Professional Development That Worked - PD

Professional Development That Worked

Here’s my tale of a Professional Development program that transformed teacher attitudes towards teaching multimedia with their students.

Late last year, I lead (in partnership with Jolyon Burford) a Professional Development (PD) Training Project that was unlike any I’d participated in.

I’ve rarely seen such a shift in teacher attitude, such a transformation in teacher confidence. I’ve rarely seen such eagerness to continue to develop the skills learnt during the training. 

And all of this, in JUST 5 weeks. 

So allow me to set the scene and then I’ll identify the key components that made this PD transformative on so many levels.

The PD Context

The focus of the PD was developing teacher capacity for movie creation and production in the classroom. Teachers were to create an Induction Video for our English Language Learners using an iPAD or iPhone and the iMovie editing app.

All the teachers although keen to participate, had little expertise with respect to making and editing movies. 

What Made the PD work?

The Project Training Structure

The training had two key components: Technical training and In-class support and coaching.

Technical Training

Teachers participated in 3 day long training sessions (lead by Jolyon Burford) where they learnt about professional film-making – focused on Framing, Lighting, Sound and Stability (F.L.o.S.S) 

These training days also involved:

  • Application and Critique – Teachers put their learning into practice and then we critically reviewed what they produced;
  • Peer support – As teachers learnt new skills they taught others within the group. 

In-Class Support and Coaching (lead by Greg Curran)

Following the training, I worked one to one with the teachers in their classrooms, training, coaching and supporting them. And this approach proved to be pivotal to the success of the project. 

training photo

Making the PD Relevant to Teachers and Students

Some teachers initially appeared hemmed-in, and constrained in respect to creating a Professional Induction Video.

They were pre-occupied with the ‘professional’ look of the video and seeking to have a consistent ‘look’ or ‘style’ across the videos. And they didn’t feel they’d measure up on these fronts. They didn’t feel competent enough. 

It was SO interesting to see the shift when I suggested focusing on creating a video for their students and their classes: something that was relevant to them and something that they’d use in their classes. 

It was like they were freed up. Their energy and confidence levels lifted – big time. Now they had many more ideas and saw many more possibilities. 

They weren’t as concerned about measuring up on a broader scale – because as I continually reaffirmed – this video was for them and their classes – and they knew what mattered on that front.  

Acknowledging Teacher Development as it Occurred

Working one on one with teachers, I made it a point of identifying shifts I had witnessed from one session to another.

I also encouraged the teachers to reflect on their development, their aha moments, their wins and learnings. This reflective aspect was critical:

  • as teachers we’re so often rushing from one task to another – we rarely get the time to reflect or to identify how we’ve improved; 
  • as teachers we can often be pretty hard on ourselves and be a bit wary of celebrating our wins or achievements.

Identifying Problems and Fixing Them Right There and Then

As you’re probably aware, tech-related problems can have a long life-span within education. And so I was keen to counter the negative mindsets that I often encounter with teachers in respect to tech in schools. 

The in-class support component of this project, enabled ‘just-in-time learning’. I could teach and coach teachers- in relation to the skills they needed at that time. Key: relevance and need.

I also encouraged teachers to share any problems they were having. And then we sorted out them out, right away.

And if it couldn’t be solved then, we’d go away and investigate further or follow-up in our next week’s training. Here prompt follow-up was key – ensuring that problems didn’t drag on and on and on. Key: timeliness and solutions.

Diving Straight In and Getting The Students Involved

Planning was a key aspect of the training. In particular, teachers started to develop a film-makers mindset. They commented on how they were thinking about lighting, sound and framing as they went to shoot a piece of video. 

So pre-planning was critical to saving time (on the film-shoot) and to improving the overall quality of the video. However, it was critical to not let this aspect overwhelm and to delay action. Teachers needed to get in there and give it a go. Then they could critically reflect and improve afterwards.

Also essential was getting the students involved in the movie-making from a very early stage. I knew from my experience of teaching multi-media to newly arrived English Language Learners – that there was often a transformation in students when a camera was turned on. 

I wanted teachers to see the students’ spark early on – especially since teachers often under-estimate students’ capacities – with respect to multi-media.  I knew that the students interest and passion would win over the teachers. So we got the students involved straight away.

I modelled ways of working with, organising and directing the students. I also gave teachers just-in-time feedback or suggestions in terms of how they worked with students. And true to form, the teachers were often wowed by the passion and enthusiasm of their students. They often couldn’t believe their students’ preparedness to reflect and to then get out there and improve their film performance (i.e. speaking or presentation skills-wise). 

Teachers came to see that they didn’t need to know it all before teaching the students. Students had skills that they (as teachers) weren’t aware of. And the students were very willing to teach each other if teachers were prepared to step back. All the teachers moved from a minimal student model – to thinking of ways to greatly expand their students’ participation.

The Intensity of the Project

Normally projects like this are spread out over 6 month periods. We were certainly under the pump in terms of completing the project and presenting on it within 5 weeks. But that intensity worked for this project.

It meant we didn’t stuff around – we didn’t have the time to. We knew we were all working to a tight timeline and that demanded solid commitment from all, and considered yet quick decisions. 

We set task timelines – things to be completed each week. And we worked to ensure completion of such. 

When projects are longer term, it can sometimes be difficult to envisage the end-points. It can also be difficult to maintain momentum. Here were seeing wins or achievements on a regular basis – because we had to learn and implement so quickly. Staff regularly commented on their steep learning curve – they couldn’t believe what they were achieving in such a short time-frame. 

training photo

Working Outside the Institutional Tech System

Across my diverse experience of teaching, there’s been one constant. And that’s been the inadequacy of education institutions’ tech systems.

It seems that no matter where I teach, I continue to encounter staff complaining about the tech problems in their school or center.

  • IT (Information Technology) problems not being addressed;
  • computer servers being incredibly slow, stopping or crashing;
  • modern tech tools not working on the institutions’ system.

I’m sure you get my drift here. Mindful of this situation, we determined (from the project beginning) to work outside the institutions’ system.

So teachers filmed and edited on their mobile devices. And we uploaded finished products and shared resources via google drive. This outside-the-system approach solved a lot of heart-ache and frustration.

As a consequence, we had happier and more positive teachers who stayed on track and on time. It also enabled us to challenge the notion – I can’t do multimedia teaching because of the terrible (or X!$$^!!) IT/Tech system. 

We created interesting and creative videos to share with students and teachers – without the institutional tech system. 

Funding for technical support and maintenance continues to be increasingly scarce (at least in the systems I work in). It’s therefore critical that we:

  • train teachers to be able to work outside their tech systems;
  • encourage and support teachers to build up their own portable tech tool kits;
  • train teachers to be able to problem solve IT-related issues. 

Certainly we worked on that basis and will continue to do so in the future.

So, What did the Teachers Say about this Professional Development?

Greg supported my project with technical know-how and creative ideas while encouraging me to follow through with what was important to me. In my twenty years of teaching…this has been my all-time equal top favourite PD. (Kate)

Greg’s help was invaluable. His calm, professional manner instilled confidence in myself and the student groups. And he was able to competently problem solve issues that arose. (Jan)

During a short period of time Greg was able to bring us up to a good level of competence in creating short films. (Rizana)

Greg truly believes that ‘doing is learning’ and that a camera pointed at them brings out an X-Factor in our students and I saw that he was right. I will use the strategies learnt with every class I teach from now on. (Dhammika)

Greg’s extensive knowledge about incorporating film and media in the classroom has added a whole new dimension to my own ESL pedagogy – empowering students through creative and digitally based activities. (Syl)

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