Melissa Blake, DET candidate and Michigan educator, is researching the transformation of teachers’ PD in light of COVID-19 shutdowns. She first became interested in studying professional development when she grew frustrated with PD she attended. “It seemed like PD facilitators were usually not practicing what they preach (differentiate, provide choices, etc.). The more I spoke to others about this, especially people who worked in other states, levels of education, and types of districts, I realized it was not a localized problem,” Blake noted.
For her dissertation, with chair Dr. Troy Hicks, she was a participant-observer in a 2-week online institute with the Chippewa River Writing Project (CRWP). As a CMU-based site of the National Writing Project, the CRWP utilized principles of effective professional development as well as online learning. Blake said, “I looked at the traits of the institute and how they aligned with research as well as how easily this could be adapted for other contexts. What I’ve found is that it requires more than I originally thought.” She was also able to solidify her thinking that PD offerings were not up to par with best-practice research.
Research-based best practice for professional development entails using active learning, creating relevancy, providing feedback, and allowing for reflection. Further, the need for relationship building, a trait of quality online learning experiences, must be entwined into the experience for teachers to benefit. Blake also stated, “An extra finding is the need for teachers/participants to be metacognitive on multiple levels and readily able to switch between those lenses.” Blake found that presenters in the CRWP institute modeled these metacognitive strategies with participants to help them understand the process of learning and engaging in the conversations. She will continue her research through December with interviews, focus groups, and surveys. With the outcome of her study, she hopes to demonstrate to those who develop and facilitate PD that this pandemic has provided the perfect opportunity to revamp outdated and ineffective practices.