Professional Learning: Does it work?


I have been doing some research lately into Training Evaluation, and quite unexpectedly have become intrigued at how we measure professional development and whether it really works.

A lot of time, money, effort, resources, blood, sweat, and tears goes into PD. We as educators provide and receive PD regularly, but does it change our learning stances? A learning stance could be viewed as our own theory of learning, which impacts how we will continue to develop professionally. These stances cannot help but impact how we choose to change, or not make changes in our own practice.

Sometimes, educators might believe that we have the ‘right’ way, or that ‘we know what works in education’, or ‘we alone understand what the students need’. I do think that these stances can become problematic, in that they can prevent us from learning, growing and evolving with our students. If we are thinking about student learning, in addition to justifying money spent on PD, then we need to think about this uncomfortable area.

Also, in education we may focus more on the design of the Professional Learning, including learning principles, sequencing of training material, and job relevance. However, one area where we may be able to improve includes an increased emphasis on trainee characteristics including ability, skill, motivation and personality factors. In addition to work-environment characteristics including supervisory and peer support. All of which have tremendous impacts on learning, and perhaps this is a reason why schools tend to maintain their ‘culture’ over time. It becomes more of a situation where the learning gets changed to fit in with the culture, versus the culture changing to retain new learning. I think that this embodies a ‘transfer problem’. Can we truly transfer our learning from our professional development, and if so, how would we measure that?

Some interesting information that I have processed include 3 prevailing strategies that can be used used that could prevent us from making substantial changes to learning. (I will need to re-evaluate where I found similar information).

I have re-applied them with my own questions about how we as educators possibly deal with new information.

3 Strategies to avoid Change:

  1. Finding ways to reject the new content we are being presented with
  2. Modifying any new content to make the changes less demanding. This includes modifying the content as close as possible to current practice so that we can say we already teach that way, and
  3. Pinpointing only the content that we can easily implement. This means that we teachers will use elements of the content that we can easily apply to our teaching without changing it fundamentally.

I can’t help but wonder what this all means for education. Myself, I can see #2 and #3 happening quite unconsciously. After all, learning is very hard. Learning new things is uncomfortable. It can be very easy to look at a new professional development opportunity assume that it is already quite similar to what we already do – thereby missing key information that could be important.

I have many questions regarding the 3 strategies as well.

First, are they merely proof of the human condition and how we want to learn in ways that help us to feel comfortable? If we remain comfortable, what are implications of this for our students?

What about our educational institutions? How can our schools actively create cultures where we teachers value this feeling of being uncomfortable with learning? Does this behoove educational institutions to create new organizational cultures? How can leaders work to shake up learning cultures that need to change? Who, or what variables, decides whether a learning culture needs to change anyway?

At what point can we take a step back, feel confident in what we are doing, and give ourselves that pat on the back for working so hard and having a competent learning stance? Can we do that? Should we do that?

How do motivation and prior experience impact whether we will allow ourselves to become uncomfortable with learning? And finally, how do we accurately measure the transfer of learning in the first place? Can our learning stances change?

Finally, if we knew the answers to these questions, would it change the way we provide Professional Development for educators?

Does PD work and how do we know?

Certainly a lot to think about. Much more than what can realistically be discussed in a small blog post.

What are your personal insights on this? 


Deborah McCallum

c 2016


New Pedagogies Please!!

Despite what we are taught in Teacher’s College, once in our own classrooms, many educators ‘default’ to teaching in the same ways that we learned from our own days in school? It only makes sense – those experiences have created the schemata we use for how education should work. Many educators have very fixed cognitive schemata about what pedagogy and learning ‘should’ look like. The introduction of anything new, including new educational technologies, is often seen as an add-on or something to ‘add work’. Especially since PD is often given as an ‘extra’ and in isolation of the teaching process, ie., in a different time, place, space.

But society is changing, technology is changing. Further, we are finally beginning to recognize that we NEED to embed FNMI knowledge and our FNMI community members into all of our curriculum and pedagogy. Yet, our traditional pedagogies and school systems are not keeping pace with these necessary changes.

What is preventing the necessary change we need?

What is preventing us from co-teaching, collaborating and fostering deep engagement with other teachers and students? What is preventing us from integrating digital literacy? Edtech? Feedback practices? Testing? FNMI knowledge and values?

First of all, time is a huge barrier. It is not easy to build a ‘community’ that fosters collaboration because there is so little time. Especially in elementary where every minute of everyday is used teaching, supervising, etc. children.

However, collaboration is absolutely essential if we want to be able to create flexible, creative and student directed classrooms. Deep conceptual understanding is essential for our students.

Yet, there is something more too – I truly believe that we need to give each other permission to integrate new ideas and new pedagogies, particularly when it comes to building trust for our FNMI populations in education.

FNMI students need new ways of teaching and learning that can support not only the fastest growing population in Canada – but also the very people who have been here since time immemorial. This should not be considered an ‘add-on’ unit or lesson. We simply cannot teach FNMI content in isolation of the rest of the curriculum. How else will we be able to create trust between everyone who is a stakeholder in our children’s education?

What strategies or ideas do you have for enhancing our school systems and promoting change?

