Change is the end result of all true learning. – Leo Buscaglia
I am the proud father of an amazing set of triplets. They are the light of my life and I revolve everything I do around them. Usually, they are pretty good at doing what they are told to do. In the afternoon they come home from school, put their coats away, and take out their homework. Things work (nearly) perfect every day.
There are, however, some days there they need to be reminded to do their homework. Other things in their busy lives get in the way and their mother and I need to focus them on their studies so that they can (hopefully) one day grow up to be big and strong members of society. When times like this creep up, we must resort to a tactic that incentivizes their learning by offering them treats, or (in my house) bribes to get them to be good students both in school and at home.
Incentivizing learning works wonders for small children. Often at home, you can hear me say “you can watch TV if you get your homework done” or “if you read for another 20 minutes, you can play Minecraft.” Let us face it, these motivational tricks also work well in the classroom to motivate students to learn. How many times have you heard of teachers who try to trade good behavior for extra time at recess?
If extra recess or additional time playing Minecraft work well for students, would it make sense that there is merit in incentivizing professional development for adult learners?
How do you Incentivize Professional Development?
I was recently speaking with an Instructional Coach who has created a unique incentivized learning program for teachers in her school district. She said to me something that was remarkable but at the same time, it was a simple concept that should be adopted by any school district wishing to put a value on the professional well-being of their staff members.
Step 1: Define What Professional Development Truly Is
The first step in incentivizing professional learning is to define exactly what professional development is. For many school districts, professional development is only counted if the staff member is doing it on one of only a handful of days during the school year where PD (Professional Development) is offered by the school district.
This, unfortunately, discourages staff members from looking outside of school for professional learning opportunities and punishes them for the times that they do seek to improve themselves.
What is professional development? Using broad brush strokes, professional development could be an online course, Edcamp Conference, graduate course or by simply working with an Instructional Coach on a lesson.
Step 2: Recognize that Staff Members are Constantly Engaged in Professional Learning
Once it has been established that opportunities for professional learning are abundant, the second step is to recognize your staff members for taking advantage of these opportunities and praising them for doing so. Recognition could take the form of online badges, comp time, or even a certificate of recognition from your school district.
In the example that my Instructional Coach friend mentioned about her school district. Teachers take part in a variety of professional learning opportunities and when finished, submit hours, certificates, or other tokens of completion through a Google Form and it is collected and organized in a central location in the district.
Step 3: Formulate a Plan that Compliments the Strategic Plan
Above all, your professional development program needs to be designed to meet the needs of the district Strategic Plan. This is a great example of how one school district values the time that staff members spend on professional learning opportunities. Let us look at another.
Professional Development Example Through Badging #1
In this example, a school district created a badging program based around the 4C’s of Instructional Technology Integration. Each marking period was given a “C-Theme” and inside each of the themes, teachers were encouraged to earn up to 4 badges to demonstrate proficiency over each of the C’s.
Here is an example of this school district’s planning document.
Soaring Through the 4C’s of Technology Integration
-Egg – Hatchling – Fledgling – High Flyer-
The School District has adopted the “4C’s” technology framework to promote Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, and Communication in our classroom lessons. To implement a comprehensive and learner-centered approach to technology that engages and empowers students, we have created four pathways of learning for our staff.
High-Flying through your Curriculum
Professional Development will be focused on one of the 4C’s (Communication, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity) during each semester of the 2017-18, and 2018-19 school years. Staff members will be encouraged to earn their “High Flyer” badge in each of the C’s during those semesters. It will take two (2) complete school years to earn all four High Flyer badges.
To become a “High Flyer,” teachers will be required to earn at least 4 badges by demonstrating their knowledge of that particular “C” by using and implementing certain tools in their classroom and by demonstrating student learning in their respective subject(s).
What are digital badges?
Badges are a way to recognize staff members for gaining skills and experiences they can use with their students. They allow teachers to create their own pathway of learning and customize their individual professional development pathway. By offering badges, as part of the incentive for professional development, teachers can not only highlight what they are working in their classrooms, but also have the ability to be quickly identified as experts in the classroom. Badges can be earned by a staff member at their convenience or after a training session takes place. Training could be in the form of a 1:1 session, group meeting, or online learning module.
What types of badges could be offered?
Essential Skills: Training activities that do not require a learner to demonstrate knowledge of a particular skill or topic. (Example: Gmail / Calendar / Keep)
Classroom Tech: These badges are awarded to staff members who participate in a training session and after using it in the classroom with their student’s present evidence of proficiency in the form of a link to a project or artifact. (Example: Kahoot)
How Do I Earn a Badge?
To earn badges, teachers can visit our Staff Portal and choose the menu option to visit “Cardinal University.” This website will provide teachers with both online and 1:1 learning options to help them learn how best to integrate educational technology to benefit their students.
To earn a badge, a teacher will find a tool or application of interest and enter the online learning portal for that tool. To earn the badge, a teacher must first demonstrate knowledge of the online tool and then provide evidence of using that tool in the classroom with his/her students. Evidence could include a link to a finalized project or a file inside of his/her Google Drive.
After the completion of the online learning course, the teacher will be emailed a badge for that tool. Four tools in the appropriate category will qualify the teacher to receive their “Highflyer” badge for that particular “C.” Teachers can learn about and take any course at any time; however, they may only qualify for the “C” that we are focusing on during that particular semester.
What can teachers do with their badges?
Badges can be added to a staff members website and could be used to link to specific projects.
Can badges count for professional development credit?
5 Badges might equal 10 PD hours
A Word of Warning for Badging Programs
So far, we have looked at how Micro credentials and Badging Programs can support professional development and enhance digital learning skills both in staff members and students. But one question often comes up when discussing micro credentials. Do they work for every school district?
One of the first things that you need when planning a badging program is support from administration. The concept of giving out a token for attending a PD session or signaling out one staff member over another is also a concept and discussion that might need to have support from your local teacher’s union. I have seen, unfortunately, Instructional Coaches get excited about creating badges for completing PD courses, only to have something backfire due to union issues.
Is it possible to have a staff member attend a PD session and then at the end get a “thank you” token? Absolutely, but the moment that a coach introduces a leader board or some type of tracking statistics that are shown publicly, things often go south (and quickly).
A Word of Advice for Incentivizing Professional Learning
In speaking to several Instructional Coaches about their professional development plans, it is clear that the size of the school district does have a direct correlation on the success of staff recognition programs. Where there are many exceptions to this, it appears that the smaller the school district, the easier it is to create such a program where staff recognition is part of the culture. If you are in a school with a successful staff recognition program, I would love to invite you to reach out and share your story with me.
The question often comes up, “if it works for the students, why can’t it work for the teachers?” In the world of staff development and incentive programs, it is important to make sure that you and your district are creating a program that is bottom up yet designed with the full support from the top down. Making sure that you are providing professional support by treating your staff as professionals is the key ingredient for creating a successful program no matter if it is micro credentials or staff certificates.