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From Italy: Speeding Trains and Professional Development

Photo by Rohit Gangwar on

Imagine traveling on a train that takes 11 hours to make a trip that takes seven hours by car. Then imagine getting on a train speeding along at 150 mph and taking less than two hours to travel 144 miles. Astounding, not really. My train travel experience on the West Coast is not exactly flattering. However, I recently traveled to Italy, where train travel is much the norm as trains from significant cities depart every ten minutes. Train travel in Italy is considered among the best in Europe. You can purchase tickets online or at the train stations, jump on a train, travel in comfort, and arrive at your destination even on a slower train in a reasonable time. Once on the train, your ticket is scanned by a train team member, who may also check your COVID vaccination status as well. The whole experience is streamlined and uses the latest in technology.

This travel experience had me thinking about efficiency. It seems that we are still utilizing a staff development model that is stuck in the 20th Century. Most educational institutions do not use professional development models that harness technology efficiently or productively. Using the train analogy, all the trains are traveling on a typically late schedule and not accommodating to the passenger, the teacher. The one size fits all approach is the go-to model for districts and professional site development. It is no wonder that so many teachers have no desire to actively participate or, in some cases, even attend staff development sessions. Other variables such as time and content certainly factor into the dissatisfaction among educators as well.

I am currently finishing up on the Canvas Certified Educator program. The courses emphasize and personalized learning experience for teachers and students alike. For each assignment, choices are provided on how the participant can submit their work. Each student chooses the area of focus that fits their experience and expertise. I learned that effective professional development is based on more than just the activities through this six-month process. There must be a planning process that is layered. Activities cannot be inserted into sessions without knowing their purpose and whether they meet the needs of the participants. Furthermore, an evaluation and follow-up are needed to determine the efficacy of the session or sessions.

Rarely in my experience as an educator and even a presenter did any facilitator take this approach. I found many conference sessions to be quite dull, as well as the dreaded district staff development sessions. Many of the district sessions were mandatory and funneled down from county or state levels and thus lack the interactive process educators long for. However, even with the compulsory pre-service sessions, very few held my attention. The most impactful professional development that I participated in changed my teaching. It involved incentives, interactions with topic experts, months of follow-up, and lesson production.

As educators, traveling through the 21st Century is similar to the high-speed train in Italy; the landscape is flying by. To survive, educators must have everything in their arsenal to ensure students receive an education that will prepare them for the future. But to do so, teachers need to be ready. Professional development needs to move beyond the models utilized for the past four decades and adopt the available technology. Providing 24-7 access for courses, creating learning incentives, assessing the effectiveness of sessions, and utilizing LMS platforms are all viable solutions. Funding needs to be redirected to solid professional development models and not wasted on band-aid-type sessions that have minimal impact on teachers’ improvement and student achievement. Plenty of models exist, and now, with the pandemic having a profound effect on education, it is time for a paradigm shift to bring professional development up to speed.

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