Student-delivered PD: An idea whose time has come?

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

A collection of thoughts about P-12 professional development, with a (hopefully) whiz-bang ending…

Big idea 1: Most current staff development is awful.

We have known for decades what leads to powerful adult learning and what constitutes effective professional development. Yet the 3– or 4–days per year, ‘sit and get,’ one-size-fits-all training model still persists on a large scale. Shame on us.

Big idea 2: School vision statements are feckless.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a school organization that doesn’t have a vision, mission, or purpose statement that says blah blah blah life long learning blah blah blah. And yet we don’t really model ‘life long learning’ very well. Administrators feel that they can show no weakness in front of staff or parents. Teachers feel that they must be the experts before they can ‘teach’ students. No one has tried to operationalize the concept or delineate what it actually looks like. In terms of impact on daily practice, it’s a meaningless feel-good aphorism (much like all kids can learn). Shame on us.

Big idea 3: Schools have a great deal of internal expertise.

At the risk of impacting my occasional consulting income, I’m willing to say that most districts would be better served by having in-house experts deliver training rather than paying some outside guru big bucks to come in for a day (or hour). There’s a tremendous wealth of in-house expertise that goes ignored within school organizations. Shame on us.

Big idea 4: Students are experts too.

Tapscott & Williams note in Wikinomics (2006) that this is the first time in human history when children are authorities on something really important (p. 47). In other words, when it comes to digital technologies, our kids often are (or, given the chance, could rapidly become) the experts. We ignore this expertise in most school organization. Shame on us.

All of this leads me to…

Big idea 5: Have students deliver technology-related training!

Put Big Ideas 1 and 3 together and it’s clear that school organizations should do a better job of peer-to-peer training. Throw in Big Ideas 2 and 4 and we see that many school organizations could easily structure technology training opportunities for educators, parents, and students where children and adolescents were the instructors or co-instructors. The kids get the learning power and social/emotional benefit of being teachers and leaders. Adults and other students learn from the true experts.

All we have to do is walk away from our egos and our fear and embrace our mission statements, the ones that say that we all should be learners and say nothing about from whom we must learn.

How about it? You ready to start doing this?

22 Responses to “Student-delivered PD: An idea whose time has come?”

  1. I’m ready, I’m game, I’m keen and I’m eager.

    My students this year alone have taught me:
    – how to bluetooth between devices
    – how to use mobiles to film and edit videos
    – how to really take advantage of the tools in front of them.

    Today I set my students the challenge to set the standard for their teachers when it comes to presentations and use of powerpoint specifically. Teachers need to get over themselves, we can’t be the “gate keepers” to knowledge anymore and we need to accept that it’s not a weakness to admit that.

    Thanks for yet another great blog entry!


  2. I would love to do this. It would give students such a sense of empowerment.

    I’ll go one step further: what if students got to design, implement, and choose which teachers attended PD. Would it look different?

  3. There are many schools out there doing just this! And it works. We’ve got 12 years of research that shows that teachers who work with a GenYES student to integrate technology change what they do in the classroom, say that they better understand the need for classroom technology, and directly attribute that change to working with a GenYES student.

    Teaching students to be teachers empowers the whole learning community and models collaborative, respectful connections between humans of all ages.

  4. I think more clarification around what is professional development might be required. While I’m comfortable with students providing all sorts of technical support/training and even insights on how they use the technology, I’m not as comfortable with them involved with my “professional learning”. I define professional learning as the understanding and exploration of pedagogy, learning theory and effective practice. Not sure I’m willing to abdicate that to someone with no experience or education in that field. Again, not saying that students can participate at some level but I don’t think I’d want them doing much more than providing technical training. But as we are learning, technology is far more than simple “how to” demonstrations.

  5. Students must deliver to multiple audiences – it is part of ISTE standards.

    Currently digiteen students ARE delivering digital citizenship training to other students here at Westwood. We also have them work one on one with teachers to set up Skype and learn “the ropes.” Teachers need people to help them 1:1.

    That being said, I think the “official” PD from students is going to take a long time to recognize for a variety of reasons.

    But I have friends who now have student tech support teams, students supporting integration of new technologies, and students teaching teachers 1:1 – this has been happening for a while.

    I do think that students have a place and a role and we must be careful, though to think we know what that place is.

    The standard is excellence in education and we must approach that by means that make sense for both the student and the teacher.

  6. It is very interesting to think of using students in this manner to provide staff development to teachers. I agree that teachers often feel that they need to be experts at everything, instead of being willing to try new things. It is healthy for students to see teachers willing to try new things, even when they are challenging and sometimes frustrating.

