The New Style of Educator Professional Development (EdTech Today Podcast)

Wondering where professional development is headed post-pandemic?

In this interview on the MarketScale EdTech Today Podcast, host Kevin Hogan and Edthena founder and CEO Adam Geller talked about lessons learned about professional learning for educators moving forward, including how to help teachers embrace new technologies.

Watch video of the podcast episode above, and find a transcript of the interview below.

– OK, Adam, welcome back

– Thanks so much for having me back, yeah

– Yeah, it’s been almost a year I think. Certainly a lot of things have changed and certainly, a lot of things have changed for the better I think if I recall our conversation I think we were both still in a bit of shellshock to the current situation. Well wanted to bring you back on because of that conversation we had before and it’s something I think it’s really important especially now as we go into the summertime and districts may have the opportunity to breathe a little bit without having students if they’re in-person or in their Zooms, to focus on the idea professional development. One part of my brain says how can you even think about things like that, like it seems like it’s a luxury while at the same time teachers are just trying to keep it all together right. Whether it’s in person or remote or hybrid or whatever it is. But in fact, professional development has been an essential aspect of this whole experience. Why don’t you tell us how your work has changed since the onset of covid-19 and talk a little bit little about how professional development you think if you think will be changed forever.

– Sure well you know I think everyone’s work has changed. Certainly mine has changed but absolutely the work of educators and school leaders and district administrators has changed. No matter what our schooling and education experiences look like for students going forward, I think that the education system overall had a moment to experience something you know that now that I’m out of the classroom I know is not common for being in school. Which is this experience of doing the work of work in a collaborative way with colleagues in an asynchronous way sometimes. Or maybe not being in person sometimes. 

– Right.

– And I don’t think this has to be an extreme version of change. I’m not saying like oh well we weren’t in person before. Let’s think about kind of how this can unlock a whole new way of thinking about professional learning and interacting with colleagues. I mean here we are you and I, we are connected via video. We didn’t schedule this and decide to fly across the country and meet up in person so that we can have this conversation because we have accepted video conferencing tools as, you know, and so I think educators have experienced that and so going forward you know even in some small lower risk ways maybe these technologies that now educators on the whole have experienced, could become part of that every day. So instead of needing to drive down to the district office, maybe there are going to be more synchronous professional learning opportunities you know from 3 to 4 p.m. on a Tuesday but we did it via Zoom or other video conferencing software rather than needed to take a half-day out of the classroom, drive down to the downtown office you know. I think those are the ways where the experience of being at home for for almost all of us will change how we think about reconstructing what our future looks like.

– Yeah I mean, in many ways this was the largest forced beta test in history right. I mean, these technologies have been around for a few years and thankfully the pandemic didn’t strike 10 years ago because there’s no way we’d have had the tools or the bandwidth to prepare for but it seems we’re kind of sitting there I mean Google meet was there. Like I don’t think there were a lot of schools and a lot of educators were using it is especially for professional development. And now you see that they had to use the whether they like it or not. But they’ve also adapted and I think it to a certain degree everyone has thrived with it right now.

– Yeah you know I think that maybe to accept what our path forward for professional learning looks like and some of how technology can play a part of that, let’s look outside of being in the experience being an educator to something that I think we have all also experienced in some respect in the past year which is telemedicine. Suddenly you know we may have ourselves or talked to family members who have said things like, oh yeah well you know I did a video chat with my doctor and it was so easy. The funny part of course is that in telemedicine, that’s been around since the dawn of the telephone. What was the reason why telemedicine wasn’t common? It’s because look there’s a lot of you know just inertia to overcome to try out if there could be a better way and I think as you were saying we had that big beta test inside of education. So you know let’s like recognize that we have tried it out and make sure that we don’t dispense with some of these technological ways of learning both for students and for the adults in the school system. That we don’t dispense with those technologies just because we can go back to some of the patterns that we had had before which was depending on being in person.

