Growing a Tree of Professional Development

Arboreal aspirations?

During a time of the year when perhaps sugarplums should be dancing in my head, I seem to be conjuring trees.  More precisely-  massive, skyward-reaching, luxurious and well-rooted trees.  I can’t seem to keep from dwelling in the metaphor of a tree as it relates to a professional development plan.  My school, and most recently my district, have been hurtling down the path of a 1:1 laptop implementation in the near future.  As an instructional coach in the school that is essentially leading the way down that path, I have spent a great deal of time spearheading ground-level professional development for this project.  In addition, I have spent countless hours reflecting and planning…  and planning and reflecting…  on our progress.

I currently feel that professional development approaches can be split into one of three types.  I will also argue that these three types can and sometimes should be done in tandem.  In this post I will attempt to outline my belief that professional development -particularly in the edtech world- needs to at least somehow include the strategies depicted in this image:

PD tree - nashworld

If you could create a metaphor for a smart and effective professional development plan, what would it look like?  How would you explain the elements within?  It seems that I never get full clarity of thought until I can develop a clear visual metaphor that seeks to simplify that which is complex.  This one is slightly mixed, but it is where my mind is right now.  Like most of the rambling on this blog, these assertions are also mixed with a request for input.  Don’t hold back- I look forward to your reactions.


We began this quest last year from what was pretty well near ground zero in terms of educational technology integration.  We were a school blessed with the structural “stuff” of educational technology (powerful districtwide network, good saturation of laptop carts, projectors, clickers, data probes, etc.).  What we lacked were untethered computers assigned to staff, and a strong attention to “student-sided” uses of technology for learning.  It’s tough to imagine students using computers to learn if we do not do so ourselves, right?

Last year a volunteer group of twenty teachers spent extra time at our school as members of “Edtech Cohort One” in our building.  In this first baby step of the pilot, we had two goals:  1) to experiment with hands-on approaches to edtech professional development, and  2) to build a core of 20 teachers who could help serve as leaders the following year when our entire staff entered the world of purposeful edtech integration.  That “following year” is now.  Throughout this school year (which began with entire faculty PD events this summer) I have been watching closely for how to tweak this implementation if and when it is scaled up at the district level.  As it turns out, if is yes and when is now.  Allow me to explain this three-pointed approach.


You can’t move water up to the top of a tree without a good strong push from the roots.  If this were a science blog, I’d spend some time referring to how the roots of plants accomplish this primary pressure even though they have no vacuum power.  It’s pretty compelling stuff I assure you, but I don’t want to lose anyone.  I think I’ll play it safe and stick to PD for now.

03/365 Splishy Splashy

The “initiation” phase of edtech professional development in my corner of the world revolved heavily around “technology operations and concepts”  -to use a NETS standard to describe it.  The problem here is that in 2009, this is no longer a NETS standard for teachers… it is bottom of six standards for our students.  And yet-  we’re playing catch-up.  Let’s face it, catch-up is never as inspiring as forging a new path.  However, if this need is real, the entire mission will collapse without paying attention to it.  To put it quite simply, shove a MacBook Pro into the hands of a teacher who doesn’t already have a computer, nor even Internet access at home…  and you had better pay attention to operation skills.  That example wasn’t exactly the norm in my school, but it was certainly a real factor to consider.  When looking at minimal expectations, you have to honor all learners at their individual entry point.  Don’t we believe in this for our students?  Can you imagine ever effecting inspiring changes in curriculum and instruction with a lack of simple technology operational skills?

In this “initiation” phase, we focused first on care & feeding of the new hardware, followed closely with a push beyond the “default settings” in order to become comfortable with the parameters of all of the stuff.  Our aim is most certainly here, but you can’t even hold the gun steady without a firm foundation.


However, I believe it is important to not only push up from the roots of initiation, but also to exert a gentle tug of inspiration from the top.  Water would never reach the highest leaves of a tree without the slight pull of transpiration into the atmosphere.  Likewise, I believe most people will mobilize if shown a compelling impetus for change.  In my mind you really need a two-pronged approach at this level.  Tapping keys and clicking trackpads isn’t in and of itself very motivational to most people.  Teachers are rather overburdened folks as it is.  Achieving success in the role of lead learner in the classrooms of today requires a terribly broad skill set coupled with a relentless work ethic.  There simply isn’t much more time left in the day.


