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What Do You Believe to Be the Most Effective Methods for Delivering Professional Development to Teachers?

Despite what many still think about professional development for teachers, workshops and seminars ranked highest in a recent survey referenced by Alfred Thompson in his blog. Even though, the survey was exclusively used to measure the Computer Science Education (CSTA) we think empirically that same categorization applies to other disciplines. Nowadays that pressure to hold teachers accountable is not only in Secretary Duncan's mind but parents and society, it is vital that teachers engage in deeply conversation about their practices, not only in their place of work but outside of their own institution. Get involved in offline and online conversation. Read educational publications, included blogs -there are a good number of experts around educational blogosphere. Add your own comments. Help to build a personal learning network (PLN)

And so goes Alfred Thompson in his Computer Science Teacher blog. After he spotted that "networking with others ranked a high second. Online resources and professional conferences ranked third and fourth (by my calculation) respectively", in his mentioned survey, he comes up with some experiential theories about learning, conversation and teacher's networking:

    I think that online resources are valued and thought of as effective in part because they help with the time and money part of the equation. If you have no time or money being able to learn on your own online for little to no cost that’s going to be a lot better than a workshop that may not be on topic, be located far away, and cost a lot of money. Professional conferences provide some of what a workshop does and some professional networking but not always enough of either. I know that some people go to conferences just for the networking. Others just for the sessions. Any way you play it you are going to miss out on something because you can’t be in two places at once.
Thompson is a strong believer of the the efficiency of workshops and seminars, notice that he is an expert on computers, reason why he offers some suggestions:

    If you are an AP CS teacher sign up to be an AP Reader. What? Yes, sign up to be an AP reader. The grading itself is like a graduate level course in exam creation and grading. Seriously you can’t pay for a 'course' that good in my opinion. Secondly you will have networking time. Meals, evenings, breaks, through out the day you will have a chance to talk to some of the very best computer science teachers (high school and university both) in the country. I’d be a reader again in a heart beat if they would let me but I don’t teach AP CS or an equivalent college course these days.

    Secondly [we think he meant third] look for residential workshops/conferences that are held at various places around the country. Sure you may wind up living in a dorm but that helps keep costs down. But remember those late night 'bull sessions' in the dorm when you were in college? Guess what? The are even better with a group of professional educators who care deeply about their work. Yes you may give up between a few days and a week of summer vacation but the networking alone will be worth it. Plus the shared learning and discussions with peers will teach you a great deal. You may make friends for life – I know I have.
Do you agree with the survey results? In other words, are the workshops/seminars the best way to gain professional developments? Are suffering from isolation in your own career or do you think online learning still as an option?

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  1. Workshops and seminars are great - when they can be arranged. I think they are "necessary but not sufficient" because they are bounded by cost and time. I think other types of professional development need to be part of the strategy. For example, I teach an online science course for elementary teachers on the Science of Sound offered by Montana State University (http://www.scienceteacher.org). Online asynchronous courses that are instructor led are terrific venues for many teachers, and offer a way to meet teachers from across MANY time zones (countries, even).

    - Jim Vanides

  2. Great and insightful post. I work for the Utah Education Network and we deliver Professional Development all over the state in a variety of ways. We offer face to face workshops and 2 day courses. We also offer 6 week online courses. Finally, we do a weekly webcast available at http;//www.uen.org/facultylounge

    The one area I would like to see more done on is the webinars/webcasts where educators can chat with others. People do some of this over lunch but usually that dissolves into a gripe session. Something teachers need, but a well facilitated workshop or webinar can allow the kind of deeply reflective practice that we as educators can truly benefit from.

    The webinar/chat sessions can catalyze the kind of focus that sometimes lacks in a general Professional Development put on by a specific school or district. Maybe what I really need is focused tips and tricks on PowerPoint, or alternative assessment, or rubrics or whatever. When a workshop or professional development session has to appeal to the masses it often gets diluted because of the varying levels, whereas when I chat with my other Science Teacher friends I can focus on the peculiarities of teaching science. To me a mix of solutions is far better than a single solution.