    I recently came across this brief BBC article from last year. It describes how one college is using their students to encourage professors to use updated instructional methods. I think that using students in this manner is motivating and facilitates true learning partnerships between staff and students.

  7. Dean, I think any conversation around “what PD really is” is good, because we’ve not been doing much that works. It seems to me that bringing new tools, techniques, and resources into the mix is necessary, especially when these resources help teachers where they need it most, in their classroom.

    PD defined simply as a one-way transmission of a narrow range of information seems too confining for the needs of today’s classrooms. And even then, if a student helping a teacher with classroom technology does nothing more than help a teacher actually implement training they received in a workshop, that in and of itself seems extremely valuable. Just like laying cable, you can claim to have an excellent network, but if the signal stops short of the TV, you can’t say you accomplished anything.

    And you know, that “last mile” is the classic problem in both cable and PD – the most difficult and expensive.

  8. We currently use PLC’s for our staff development. We have determined that we are the experts on our district and that our teachers are the experts in their content area. What we have found is that this year we have the most meaningful and well received inservices. This truly seems like the next logical step. If we are the experts on our district, then it should follow that our students are the experts on themselves.

    I love the idea and greatly appreciate your blog, thanks Scott.

  9. Sylvia,

    I guess I’m seeing a shift locally in terms of what constitutes Professional Development. Many are getting the just in time supports with technology can be delivered more effectively and equitably by using online resources and connections.

    Professional learning, in many jurisdictions are focusing on the power of conversations about teaching and learning.

    I think students can play an integral role in how we use technology and it can make a huge difference but I would hesitate to call this professional learning.

    I’m comfortable in calling it technology training/support but not comfortable calling it professional development or even the more appropriate term, professional learning.

  10. The idea that we have a lot to learn from our students is a good one and involving students in curriculum development and professional development is absolutely something we should be doing.
    I worry that if we are relying on students to deliver professional development, the focus of these sessions will be on technology and not pedagogy. There is no question our students have a wealth of knowledge in the use and capabilities of the tools in our schools. However, I would prefer to see more training on integration of technology in service of instruction than pure technical training alone. Perhaps partnering students with an experienced teacher would be a way to address this issue. I don’t see much value in PD sessions for teachers on ‘using word processors’. Rather, I would suggest courses that focus on the writing process when using word processing or collaborative writing using word processors. I think it would be a real risk that putting students in the role of training teachers would create a real risk of divorcing technology from instruction and undermine the value of the technology.

    Secondly, I think we would need to actively attend to the differences in the ways that students and adults view technology. Someone that works with teachers learning technology should be able to anticipate common frustrations and confusion that those of us not born into a world of computers and the Internet experience when learning new tools. These gaps in understanding may be confusing to a student and exacerbate, not minimize that gap. The bottom line is that just because someone is good with technology does not mean they will automatically be good at teaching technology, anymore than someone that is good with math can teach math. They need to understand how people learn, whether the learner is a child or an adult.

    Your fundamental premise that we have a wealth of resources in our students is an excellent one. Yes, we should absolutely make better use of them and involve them actively in our process.

  11. I couldn’t agree more. Students as teachers or tech support and not necessarily for pedagogical PD, but because tech is such a great vehicle for students to develop those communication skills we want them to internalize. You never know a subject better, than when you have to teach it.
    Yes, it also helps teachers which is a great side benefit, but most importantly the students learn how to communicate, work together, manage and present. All in a real setting with actual consequences.

  12. My middle school first got an internet connection in 1996. I began teaching a course for teacher and brought in two young men to teach a session. They had been running a local bulletin board system for a couple years so it just made sense. It was fun to see them teaching the teachers! And the teachers were in awe at how much these students knew about something that wasn’t taught in school. Later, when I was doing a web development course, I brought in a student who had developed a website related to the Titanic. Again, teachers were amazed at what this student had taught himself and the connections he was making between Titanic survivors and their descendants.

  13. Another example of cheap labor, eh?

    Next thing you know, another country will detest the practice, claiming it is exploitative of children. We’ll have to prove that our children have safe working conditions, that they ‘enjoy’ making socks in our factories, that they really do love ‘poking’ each other.

    And that, of course, will signal the beginning of the end of student-run PD.

  14. We tried this with Middle School students presenting to parents during a Parent Coffee meeting offered by the school. As part of their computer class, Grade 8 students had designed Web 2.0 presentations based on the Shift Happens model. 2 Students presented on Facebook to the parents. The feedback from parents was great, they felt the gained a better understanding and enjoyed being able to discuss it with students who were a similar age to their own children. What was more interesting was the reflection of the students. The students found the questions that the parents were asking to be surprising, in the sense that they did not realize that parents were so unaware of how facebook worked and what it could do.