Therefore, I would argue that no successful teacher is going to be open to instructional reform without being shown a bit of the view from the top.  What I mean by this is that along the way, even in the beginning, we need to provide glimpses of model uses of our most effective tools.  We need to sponsor innovation and experimentation with new approaches, and encourage the adaptation and repurposing of the ubiquitous tools for communications that now surround us.  Many of these tools are finally allowing teachers to bring about the kind of collaborative, constructivist-leaning environment for learning they were shown in theory some time ago.  I believe it is smart practice to sprinkle in highlights of rich models where this type of environment is already in place.  We also need to outline some of the shifts present in today’s world that no doubt impact the generational divide between most teachers and their students.

From day one, we have tried to build in job-embedded time to both learn the operations and take a look at the potential for a more student-led environment.  We seek the type of environment where students are compelled to take advantage of the opportunities to seek knowledge and skills from other sources rather than their teachers and textbooks alone.  Along with the keytaps and mouseclicks, we have looked for inspiration in projects and tools that allow regional, national, or even global collaboration.  So assuming a solid base of operational learning and open minds toward instructional transformation…  what’s left?


Much is publicized about the importance of technology integration.  This publicity is usually accompanied by examples of our nation’s inadequate movement in this direction.  It is even rather routinely touted in the echochamber of many edtech social media networks to be the single greatest challenge we face in education today.  I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to assert that educational technology integration is not the holy grail we are after.  I want more for our kids.  A quick glance back up to our tree model shows where I see integration in the big picture.  I see actual integration as a branching out toward content specificity where teachers in a given subject soak up the pertinent applications and processes…  and then skillfully weave them into the quest for understanding.  In a nutshell, this would be a solid move inward on Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK framework:


Integration at this level is a pretty lofty goal-  no doubt.  However, I hate aiming at what is the acceptable level by most standards.  Just using the latest tools to get the job done isn’t what TPACK is about, and it sure isn’t my cup of tea.  Instead, I favor drawing a bead on the transformation of our classroom experiences toward an end that features the teacher as learning coach in an open environment.  Now that goal…  that goal requires inspiration.


So let’s assume for now that our first two years forward with this implementation are a success.  I have no reason now to think that our teachers will not all possess a minimal level of tech savvy.  So where where might we go next in terms of staff development?  At this point, I have considered many options aimed at the best-case scenario for next year.  I would love the diverse input of my readers to help me nail down a more crystal focus for next year’s professional development.

I’m currently thinking that with a solid year behind us as a complete staff, we will now have the comfort level required to aim high and create more individualized  -and voluntary-  PD experiences that are aimed at content integration.  I have seen two basic models of edtech PD for high school faculties.  One model asserts that the aim should be to bring every teacher along to the same level of integration.  I think this might even be possible if it were the only element of change in the lives of educators.  However, another popular viewpoint is that PD for “all” is wasted on those that are resistant to change.  In this approach, more attention is paid to voluntary PD for those “ready to run.”


I would have to say that in December of 0-nine I am still of the opinion that a hybrid approach is best.  And yet-  I am thinking that the goal going into next year is to provide future PD around a more voluntary model for those ready to roll toward a deeper transformation of the classroom.  In short:  require a certain level of tech savvy of all teachers… followed by enriched opportunities for those most ready… to roll into the future. It takes three processes to move water from the roots to the tip of a tree.  This includes a push upward from the roots.  Also crucial is the pull from above, and don’t forget the attractive forces throughout the entire journey upward.

More concretely, I am often reminded of the model MICDS employed in their second year of 1:1 implementation.  Having strong peers just across the state is a valuable resource to say the least.  I was lucky to be a guest of several of the workshops spearheaded by Elizabeth Helfant at the MICDS Summer Teacher Institute.  Anyone with an ear to the current edtech landscape would tell you that this is a shining model of a professional development series-  at even a global level.  I can’t help but be influenced by such an inspired plan.  Creating a voluntary development series in the summer of this caliber is something that seems both realistic and smart at this juncture.  I’m now wondering how much of this model could realistically be implemented closer to home.  After a quick glance, do you blame me?

