EdTech & Design, Opinion, Teaching

Meeting the Challenge of Infusing Relevant PD in Schools

A combination of face-to-face learning with online engagement will help educators meet the needs of their diverse student populations

We believe professional learning is highly valued by educators and school-based leaders. However, infusing relevant and focused PD in schools is often a cumbersome task for school-based and district leaders given the time constraints and costs associated to day-to-day realities at the school level. Educators in schools who meet once per month for their professional learning may not be able to sustain a common purpose and ongoing dialogue and may be prone to dismiss or forget key ideas from their sessions if they don’t meet more frequently. Ironically, districts that have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, the professional learning community (PLC) model may discover other barriers confronting them[1] [2].

Elsewhere, we have been critical of the timing of PLCs in schools[3]. Imagine being an educator and getting up each week during a Canadian winter and travelling into a PLC session for a 7:00 a.m. meeting prior to preparing to teach all day. Or perhaps even more exhausting for educators is attending a session for one hour each week after they have finished teaching all day. This adds minimal value to the pedagogy of the educator; instead, it potentially creates mild to major anxiety and toxicity among staff and affects the school culture negatively, especially in busy schools where teachers are already performing multiple roles (i.e. coaching and leadership activities) in conjunction with their planning, teaching and assessment practices. It becomes even more problematic for educators and leaders if their district adopts this professional learning format in a vertical top-driven manner while offering limited choice, voice and opportunities for collaboration among teachers to engage in deep, dialogical and meaningful professional learning. If this is the case, and I have learned that it is in many districts in Canada, PD is then “contrived” and educators will not engage in the PD no matter how robust and clearly articulated the topic is laid out for them[4]. In our view, teacher energy and wisdom can be shared much more effectively, which may then improve the educational lives of the students they are working with. We would like to present another PD option for educators in Canada to consider. 

How can school leaders provide relevant, flexible and personalized learning opportunities for both new and experienced teachers?

Teachers and administration teams are trapped in an educational era of pressing immediacy where “(T)here are always things to be done, decisions to be made, children’s needs to be met, not just every day, but every minute, every second”[5]. And this is a major reason why weekly PD sessions within the PLC framework may not be relevant or even the best fit for many schools in our country.

In our work, we have been considering alternate professional learning models for busy Canadian educators[6]. As technology become increasingly available, we believe that this may be the game changers for school districts and allow educators a chance to invent PD frameworks that may be better suited and infused into their professional lives. Using the Desire2Learn Learning Management System (D2L LMS) as our teaching and learning model, we believe it’s a viable application that may be used by teachers in schools across Canada. As we have nearly 800 graduate students in our masters and Doctorate programs, many who are learning through the D2L platform, we have to ask the question, can teachers in school districts across this large country learn the same way for the time they must devote to their professional learning in schools? Or, could a combination of face-to-face learning with online engagement help educators meet the diverse needs of their diverse student populations in Canada?

Our belief is that yes, they can. We are stretched across different climates, cultures and time zones. One of the many benefits of online learning management systems like D2L is that the technology has the potential to break down the barriers of time and location. Using D2L provides the learner with the ability to be educated whenever and wherever it fits into their busy schedules. Imagine dropping a child off at hockey practice in the morning and while waiting at the rink the learner is able to log into an online professional development course or professional learning session with other educators from their school, district or even with educators from across Canada. The networking possibilities are endless.

In this professional learning format, the learner is able to continuously build their educational and networking capacities by reading over professional development content and articles. They may contribute to and read discussions where many participants engaged in the topic share ideas and experiences. Key ideas can then be brought back to their own schools to share with colleagues and additional community educational stakeholders such as parents.

Many of us are presently using these online learning management systems to help educate our students at the university level; we believe it is entirely possible and cost-efficient for public school teachers to take advantage of these digital tools to educate themselves and help their students navigate their world. We feel educators can construct relevant and timely topics for professional learning that will change the way PD is viewed by educators throughout the country. We have reported elsewhere that “online teacher communities provide an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences beyond the classroom walls”[7]. This PD format may provide school districts greater flexibility to provide important learning topics for Canadian teachers, while also inviting them to engage more deeply in their learning. We believe that “with commitment educators can feel connected through the relationships they form on the D2L platform and can create district, provincial, national and even international teacher networks, which otherwise, they might not do or get a chance to do in a face to face context”[8]. We believe this format for professional learning is worth considering.

[1] DuFour, R. (2007, September). Professional Learning Communities: A bandwagon, an idea worth considering, or our best hope for high levels of learning? Middle School Journal, 4-8.
[2] Fullan, M. (2007). Change theory as a force for school improvement. In J. M. Burger, C. Webber & P. Klinck (Eds.), Intelligent Leadership (pp. 27-39). The Netherlands: Dordrect.
[3] Hamm, L. (2009). “I’m just glad I’m here: Stakeholder perceptions from one School in a community undergoing demographic changes on the Alberta grasslands. Unpublished dissertation from the University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta.
[4] Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Hamm, L. D. & Cormier, K. (2014, Spring). Building instructional capacity: The new face of professional development. Canadian Association of Principals. http://marketzone.ca/ebooks/CAP/CAP_T0214_EBOOK_SPRING_2014/index.html
[7] ibid
[8] ibid

This blog post is part of CEA’s focus on the state of Teacher PD in Canada, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s Teachers as Learners theme issue and The Facts on Education fact sheet, What is Effective Teacher Professional Development? Please contact info@cea-ace.ca if you would like to contribute a blog post to this series.

Meet the Expert(s)

lyle hamm and kevin cormier

Kevin Cormier

Instructional Technology Specialist and the System Administrator for Desire2Learn (Learning Management System)

Kevin Cormier is an Instructional Technology Specialist and the System Administrator for Desire2Learn (Learning Management System) with the Centre for Enhanced Teaching and Learning ...

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Lyle Hamm

Assistant Professor of Educational Administration and Leadership

Lyle Hamm is an Assistant Professor of Educational Administration and Leadership in the Faculty of Education at the University of New Brunswick. He teaches courses in Educational Theory and School Administration, Teacher Supervision, and Leadership in Culturally Diverse Schools.

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