The large amount of online resources built to enhance student learning is staggering. There’s no dearth in what can be implemented. Instead, the hurdle to teachers adopting new best practices is actually trifold:
- Lack of time
- Lack of communication
- Lack of confidence
Time is a person’s most valuable resource. When dividing a day between eating, sleeping, being with loved ones, and earning money, it’s difficult to learn new things. Responsibilities pile up pretty quickly for adults, and this means less time to explore unfamiliar territory.
Communication has traditionally been poor throughout many schools and school districts. There are a myriad of reasons why this is. In my opinion, a major reason is because a lot of people feel more comfortable going it alone. Collaboration and transparency get the heart beating quickly–better to stay an island.
Confidence grows when you’ve had time to learn something and experience success. Some walk around with false bravado, but most of us appreciate exposure to new curriculum and technology before confidence and mastery appear.
I believe one of the best ways to enhance student learning is by giving teachers more time, better ways to communicate, and helping them gain mastery over technology (which, for me, is synonymous with curriculum) and instructional best practices so they are confident.
That sounds really nice, but how is this accomplished?
Professional development (PD) can initially be daunting and expensive, but every school district has the ability to build effective professional development sessions. Coordinators just have to start with one idea in mind: crowdsourcing.
It’s important to unpack “crowdsourcing” before moving forward. I’m using the word in the following way (my definition): “Contributing to the collective good by outsourcing work within your tribe so everyone benefits.” To crowdsource in education, you build capacity within fellow teachers who in turn create passionate edtech niches and share that passion and knowledge with everyone in their school or district.
Boom! That’s it. Instead of paying consultants to come in and blah, blah, blah about something teachers have heard over and over, pay teachers to seek out best practices, learn them, harness them, and share them with as many people as possible. The money is staying within the district and local community, and a sustainable network of motivated people can teach colleagues. (If you’re wondering about the nuts and bolts of this human infrastructure, check out what I wrote here.)
And don’t let this be forgotten: Motivated people are necessary because they continue learning. We need individuals who will learn, teach, learn again, teach, and so on because everything is in flux. The need for continual PD has never been so important, and there’s no way for one person to know everything. To create institutions of learning that actually foster learning, everyone needs to evolve. If you’re not getting stronger, you’re getting weaker. If you’re not learning new things, your knowledge base is dwindling.
Recently, my school district put the above into action. In one day we offered twenty-two 50-minute sessions taught by teachers within our school district. Attendees picked five of the sessions they thought would be the most helpful. We named the event PBVCon, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Why did a majority of teachers like it?
- They had time to choose their own path of learning. Autonomy is a powerful thing.
- They communicated with knowledgeable presenters with skin in the game, and they communicated with each other.
- Their levels of confidence grew. Perhaps not to an extravagant degree, but there was definitely an increase in the belief: “I can do this!”
Time, communication, and confidence. Crowdsourcing, which is just another version of the age-old technique called “jigsawing,” is the most powerful method schools and districts can adopt in order to help students.
Empower those around you, and everyone thrives.