Now it’s your turn.  I need feedback.  We need feedback.  Feed our roots with your diverse wisdom.


*”PD TREE”:  my adaptation of “small tree on white” from stock.xchng.
*03/365 Splishy Splashy by Rachel Carter on Flickr.
*sunflowers by Marco Magrini on Flickr.
*TPACK framework by Punya Mishra & Matt Koehler.
*Oh. by Brendan Landis on Flickr.

A Good Meme Causes Reflection

The meme

I hate internet memes.  I have to be honest in saying that I never respond to them.  The place they feel especially strange is on my blog.  This is one of the few places where my learning is allowed to run about unfettered.  Perhaps the meme concept feels like high school did back in my day when I was given really specific things to perform for a particular assignment.  We all know that growth occurs from many of those situations where we have been forced to think within the guidelines of a particular set of “rules.”  However, I have always seen the inside of my Edublogs dashboard as a place where I run the show, dictate the pace, put forward the agenda, and set the course for my own growth.

With all that said, I felt since Tania Sheko tagged me in this one…  it was one I couldn’t refuse.  Tania writes Brave New World from her home in Australia.  Tania is a faithful contributor here at nashworld, and someone whose work and opinions I respect deeply.  So really, that makes it pretty easy to see why this was my first official play-along with a blogging meme.  I can’t quite think of a better reason to step to the plate for such a thing, for this is a meme of reflection.

Eye project Day 10 - Observe

This meme is the “4R’s” meme for bloggers.  I am to troll through all of my old posts and pick one that fits each of the following R’s:





I am to point to a post that fits each of the categories and tell why it was important, why it had lasting value or impact, and how I might update it for today.


Actually, I spent some time back in April around the time of my first “blogversary” pulling an excerpt from each post throughout my first year behind the wheel of this blog.  I stuck the outline on a separate page entitled: Year One Archive.  So actually…  I had a pretty slick little tool for surveying all of my posts for this reply.  Still, this little exercise did require some pretty deep reflection to pick just one for each of the R’s.  So for that-  thanks Tania.

Rants- this could fit any number of posts here.  However, I chose a post from last November for this one.  Increasing Our Level of “Vitamin A was a post about the need for administration at all levels to step up and improve their support and modeling of current educational technology within the profession.  I challenged administrators to book a trip to Washington D.C. for NECC 2009 and the unveiling of the refreshed NETS-A standards for leaders in this area.

This one was posted at 10:00pm on November 13th.  At noon on November 14th our district’s Chief Operations Officer, Rick Hartigan, was sitting at the table in my principal’s office to let us know that, “he has heard the call” and that the district “was supporting this ideal and behind us 100%.”  I had received timely feedback here before then, but I think you can see how impactful that little post was.  What was the follow through, you ask?  Mr. Hartigan booked a trip to NECC and attended like a pro.  In fact, I remember one particular afternoon when he accompanied me to the “blogger’s cafe” to chat with some of the member of my burgeoning PLN.

The blogger’s cafe at an event like this is the most locale on the premises.  I quickly introduced him to Wesley Fryer, Dean Shareski, and Terry Kaminski.  The five of us stood and chatted about some of the more crucial aspects of an educational technology “upgrade” in schools today.  Rick stepped up and asked as many questions as were sitting on the forefront of his brain, and those three graciously took the time to share their input.  That one set of events did potentially more than anything else I have done on nashworld to date.

Pencils and Moleskines 04

Resources- this one was tough.  In the end, I chose the one single post with the most comments to date, Trolling my PLN for Edtech Vision.  In all seriousness, this is a classic post to demonstrate the fact that sometimes the comments on a post are far more valuable than the initial content.  This was, of course, the goal of the post to begin with.  You should proceed through that comment field with a pen & paper (or your stickies app) and record as many titles and names as you can.  This is a true wealth of information and opinions from what I consider to be some really top-notch thinkers.

