Well, needless to say, this week in education in our province has been very challenging. We are seeing the collapsing of 4 English school boards into one and all the job losses, transfers, redundancies that come with it. It is not what this blog post is all about but it is what has inspired this blog post.
To begin, one school board will now be responsible for the entire province. While there will be satellite offices in three areas in addition to the main office in St. John's, the geography that will need to be covered is massive.
The ability for school board personnel to reach remote areas will be more challenging under one school board. However with change comes the opportunity to do things differently. In a previous blog post I wrote about a model for virtual professional development.
In that blog I went into great detail on how a professional learning community could be created with Desire2Learn and Blackboard Collaborate. While I will not go into the repeating of what I did write in that blog, I will say that the collapsing of the four boards into one makes its creation much more possible and perhaps necessary.
The question becomes how does it get done? The answer is in the creation of a new position within the new school board called the Virtual Professional Development Coordinator.
So, what will be the role of this new coordinator? Well, while the new school board is being set up, the first task of the coordinator would be to decide how to divide up teachers in the province professionally. For example teachers teaching Math 3201 will not need to be in a group that contains a Primary French Immersion teacher, although both will be under the same system. The coordinator will need to create those groups in either FirstClass or Desire2Learn.
Then, as board personnel are hired, the next task for this coordinator will be to train the new hires in how the tools of the virtual trade work. In our province we use three synchronous tools; Blackboard Collaborate, Polycom and Microsoft Lync. These tools will be what is needed to create real time online professional development, online collaboration and even meeting online.
In addition, this coordinator will have to train these personnel in how to use an asynchronous tool in which content will reside. Most people are familiar with FirstClass and it works fine, but I would choose Desire2Learn since the analytics that it provides will help identify what teachers access, when and for how long. That data is and will be invaluable for strategic planning for professional development.
Then, as the school year starts, this coordinator will then start the process of facilitating online professional development with teachers. This will include helping the district personnel in their positions as well as building a community of educators who like to share what they do in their teaching practice with other teachers. This could be in the form of after school webinars, bringing in virtual teachers from one school/region to facilitate teacher professional development in other schools/regions and even facilitating virtual close outs.
The switch from face to face towards an online professional development model will take time. The fact that all virtual professional development can be recorded and archived for on demand professional development can help teachers see the value of such professional development on their own time. The quality of the virtual professional development they are first exposed to in their first experience as well as the engagement of the presenter will be crucial.
One of the goals of this Virtual Professional Development Coordinator should be the creation of a virtual pd day for the whole province. Imagine a day where teachers have numerous choices for pd, where they can participate in that pd in their regional school board office, their school, or even at home. Imagine a teacher in Nain facilitating a session with teachers from St. John's in attendance. Distance disappears, geography is not an obstacle to provincial networking and collaboration.
The Virtual Professional Development Coordinator will also need to facilitate the building of the on demand/asynchronous resources. That too will be process that will take time. The start to that will be the curation of teacher resource like evaluation instruments and lesson plans/ideas that teachers can immediately access. Simply put, if they find good stuff they can use, they will go back there for more. And if colleagues tell other colleagues about the good they find, others will go there too.
What I am proposing is a dramatic shift in how we have conducted professional development in the past. Although I am a proponent to virtual pd, I am not advocating a shift to 100% virtual professional development in our province. However, a move in the virtual direction can have a positive effect of bringing teachers in the province together for collaboration, rendering the geographical distance/isolation much less of a factor than we now experience. One thing is for sure, the next year or two in education in our province is about to get very interesting.