My last visit to the blogosphere revolved around a discussion of professional development and helping teachers achieve the 3c’s: Creating, Collaborating, and Contributing. Administrators, learning directors, reading specialists, and the like want their teachers to have the best tools and technology available to help them become a “3c’s teacher” and in turn ensure student success. Unfortunately, these admirable intentions often involve expensive investment in programs and technology that are pushed out to classrooms without considering how they will be received by the teachers.
Teachers are products of candidate programs that prepare them for the classroom by instilling knowledge of the core curriculum and pedagogical strategies. Only recently has technology become an active part of teacher training. The result is a multitude of teachers who have developed effective instructional methods and practices with little to no technological integration. School boards and administrators see the potential benefits of bringing technology and programs into the classroom. Teachers, on the other hand, have invested time in correlating instructional strategies with the curriculum they teach to develop an effective system. The introduction of a new program or technology into their classroom means changing the method of operation in which they are personally vested. It is reasonable to expect resistance to the introduction of new programs or technologies.
Stephen Krashen’s theory of second language acquisition includes what he refers to as the affective filter. This filter is comprised of three components of the learner’s experience: motivation, self confidence, and anxiety about the subject matter. Each of these states of mind plays an important role in how successful a given learner will be at acquiring a second language. A learner with a low affective filter is one who is intrinsically motivated, is confident they will be successful, and feels little to no anxiety. A learner with a high affective filter has a negative turn in one of these three traits. They may be less motivated, lack confidence in their ability to succeed, feel very anxious about the task, or some combination of the three. This theory of how the affective filter influences the acquisition of a second language can be generalized to learning any new skill or concept.
I was recently asked to help a grade level team with the technology in their classrooms, specifically their SMART boards. Two years ago, these SMART boards were installed in their classrooms but the teachers never received training on how to effectively integrate them into curriculum instruction. As a result, they hung on the wall like large expensive white boards and were used as such. A quick informal assessment told me that these teachers all had their affective filter raised to a very high level. Remember, motivation, self confidence, and anxiety all contribute to the state of mind of the learner. Imagine the affective filter of the teacher who has an established classroom. Why would they be motivated to learn to integrate this technology into their daily instruction? All this time they have been teaching without it and managing just fine. The prospect of the time they will need to invest to learn one more thing is frustrating. Moreover, they might not feel very comfortable with technology in general, further increasing their anxiety. The affective filter of these teachers could have been greatly reduced by one simple thing: professional development.
Before the technology is installed in classrooms, the teachers need to be motivated to integrate it into their instructional strategies. They need to be shown how the new tools augment the instruction of core concepts. They need to be taught how to effectively integrate the technology into daily instruction, thereby increasing their confidence in their ability to be successful as a result of using the tools. They need to be personally invested in the idea that this is going to become a productive addition to their routines and well as worth the time they will invest to become proficient at incorporating and using the tools. When done correctly, professional development can accomplish all of these goals.
Professional development is in an investment in teachers that unlocks technology’s potential to impact student learning. This investment acknowledges that technology does not teach students; teachers teach students. When shown the benefits of the technology, and given clear direction on how to integrate it to use it to its full potential, teachers are more likely to become motivated and confident about using it in their classroom.
Roland Barth stated, “Change that emanates from teachers lasts until they find a better way.” Teachers are lifelong learners seeking more efficient and effective methods of instruction. They recognize the tools and methods that will help them become a “3c’s” teacher. Like most everyone else they initially resist change, but value learning more than they fear change. Ironically, they’re always looking to find a better way. Professional development lowers the affective filter by demonstrating the inherent value of a tool or strategy by ‘showing the way’. It allows individuals to feel personally vested. Through these benefits they will realize the positive effects on student learning and performance. An investment in professional development not only ensures a return on the investment of hardware, it is an investment in the teachers who will touch the lives of students on a daily basis. Invest in professional development and you invest in tools that will ensure success.