Reflections- This category could mean many things.  Nearly all of my posts fit this one in some way.  Yet, Inspire First, Instruct Later required perhaps some of the most personal reflection.  This post was written close on the heels of a family death and the birth of my youngest little girl.  As Clay Burrell noted in the comments, “Good luck on the newcomer, and sorry about the loss of the old-timer.  Quite a cycle you’re experiencing.” The meat of the post speaks to the affective needs of our students.  I argue here that these needs must be met before trodding down any sort of prescriptive curricular path.  The closest competition (and this one treads awfully close to “revelations”) is the poem-post I dropped after the birth of our youngest daughter, Neve.

Revelations- Since the first three speak to the educational technology and instructional coaching elements of my life as an educator, I thought it apropos to toss in one from the world of biology.  Where are the seeds in an orange? speaks to the disconnect our children have with the very food they nourish themselves with on a daily basis.  That day, a student of mine confessed during a lab that he had never seen an orange with seeds.  In the real scope of things, this scary fact is likely is as important, if not more, than any of the aforementioned.  Not only are young people detached from the food they eat as actual biological entities, we as educators may as well be increasingly detached from the world our students have grown up immersed in.

So in keeping with the spirit of virality (if I may coin that term) I am to tag a few others to continue the meme.  No, this will not keep you in God’s graces.  It will certainly not bring you great wealth from the shores of Nigeria.  It may not even make you happy upon first considering it.  However, I do respect these folks, and would certainly enjoy seeing their responses to this project.  It did make me reflect, Tania.  So thank you.  Oh….  and don’t forget to tag your post with:  #postsofthepast.

The Dance of Joy

My turn

I hereby tag Michael Doyle, “Science Teacher” who constantly inspires me; Punya Mishra, “Punya Mishra’s Web” who is about as creative a person in our field as can be; Shelly Blake-Plock, “Teach Paperless” who has recently been one of my favorite bloggers; and Steve Dembo of “Teach42” who put us “on assignment” with his 30 Days To Being a Better Blogger challenge last Autumn.


*”Eye Project Day 10 – Observe” by Lee Jin Young on Flickr
*”Pencils and Moleskines 04” by Paul Worthington on Flickr
*”The Dance of Joy” by G a r r y on Flickr

Possibilities 2.0

Give me potential or give me death.

~Sean Nash


A Patrick Henry moment

Yep, I just quoted myself.  It’s OK, I’ll take that one.  In fact, I think I’ll take it and run with it for a bit.  Check it out.  See, I don’t deal well with what one of my science department colleagues refers to as the “Negative Nelson.”  These are folks who jump quickly to the most negative outlook possible to begin any task, discussion or debate.  Now I’m certainly not talking about people who exhibit the valuable skill of being able to ferret out potential pitfalls in any new endeavor.  Karl Fisch, in a recent workshop at MICDS in St. Louis, referred to those elements of a system as the “yeah, buts.”  His willingness that day to confront potential snags head-on is one of the marks of any successful project manager.

That said, negativity used as a strategy to push back from the table (whether conscious or unconscious) in order to avoid change or conflict is a very toxic thing.  Life is too short and too difficult as it is.  Stirring up extra negativity in such a challenging career field is more than a waste of time.  In my 18 years as an educator I have had the benefit of working in environments that were so positive and supportive that I was constantly inspired.  I have also had my years where “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right” is about the most polite way I can put it.  Negative Nelsons. Thanks, Jennifer.  That one is elegantly simple.  It made me laugh, and it made me reflect.  So obviously, I haven’t been able to get in here to write very much as of late.  Please excuse the rapid-fire unloading of thought here.  I’ll get back to succinct when I get more time.

“I would have written a shorter letter if I had more time.”

~Blaise Pascal

Why the “2.0?”

Now that I think of it, I probably could have just entitled this one “2.0” because this is now what this phrase means to me.  I’m not going to go off into the history of the quirk of using “2.0” to signify the newest iteration of…..  something.  Heck it is now used for pretty much anything:  Web 2.0, School 2.0, Library 2.0, Government 2.0, and on and on and on.  Tack a two at the end and instantly whatever you are talking about, planning, or selling becomes better, newer, shinier.  From my personal perspective, what at one point meant something to those pushing the envelope of using the Internet in education, now means means less.  The more you use something, right?  I get it.  I know.  After a while of having “2.0’s” ping-ponged about in the echo chamber of online communications… the meaning does tend to get stale.  If you subscribe to the tweets of some of the more connected edtechers out there, you’ll find more than a few who are just plain ol’ sick of the term.

