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Scaling PD in a New Online World

2014 will be a big year in the education world, and that's putting it rather mildly. This is the year the common core state standards take effect, and in doing so transform the way learning is guided and assessed across the country. Even with a few years preparation, the transition is likely to overwhelm certain districts more than others. For some states, the standards are merely a formality, taking what they already do in most instances and perhaps tweaking a bit. For others, this will be a complete transformation. Teachers in particular will have a new experience in terms of what it means to run a classroom on a day-to-day basis.

There is really only one fair way to conduct this transition to the common core, and that is through extensive professional development. If we are to get our classrooms to new peaks of productivity, we must train our teachers for new environments, and this necessarily implies ongoing learning for all parties involved. While professional development is generally a pricey endeavor, I am pretty confident that it, as with most content-focused businesses, is trending toward free and disaggregated in many fashions.

Startups are tackling the issue of providing quality professional development at a reduced price in a multitude of ways. Bloomboard, winner of the 2012 LAUNCHedu competition, has created a pseudo learning management system for teachers, providing content and helping create individualized tracks of development while monitoring progress. SmarterCookie, a recent graduate of ImagineK12, has a neat idea of letting teachers film themselves in action with a smartphone and then uploading the video for a network of reviewers to provide feedback. Teachers I have heard speak about the possibility of filming the classroom mention the fact that, when compared to a principal sitting in the corner observing the performance, a camera pointed at you is quite harmless. I see real potential in this idea for both development and assessment.

Then, of course, there are the curriculum suppliers. While not necessarily improving teaching in general, a good lesson plan goes a long way to improving the learning experience. Some of the big names in online content generation include sites like BetterLesson, TeachersPayTeachers, and Curriki -- communities built around teachers where lesson plans are aggregated, ranked, swapped, and purchased, creating a network for content where the most effective lessons will organically rise to the top. Deanna Jump recently crossed the $1 million mark selling lessons on TeachersPayTeachers.

Traditionally, professional development is heavily linked to teacher raises and/or benefits. Unfortunately, these online tools are not particularly traditional, and thusly do not as a free product yield the fruits of an established, in person (expensive) professional development provider. There is less incentive for the average teacher to test these interesting waters, and while they may not be the ultimate solution, they are undoubtedly shaping the path to true customizable, anytime PD solutions for our teachers. Doesn't it make perfect sense to give our teachers as much access to improvement as they could possibly want?

Schools have tight budgets, no doubt. But I would argue that no dollar is better spent for a district than one that makes the teacher better. New technologies are revolutionizing the classroom, but they literally only go as far as a teacher can take them. We are obligated to push our teachers to new heights because, quite frankly, the ceiling has done some impressive growing over the past few years. Old school professional development simply does not scale well enough. Just as the cloud has revolutionized the way we think about data in terms of dollars, so too will the new batch of professional development tools. Let's help them get there quicker.

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