The Disconnected In-Service Day

How many in-service days have you sat through watching the clock? What can we do to make in-service days worthwhile?
As an educator, how often have you sat through an in-service day ready to jump out of your skin after several hours of sitting in an uncomfortable chair and listening to someone talk at you?  Now you know how most students feel each day in a classroom where a teacher-centered approach to education  is taken.  Maybe this is the real intention of most in-service days.  Not the content of the day, but the experience from a student’s perspective!  I finally get it!  After the numerous in-service days where I have sat there listening,  the light has finally come on!  Five hours of being talked to with two 15 minute breaks!  Yes, I can maintain my focus!
If we are going to make in-service days or professional development effective we have to have teachers input.  Let’s not develop these days with little or no teacher input.  How do we assess what are the needs of the district vs. the needs of teachers?  Are they the same? What of the need to placate the politicians, who often like to demonstrate to the public their contempt for teachers, in order to gain political favor?  Mandating a teacher to be on a professional development committee doesn’t necessarily mean their input will be considered.  Also, having evaluative tools in place to assess needs don’t always equate to better approaches to professional development.
Let’s take a school district that has all of its teachers take the LOTI survey. The data revels three key areas that can later be used in planning professional development.  These three areas include: their use of technology, level of experience with technology, and how much of a teacher-centered approach vs. student-centered approach they use in their classroom.  Now let’s say we take these results and begin to plan out the next in-service day.
First off, we know from the past the problem with lumping everyone together with various technology skills hasn’t worked.  Teachers with considerable knowledge in the use of technology get bored and frustrated then begin to surf the Internet or check their emails.  Teachers with limited knowledge of technology feel overwhelmed and guilty for holding others back. So who gains from this experience?  Well, I suppose we can mark it off the checklist for having completed another in-service day but what was really gained?
So now let’s look at another approach to the in-service day.  We look at the results of the LOTI survey and we begin to take teachers with limited technology knowledge and we develop an inservice program to assist them in their development.We then take teachers that may have a strong skill set regarding technology yet has a more of a teacher-centered approach.  They use technology quite a bit in their classroom for creating PowerPoint presentation, grade book, or other teacher oriented activity. We now begin to develop an inservice program to assist them with the development of a more student-centered approach utilizing their technology skill set.
However, it doesn’t end there!  We can then develop professional learning communities whereby we can take teachers with limited technology skills and a student-centered approach and pair them up with someone who has a strong technology skill set and limited experience when it comes to a student-centered orientation.  We are now building off prior experience and knowledge to build a more effective teaching experience for all!
I mentioned LOTI as a survey mechanism to assess teachers’ levels but it could be any assessment tool.  The key is to understand what the needs are and plan effective in-service and professional development experiences for teachers.
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