Web 2.0 will save us

Why it doesn’t bother me

Let’s just get this out of the way first:  According to Global language Monitor, “Web 2.0″ is the  1,000,000th word added into the English language.  So there.  It means something.  For the “How’d they figure that?“, click here.

I’ll be honest.  I hate it too by now.  It is the height of cliche’ in my head.  However, I think I am just sick of it considering how much I actually feel the need to use the term in my current job as an instructional coach in the middle of a constructivist reformation/technology integration pilot.  I try to use a ton of helper phrases to describe this entity as well: read/write web, social web, participatory web, and other.  Those are great, and do help, but I still need two-oh.

In a recent technology summit in our school district, an administrator actually started out one of the segments declaring that in terms of education, Web 2.0 “doesn’t really mean anything,” and that people really can’t agree on whether it will have an impact or not.  This is one statement I had to disagree with point blank that day.  Really, I get why it might seem less-than-concrete on the surface.  With utmost respect, to an educator not using the participatory web in the classroom (or anywhere else professionally) “Web 2.0″ must look a bit like the wild west compared to the pricey and packaged comfort of a content management system like Blackboard, WebCT or E-Companion.  But think about it-  a constructivist classroom probably does look like Dodge City to the vast majority of people who were educated in the neat and tidy rows of desks in the American schools of our past.


What it means for me is that frankly…  I don’t have to wait for anyone any longer.  When I want to go, I go.  When my students are ready for something better (that fits good pedagogy) we go.  With a robust and lightly filtered network-  no longer did I have to wait for more software to be decided upon, purchased, server space to be allocated, or passwords to be doled out.  With Web2, I was able to immediately make a go at what I, my administrators, my students, and my parents thought was the right path to follow.  I could hone a web tool to my liking in a weekend.  I didn’t need to wait for a comprehensive plan filled with multiple opportunities for job-embedded professional development and one-on-one coaching.  I was ready, and I rolled on.

All of a sudden, more than at any time previously in my career, I was able to model myself as a learner in the classroom right alongside my students.  I was able to show them what it looked like to be a connected learner in the digital world of current information and communications technology.  Now I am ready to go back and help build that comprehensive implementation plan for our teachers and students.  I hope I am continually able to model those experiences in the other direction as well…  still as a learner modeling the navigation of our newly-digital terrain, though not only for our students but also for those who make far-reaching decisions for each of the students in our town.

We are climbing...

Positivity and possibility

I need positivity.  My engine thrives upon it.  I need open potential.  I need new possibilities.  Here’s why I decided today to “re-like” the terminology of 2.0:  It is just so full of possibility.  School 2.0?  Seriously, who isn’t interested in reforming the future for the largest open-schooling system in the world?  Don’t answer that.  Good point.  I’m sure there are plenty who aren’t.  But look how many really are.  Because of Web 2.0, the folks who want to step up and have a hand in the remaking of our outmoded schools, libraries and governmental participation models…   can.

Web 2.0 is still a novel and effective tool for democracy.  It is still a new way to interact via the Internet.  Why not let it remind you of the shiny possibility of doing something better the next time you try?  Sticking a two at the end of something doesn’t automatically make it better.  However, possibility is as contagious as negativity.  Spread some love, will ya’?


*Inspiration by h.koppdelaney on Flickr
*Web 2.0 will save us by Ben Sheldon on Flickr
*Web 2.0 is web 0.0 future by Will Lion on Flickr
*We are climbing… by Duane Romanell on Flickr

Your ideal writing space?

Snow falls.  My fireplace coats one half of me in cozy radiance.  Across the room, Erin animates a book for my curious babe.  School is still a solid day and a half away.  As I sit here inspired by the art of Vladislav Gerasimov’s studio, I ponder physical space.

I catch myself in full muse about the spaces in which I usually write and how they might influence tone, mood, volume, and mission.  Of course, I am sometimes sitting in my office at 3:00pm pecking keys that reflect the day.  Other times still, I am stuck to a conference hall wall -hugging an outlet- allowing my laptop to drink while I scribble electronically.