– Yeah. One of the phrases that has emerged in my conversations is the idea of synchronous learning vs. asynchronous learning. And again, I mean most of my conversations focus on the student, not necessarily the faculty or the teachers or the parents who also now, we can talk about that a bit, which is a whole other market that is in need of professional development right, parental development, that will stick around too. But let me go back and talk about the asynchronous parts of it and the asynchronous parts of it what do you see the work that you do so we have our one to one right now, you have your live who you were talking about your 2 hours of professional development with maybe an instructor online. But what about online courseware? What about some other asynchronous tools and techniques that have been developed. I know that have you recently were writing about the use of micro-credentialing. Talk about some of those techniques that don’t require a live interaction but just kind of professional development that’s kind of anytime anywhere.

– Sure yeah I mean I think obviously I look at everything to most things through the lens of the work of Edthena which is bringing the process of observation and feedback and self-reflection online using recorded videos. And you know nowhere in that do we ever say you should never talk with someone live right I think it was saying you don’t always have to be the right person in the right place at the right time. You asked about the idea of my microcredentials right well I I think it’s actually that there is not kind of like a binary between synchronous and asynchronous learning but more like a spectrum of how the learner is engaged, what that engagement looks like, how they can participate, how and when they get feedback right. So you know I think that if at one end is I am in-person learning with someone and at the other end is this fully online massive scale you know on demand any time but it’s all on me style you know courseware style learning, I think microcredentials are probably a lot closer to the in person end of the spectrum, than we may be expecting. Because what are microcredentials really, microcredentials in my view are kind of setting up in advance you know the kind of prioritize opportunities for learning for teachers to kind of take to control, make a choice, take advantage of those options. But they’re still kind of on that kind of a human centered end of the process right. Because sure we’re not coming and learning in person and talking about it in person maybe as a first session but you have that catalog of options for teachers. You know maybe you’re prioritizing use of academic language in the content area. Or take it down even further. Maybe as a district you prioritize student talk in late elementary math classroom lessons, like right like at the level of learning for the professional teacher. Where okay now I know this is what I should be focusing on let me process that let me think about that let me go enact something in real life and then capture that evidence. Of course you know I’m always advocating for video evidence cuz it’s the evidence of what happened and reflect on that evidence and get feedback from someone else. And if I hadn’t said the word microcredentials you may have thought I was talking about video right because video is really just a way of packaging up a cycle of learning. It’s a brand name if you will for a style learning much in the same way that you do not exactly the same but you know how people might say I will work implementing Japanese style lesson study. It’s it’s a style of professional learning but it may not necessarily be such a departure from that kind of connected style of learning that I think a lot of people do do want and do crave but may not need to happen in person. 

– Do you think that these recent months have helped accelerate the acceptance of techniques credentialing or has it kind of held it back?

– Well I think the difference of you know the experience that everyone has been going through is maybe that you know the educators the teachers are going to be demanding more flexible a more customized option. Not because that’s a buzz word for personalized professional development but  because they have experienced that as possible. They’ve experienced that they don’t need to be physically present in order to have something count. I am so I think because teachers will be demanding those options more and more to make the most of their professional learning time that is going to be met at from the systems around those teachers. School leaders district administrators bringing more of those options to bear. I mean I think of in particular we’re kind of talking in the big big ways let me bring it forward and an example that was before the pandemic with a district that we work with in Texas, Keller ISD. They have a really awesome framework that they had developed for teachers and their professional learning and this is happening before the pandemic where they had adopted a classroom style strategy of giving students choice. They gave that to the teachers. They developed a choice board for teachers to choose a pathway of learning that was right for them while still being aligned to the appropriate you know strategies and priorities of the district. And it wasn’t called micro credentials. It didn’t have you know, again microcredentials is label for a style of learning that is focused on teacher empowerment. So this choicebored that was implemented in the district… it was it was such a kind of powerful experience for me to kind of get to see that in action mainly because it was the embodiment of the thing you know you’re asking back here which is do we need to give teachers more voice and choice in their professional learning and so absolutely yes and also absolutely there are a lot of ways to do that beyond you know only thinking that you have to implement quote unquote microcredentials. Cuz I think I felt like you know we should probably all sit down and talk about what what do we really mean with the microcredential. Sure there’s the badging and all that stuff but what’s the core of of that experience to the teacher cuz that’s I think the important part it’s not the badge. 

