Staff Professional Development in a Technological Age. Are we Using the Technology Effectively?
As a young deputy principal in the early 1990s, I recall attending a national seminar in country Victoria at one of the first schools in Australia to have introduced the World Wide Web and networked computers into all of their classrooms. It was an amazing change in the way that schools could teach students and give them access to this new technology and the wealth of knowledge that the WWW would open up for them.
Sadly, I also remember walking into one classroom at the same school where a teacher had accessed an online publication on her computer and was ‘dictating’ the notes to her class. It seems that although the new technology had been made available to the school, this teacher was unable to shake off the shackles of her outdated pedagogy and behaviour management regime.
The same could be said about how some schools are using modern technologies in relation to the professional learning and development (PD) of their staff and their boards.
However, there are many reasons why a school would want to explore using online PD and I hope to outline some of these in this article.
If a school is operating in a geographically-isolated location, for example, an Indigenous Community School in the Pilbara region of Western Australia during the wet season, there is limited, if any, chance of any staff accessing face-to-face PD.
For many schools that are geographically-isolated or in small rural towns or localities, good quality face-to-face PD for staff either only takes place on student free days, during vacation breaks or at times when the staff can be released to travel to attend events. This is very cost prohibitive or personally prohibitive but it seems to be the accepted norm.
Having access to quality online PD or even access to live webinars and podcasts opens a potential whole new world of PD for staff who are geographically-isolated. Due to improvements in the NBN over the past few years, access to the internet is now a regular and expected norm, even for some of our most remote learning establishments.
Online PD that Schools Can Trust
Online PD is increasingly becoming quality content that schools can trust. There is an absolute plethora of online PD available for teachers and non-teaching staff in schools. In the past, not all of it was either valuable or suitable, and the costs to attend or enrol in some of these online courses were almost as expensive as face-to-face PD.
Schools now look for PD that has been developed and curated by educators for educators. They look for online PD that has been mapped to the AITSL Standards where required and by state and territory needs where relevant, and they can find it!
The ‘cowboys’ who used to offer online PD with all the bells and whistles and absolutely no substance are still there. However, in response to this risk of enrolling in poor online PD, schools and teachers have matured in both their search capabilities and their understanding of what constitutes good quality online PD. They are far more discerning.
Besides, in this age of emails and social media, word of poor online PD travels fast and spreads very quickly
Increased Staff Satisfaction
Using an online staff learning PD platform or accessing online PD allows schools to assign bespoke PD to individual staff members, rather than having everyone re-sit ‘the same old PD’ that they had the year before.
In addition, it provides the staff with the opportunity to choose their own PD, including PD that helps them move through the AITSL career stages of Graduate to Proficient or even towards the attainment of Highly Developed or Lead Teacher status.
Online PD also provides opportunities for teachers or small groups to do PD relevant to them as a group or a cohort. For example, a Year 4 Cell would be able to engage in online PD as a small group while the other Year Group Cells could work on other PD that is specifically relevant to their needs at the same time.
Access by the Board
Compulsory board training has been taken up in some states as a formal requirement for school boards.
In New South Wales, all directors of school boards must undertake 12 hours of PD on the topic of governance over a three-year time frame. Training must be predominantly in the context of school governance and provided by a NESA-approved training body.
The Western Australian Non-Government School Registration Standards (2018) require evidence of training opportunities offered to, and undertaken by, members of the governing body. In particular, the Standards specify that “provision of training opportunities for members of the governing body should target gaps in members’ knowledge and expertise as well as providing regular updates covering accountable and ethical decision making, complaint handling, duty of care and protective behaviours with particular attention paid to the context of school boarding facilities where applicable”.
Most board members are volunteers who give freely of their time to ensure that their school can benefit from their collective talent and wisdom. As volunteers, it is difficult for many school board members, as time-poor parents or time-poor professionals, to find time to engage in meaningful PD.
Online governance PD can provide board members with easily accessible PD that can be accessed at a convenient time.
Staff Contact with their Classes
Student ‘light bulb’ moments are the intrinsic thanks that teachers positively thrive on and teachers don’t want to miss out on these! They do not like to leave their classes unless they are sick. Even then, many teachers drag themselves into school because they have this immense sense of responsibility for the students in their care.
I have heard teachers at poor quality face-to face PD sessions ask each other “Why did I leave my classes for this?” or say “I could be doing far better things in my class with my students” and so on.
Online PD has two distinct advantages in this area. Firstly, teachers are free to choose when they wish to do their online PD and secondly, regardless of the cost, if the PD is not suitable, substandard or going overtime, they press a button and put it on hold or cancel it.
Anecdotal conversations with principals about online staff PD indicate that when used it has yielded a surprising financial windfall for schools – a significant saving on relief teaching is possible by moving part of their staff PD online.
It is very likely that if a school moves a proportion of its face-to-face or offsite PD to online training, it would save money on travel and relief teaching costs.
Most schools would pay approximately $450-$550 per day for a relief teacher to replace a teacher who is attending a four or five hour PD session off campus. This equates to approximately $100 per hour for the relief teacher plus the cost of the PD itself. If the teacher was able to complete the PD during non-contact time, then the cost incurred would only be for the PD. This would be an estimated saving of $100 per hour. Multiply this by 50 or 100 or 200 staff for only two hours of online PD per annum and the savings very quickly add up. (Quick maths: 100 teaching staff x 2 hours x $100 per hour relief = $20,000!)
More importantly, schools won’t need to find a new budget line for the costs of the online PD, they would be able to reallocate some of their existing relief budget towards online PD
According to The Australian, high-quality, continuous PD (as opposed to one-off, snapshot PD) is critical for keeping teachers’ skills and knowledge relevant. However, many teachers complain that they have participated in PD that is disconnected and too ad hoc to improve their classroom teaching skills.
Teachers are, in general, highly trained and highly competent individuals. However, they are also quick to either cast aside poor PD (whether it’s face-to-face or online) or revert to their preferred ‘modus operandi’ if the technology does not work.
Nearly every teacher in every school in this country has access to either a tablet, a lap top or a desk top computer that would give them direct access to the internet, direct access to online PD and direct access to suitable resources and e-learning. In addition, schools are ensuring that their internet capable ‘pipeline’ can deal with several hundred students all accessing online content at the same time.
If schools use this technology effectively for staff or board training opportunities, the opportunities for quality and engaging training increase, staff and board satisfaction and understanding would go up, school relief costs could go down, teachers would have more face-to-face contact time and, most importantly, the students would be the ones to benefit!