examples of how to use the training in the classroom. Have people from these areas do the planning also.
Integrate professional development with your normal staff meetings. Have one great idea or tool or tip presented at the end of the meeting. If your meeting agenda is short, have a short professional development session during the meeting too. It's amazing how much can be accomplished in 20 minutes.
Embed professional development in the daily schedule. Emails of tips, ideas, and resources should be sent out to the staff. Have other teachers and staff available to help teachers implement what they've learned. Set up a staff blog for teachers to contribute to.
Many teachers will attend training events that are not necessarily run by official CEU providers. Come up with a way to have that training count towards their professional development requirements. Many times, this type of training is free, but teachers are hesitant to go to it because it will not count.
Some professional development sessions can also be reserved for collaboration time. Give teachers time to meet and work in groups to share ideas, tips, struggles, and triumphs. Also give them time to plan how to implement what they've learned in professional development sessions into their classroom. If teachers are not given this planning time, they may never use what they have learned.
Another idea I've seen recently is to have some students attend some of the professional development sessions and use these students as assistants to help implement some of the new ideas. These students can also give feedback on any ideas they have or any challenges that they may see in using that new idea in class.
Technology is a big part of education now. Teachers need to know how to use technology to improve teaching and learning and professional development must address this. In Connecticut, teachers are required to attend training in educational technology. Have teachers who already use technology teach other faculty about it. Send one or two teachers to train-the-trainer sessions so that they teach the rest of the staff. Have a technology open support session where technology savvy teachers, educational technology specialists, and IT staff are on hand to answer any and all questions teachers have or help them with new technologies that they have been working with.
Remember, the goal is to give teachers interesting, timely, relevant professional development that can help them improve the teaching and learning in their classroom. It should be easy to implement, have specific examples of how to implement, and have support and follow up resources available to the faculty. Make professional development something that the teachers look forward to and want to attend and make sure that they have time to plan out their implementation.
In this day and age of reduced, or non-existent, funding, technology resources can help you continue offering rich professional development opportunities for your staff.
Sources of research: Teacher Magazine, TechLearning.com, Edutopia.org.