  15. In our district we are fortunate to have support for Big Idea #3. There are two of us who are responsible for technology integration and a number of teacher experts who support the work. We really do try to address our adult learners and their curriculum in authentic ways.
    Often the result is “pockets” of integration. Teachers who want to integrate technology do. Teachers who “don’t have time”, don’t. The resulting lack of student equity is another whole issue.
    My question: If students (and yes, they are often the “true experts”), do the PD, will that move teachers to integrate the technology with curriculum? Or, and this is my greatest concern, will they have students providing tech integration support in the classroom as well?

  16. Some of our schools are asking students to be ‘tech mentors,’ and this mostly occurs during after school clubs with optional attendance by teachers. Those who attend are excited, and the kids feel empowered.

    We also do a lot of PD in PLC collaborative teams. I agree that teachers embrace the time to work collaboratively, and that a lot of good comes from this. However, sometimes they don’t look outside their own world to see what else is available.

    When I bring up new tools or new theories, I often hear the age-old excuses: “we don’t have time,” “our plates are too full,” or “I can’t do this in my classroom.” I agree that it would be refreshing to be in a place where kids and teachers could explore learning– without the experts in the front of the room and the students simply consuming information.

  17. This is a great blog topic, with interesting discussion. Having said this, I am not sure that the skills that allow integration of technology in education are the same as most students utilize on a daily basis.

    My concern would be the use of technology for technology’s sake. Any professional development should focus on better implementing the curriculum. The focus on technology should be only on the ways it will achieve this.

    I have to agree with Dean Shareski

    “I’m comfortable in calling it technology training/support but not comfortable calling it professional development or even the more appropriate term, professional learning.”

  18. Some of the students I have been working with have proven to be excellent teachers. I have a group of students right now working with me on preparing a professional development program for my staff on the uses of various applications and also on the potential uses of various personal electronic devices. I am working with a group of students to allow for an electronic portfolio template we can use in our school for both staff and for students.

  19. I tried recently to give students the opportunity to create digital portfolios. The results were discouraging. I had to use my faculty password to open our firewall so students could access the sites I’d chosen to use, but in doing so I’d opened up EVERYTHING for their access.

    It often seems like my school’s technology curricula are ten or fifteen years behind the curve, probably more, although our technology hard- and soft-ware are utterly up-to-date. the students feel (and are) disempowered, and the administration is uncurious about how to make technology work better for everyone — students, faculty, administrators.

    How do you get the conversation started on these subjects?

  20. Hi Andrew — I work in a district that is just a frustrating. The IT people here see themselves as the guardians of the IT territory and in an effort to standardize everything going on have developed an elaborate process to apply for permission to download anything new and then nearly always say no — and we’re one of the largest school districts in Canada.

    Here’s my advice: pick one interesting project to start with your kids that does not require off limits resources or massive changes; get the ear of one interested administrator; find a like-minded teaching partner (well-connected if possible — so you are not working alone); get your project off the ground and then show it to lots of people — other kids, the parents of the kids involved, interested colleagues after school, your friendly admin person (who you have asked to bring one other like-minded admin along to see what you are up to), any other helpful contacts your well-connected teacher partner can think of; then think about one tool/change that will make your life a lot easier; choose carefully — don’t ask for the stars or the moon but for something that is really within their current ability to accede to; start putting your idea about — make it clear you are not going away; start another project with kids and go round again; offer to speak to a few other colleagues who might be interested in what you’ve managed to do so far — perhaps at your district’s convention; take a kid & a parent with you when you present (either live or on video)– have stories ready about how your work really impacted the kids in a wonderful way; invite the next circle of interested admins; when you finally get permission to go ahead with that single change you championed, make great use of it; develop a student work showcase and put on an evening of show and tell. Invite more people to see your work. Have more testimonials and stories ready.

    You have to grow the circle of interested people. You have to grow the excitement about the process of change you want to engender. There will be some people who are interested. ‘Show and tell’ them first and then let them talk to the circle around them and the circle will begin to expand.

    Make your results interesting; be sure you let everyone know how much help anyone you involved along the way was in furthering this endeavour (even if they just didn’t get in the wasy!). Make it obvious you are not going away and it will be easier to let you have some sort of “demonstration project” status because you are not asking for anything very unreasonable, can do a lot with free resources, and will make the school/district look very good as well. Make a success video; put it on YouTube.

    When you get discouraged, think about the difference you are making in the kids’ lives — after all — this is for them.

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