Though given my choice, it would look much like today.  The mission-inspired rocker where my butt is planted-  was meant for a nursing mother just two years ago.  Since this chair didn’t seem to inspire her “mission” after all, it has lately become my writing chair.  Her lack of love for this spot has become my pirate’s loot.  Here I sit feet up -gliding in the golden glow of flames- tapping on letters for fun.

The more serious posts in waiting:  our school’s use of the Ning platform, tech strategies for increasing writing fluency, etc…  well, they’ll just have to wait.

Actually, there is a plenty about our artistic stick blogger friend that doesn’t concretely resemble me.  My head isn’t that big, I’m not a big fan of Digg, and far more than letters fill my head.  A conversation with my Communication Arts department the other day revealed a multitude of mental strategies for writing.  Most seemed to rely heavily on a stepped-draft approach.  I thought it interesting that my pal Kelly Lock and I both tend to compose in mental spaces before encoding onto the page.  You can thus imagine the stress we felt while fabricating those incremental “rough draft” assignments in high school.  I bet the little fella above would create his “outline” assignment after-the-fact as well.

Come to think of it, there might be many similarities between he and I.  He does have a slender build.  He does lean intently into his superthin laptop.  He does love dim lighting, and his silly feet seem to be less than planted on terra firma at times.  Hey, you can’t always be practical, right?

So where do you write?  Not when you have to…  but when you can.  What is there with you?  Where does it take place when you get to choose?  Tell it.  Draw it.  Photograph it.  Blog it.  Come back and share it.  You know you want to.

ps- If you care that your screen is beautiful and creative, then check out the art at Vlad Studio.  With the Holiday season fast approaching, I think Christmas Volcano is my current fave.  Wow.  No one on Earth would care enough to pay for an ad on this site, so consider this merely a nod in a cool direction.  Image above is entitled:  Blogger (digg it digg it digg it).

How might technology provide a scaffold into poetry?

I am such a sucker for anything that even slightly tickles the visual and verbal parts of my brain simultaneously. To start, I love this lesson plan that deals with defining poetry. I would love to take part in a discussion like this… shoot… any discussion like this. I need my fix of a good, solid social science or literature debate. Anyone feel like inviting me in for one?

In fact, a nice little set of lesson plans concerning poetry are found on the site. As you look through, you will see that the self-label of “advanced” might just fit. But I think many of these are more than feasible in our school. We have students at Benton who are more than capable of learning from this.

The main website is called “PicLits.” The tagline for PicLits is “inspired picture writing.” To me, this is an interesting little site that appears to be a weird mashup: part visual literacy, part refrigerator poetry, part… fun. The main site itself, doesn’t come across as allowing much heavy-lifting relating to typical communication arts instruction. However, it isn’t the site, but what you do with it that counts. Right? To me, this site is about greasing the wheels of inspiration. I can almost guarantee that an approach like this would have gone a long way toward allowing me to feel empowered to connect to poetic verse at a younger age. I was too cool for this in high school. In college, I became enthralled. Don’t you ever wonder what would have happened if you had learned something really amazing… but a year or two earlier?

Perhaps I connected to this site because it reminds me of some of the goofy things I used to do with Photoshop years ago. To me, so many of my photos just begged for words. I had fun slapping them onto images from time to time.

Perhaps this is a fun little site that would work (as Michael Gier mentioned in a discussion here) in a CA classroom to enhance a lesson that ends with “time to spare.”

Just trolling through the site a bit, I found an image that stood out to me as interesting. It seemed to beg for a poetic caption. There are two ways in which this text can be added. There is a link to add words to the image via “drag & drop” (the refrigerator poetry way), or via the “freestyle” method, which simply allows you to type onto the image as you wish.

My little sixty-second creation is here:

PicLit from
See the full PicLit at

Click to go to the site and check it out, and hey… feedback is powerful. Throw in a comment. Make me feel like a poet. If I like the experience, perhaps I will be inspired to publish again in perhaps even another way. Get it? If you do get it, then you are already beginning the feel the power of the interactive web. Feels good, doesn’t it?

***Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I had to make just one more before getting on with the four other things I am currently juggling:

PicLit from
See the full PicLit at

Anyone else feel like playing along?

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