Professional Learning – What really works?

Pinterest Craft Fail - Melted Crayons on CanvasI loved the Kristen Daniels TEDxBurnsvilleED video (2013) on Empowering the Teacher Technophobe. Her description of accessing a YouTube video to learn to build a table… and then realising that she still did not know how to build really resonated with me. Of course, my mind immediately went to Pinterest. You know… you can see these beautiful and amazing things that people have created, with step-by-step instructions that look SO EASY. Yet like so many, I have experienced Pinterest-Fail after Pinterest-Fail. (That’s actually not an image of one of my many Pinterest-Fails, by the way!)

So why is it so hard for us to realise that when we show our faculty members how to use tools for engagement in our Learning Management System (LMS) that they might not get it? I’ve recently started something new whenever I create anything for them… I add a “Here’s how you can do that…” section with instructions that can be printed out, as well as a video. But more importantly, they have a place for hands-on practice with the tool. We have started doing AVID strategies workshops, with a “Here’s how you can do this online” element. While the faculty are in the session (for face-to-face sessions) they have access to practice files in the LMS, where they are doing the same activities their students will be, giving them the opportunity to see how the tools can work, play with how they might use the tools, and even experience how students might struggle. We are also really working to make sure that our remote faculty have opportunities for hands-on experience, so for those who cannot come for face-to-face training, I am trying to create the same type of experience within the LMS to provide hands-on activities to help improve the skills of our remote faculty too.

We have a professional development series for our faculty that’s delivered over several courses. One of the things that we do in that series of courses is model how the tools can be used by the faculty. I think that really helps them to see the relevance, and think about how they can use those tools and strategies. Even with introductory discussions. We know the importance of starting the community building process in online learning, but in those courses we model how they can incorporate different types of activities into their introductions. This is particularly beneficial to those faculty who have smaller cohorts of learners that might take the same classes each term.

I spent some time in a meeting last week with several of our faculty members, talking about problem/project based learning. Some of our faculty want to create collaborative interdisciplinary projects, to help them have more real world issues that they might actually see in the workplace. Cool, right? Well most of the faculty members present became defensive, asking for an exact description of the project. Trying to explain to them that they could think about what the workplace looks like in the area they teach, and how they might work together was just not effective. Like the failed professional development, this idea won’t go anywhere until we can really show them how it’s going to look for them and for their students. My suggestion to the committee chairs was to find those who were open to the idea and excited about it and let them model it for the others… then create some hands on demonstrations and opportunities for the other faculty members that were struggling to envision how it would work.

Personally, I think I fall within the middle to high range in that technology spectrum discussed by Kristen Daniels… but the majority of my faculty are in the lower to mid-range.  I think it’s critical for our faculty to be allowed for time to practice with the tools or strategies, to develop and apply what they have learned, and also for reflection from the learners. Another thing that I think is critical will be for the faculty to see how other faculty are using these tools and strategies. I am really excited about providing our faculty more opportunities to grow as leaders by sharing in professional learning environments.


D., Linda. 20 hilarious pinterest fails. Bored Panda. Retrieved from

Daniels, K. (2013). Empowering the teacher technophobe. [Video]TEDxBurnsvilleED. Retrieved from YouTube,