– So I’m trying to concoct a list of myths that have been busted because of our experiences and one of them is around the idea around not only student agency but teacher agency. I think that speaks a little bit to what you were talking about. When I would write or when I would interview people, we would talks about professional development BP before pandemic, it was still very much a sit and get sort of set up. That was squashed. And the second thing there was there was a still always a bit of resisteance with certain segment of teacher populations that were resistant to technology because they were worried about and especially with professional development and especially the idea of being videotaped while they’re teaching that you know that the technologies will somehow replace my job. They’re resistant to it because well we bring in technology in the classroom there won’t be a need for teachers. I think this experience has squashed that myth forever. I think now everyone realizes how important teachers are. And I think teachers have begun to appreciate value in the technology and especially when it comes to maybe recording your lessons and recording your interactions. Talk a litte bit about that. 

– It makes me think about is how before the pandemic there were barriers for people wanting to try things out or feeling like if I try it how do I know I can be successful and that kind of question and worry of risk if you will is really centered around like not knowing what is you know I don’t know how important this is and I don’t want to look bad doing it if I’m not good at the first go. And so I think it really speaks to needing to derisk experiences for educators that need to be tried out whether it’s doing themselves or or other things. You know so what changed during the pandemic suddenly everyone was on the same playing field. It wasn’t the the teacher down the hall who was feeling very comfortable vs. the teacher at the other end who felt uncomfortable. Suddenly we are all on the same playing field so we’re all trying it out and some of us are are learning you know to go left some of us are going to go right and we’re talking about how that’s going. And it’s okay if things weren’t working out. So I think that might be the lessons going forward which is whether it is a continuing to capture videos of lessons and use those for professional learning and self-reflection or any other aspect of adult behavior right we’re talking about changing the way the adults in the education system want to act and learn and work. That you know when there is resistance it is really a question of how do we derisk that experience. How do we create the on-ramp. And by the way this isn’t just a technical skills question right. Because there’s that you know in the case of video where clearly you know I’ve done a ton of thinking about this there are ways to make it technically easier and certainly at Edthena we think we’ve done that. But that still doesn’t get everyone across the line for feeling comfortable for this first experiences. Which is why in the realm of video you know if somebody came to me and said okay I’m I want to make sure my teachers feel comfortable what’s the first thing I should do, I would say have your teachers do a classroom tour. Have them show off that physical space have them turn the camera around away from them and talk and share something about their learning environment they’ve constructed. This is still high value for whoever is going to be watching that video but it’s also really low risk for the teacher whose recording the video. And so like thinking about how perception of risk and perception of safety plays into anything we’re asking educators to do or participate in is I think you know maybe something that we will recognize more going forward as something that needs to be part of the planning matrix for however you know we’re constructing the experiences for the educators as well as the students.

– Yeah. I knew the toughest part of this interview would be to end, we could talk about the various issues surrounding professional development and its importance. Let me finish by asking you what innovation or what technique is at the top of your list to hold onto once we go back to whatever normal is. As you watch teachers and watch them continue to go through the paces of professional development, what is the one thing that you see as you’re going to make solid-state or integrate into your business practices going forward? 

– Well maybe maybe I can take that as a lesson learned you know both internally and you know observationally, externally which I think has been really being confronted with the importance of not confusing technical training with professional learning. And I think you know inside of our organization but also inside of schools during the pandemic there were tools to learn and so that tools to learn process in some ways supplanted the time that we should have continued to carve out for the professional learning the self-reflection and the development. So you know I think going forward in terms of holding on to something, it will be recognize the importance of that technical training part of all of our jobs in a world that is powered more and more by technology. But carving that time out separate and and in some ways keeping sacred the time that’s allot d for the professional learning. Because if we’re not careful those two things become the same thing and then I think the you know you start hearing professional learning is a dirty word because everybody just keeps doing technical training but especially as we think about the challenges ahead with making sure that we’re best prepared to serve students as we re-meet them wherever they are next year and helping them move forward as fast as we can. It’s really going to be crucial to continue to carve out that time for professional learning to ensure that teachers are the most responsive to the needs of those students as they can be by having the appropriate time to self-reflect while also being proficient on a bunch of technology. 

– Right. And hopefully with your technologies and as technologies in general become more sophisticated and more intuitive there’s less time needed to teach someone. 

– Absolutely and people get more confident that they’ll be even better and faster on the next tool the next time.

– Adam thanks once again for your time and your insights, I think they’re really valuable and good luck going forward.

– Thanks so much, thanks for having me.

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