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Help! Our School Structures are outdated and the Digital Divide is growing!

Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952,

This picture represents how learning was originally structured within school systems. One can make inferences about what was important in education in the 1800’s. But how much have things changed since our Canadian school system was implemented? Are Students engaged?

I can’t help but think however, that for all of our new technologies and new knowledge in the 21st century, that the core elements of the educational system are still fundamentally the same. Teachers are working so hard to integrate technologies and initiatives, while still maintaining the status quo set out by standardized evaluations, structures and frameworks upon which the education system is built.

With that in mind, please consider the following statements:

  1. We are headed toward a very serious junction point in education where things will fundamentally need to change to meet the demands of the 21st century.
  2. We are about to see an explosion of technology in our world BUT the digital divide will widen at unprecedented rates.
  3. No matter what an educator does, if the main foundational structures don’t change, the students at the lower end of the digital divide will suffer the most.

Our current structures and frameworks for education simply cannot support the needs of society in our age of technology and information. They also cannot support the digital divide and ensure equity and access for all students in the public education system.

How much of our experiences with educational technology are grounded in realistic assessments of how it is actually working for our students? Who’s voices are being heard?

In our enthusiasm to promote edtech and integrate the kinds of skills that we want our students to have, we come to understand that there are no ed-tech pioneers that have paved the way before us. We are the ones paving the way.


Some people make the mistake that confidence with technology translates into being able to effectively integrate technology with learning. This is not the case. While it is true that our students do not need PD to use technology – The teachers and educators are the ones that provides the opportunities to learn. Educators implement the best practices for students, time management skills, digital citizenship, and integration technologies with the curriculum. It is very hard work. It takes a lot of time. I have not yet found this to be a seamless process. Flexibility is key, because the fact is, when you integrate new technologies, you lose time that you had for other traditional learning opportunities.

The following are just some of the realities we are dealing with:

  • It takes time to log in to your learning management systems.
  • It takes time when students forget how to save and upload to the cloud.
  • It takes time when students also have to negotiate how they are going to share an iPad – a device that was meant for a 1:1 program.
  • It takes time when WIFI cuts in and out. If you are even lucky enough to have WIFI.
  • It takes time when you are not allowed to sign out your computer lab on a weekly basis. It takes time when the sound doesn’t work on one particular app – only on one device and you have to spend time figuring it out.
  • It takes time when students don’t remember how to erase a sketch they have made from a multimedia presentation.
  • It takes time for a lot of students to type out their responses and reflections onto a blog.
  • It takes time to teach students the ‘pathway’ to take to login and find their ‘class’ and/or name for adaptive technologies. And then re-teach it every time they need it because it is too difficult to think abstractly about where their work is online. 
  • It takes time when students forget their password.
  • It takes time when students are navigating the internet to conduct research and they have not had previous exposure and experience with adequate search skills.
  • It takes time to teach effective internet search skills.
  • It takes time when a student is conducting a search and an inappropriate image pops up.
  • It takes time when students are toggling back and forth to social media sites when the teacher is not looking.
  • It takes time to deal with situations where students are swearing at each other in the classroom – over a secret chat channel on their personal devices.
  • And this is in addition to the traditional classroom management issues that continually arise.

The fact is that edtech can be integrated into programming, yet it does take time. Time that has traditionally been devoted to curriculum learning. How engaging is this for students? The potential is there, but we still need ‘more’ to arrive at the point that we want for our students

Then you add on the fact that students need to be reading at a certain level by the end of each primary grade. And students also have to study for standardized tests throughout the school year to ensure that the students do well.

Next you mix this with a school that only has access to 1 computer lab per school, and a small set of devices that are only shared among a precious few.

This is not a recipe for bridging a digital divide, nor is this a recipe that supports the kinds of skills that our students are going to need once they leave school. Our schools need real innovative changes. Yet, there are key differences between schools and school communities. If we consider fundraising opportunities for schools, we see the realities that some schools raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in fundraising, in contrast to the many schools that only raise a few thousand dollars.

Our current systems just do not support the realities of the information age.

Who’s voice matters anyway?

The biggest, shiniest voices appear to pave the way, but let’s not forget the voices that we are not hearing. Under current systems, not everyone has the opportunity to be heard. We need to consider not just schools in areas of low economic status but also rural schools and communities, First Nations reserves, and schools even in our capital cities and metropolises that still do not have WIFI.

What about schools who still only have one computer lab for an entire school to share?

What about those schools who can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from fundraising each year, and those schools who raise only thousands.

At what point do meet that ‘breaking point’ where we realise that we cannot promote equity, access and justice to all students unless we undergo innovative changes? 

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Questions for Knowledge, Development and Learning


Knowledge is not a fixed entity. It is fluid and ever-changing. With that in mind, it is beneficial as educators to get into the habit of  
asking fundamental questions about knowledge. For instance,
  • What is knowledge?
  • How is knowledge produced?
  • What knowledge do I have, and why is it different than someone else’s?
  • Who has the power to produce knowledge?
  • Who benefits from existing knowledge structures?

These are certainly not new questions, as educators, philosophers and psychologists have been asking similar questions for centuries. However, I think they are still important to address, especially in our modern age of information.

Engaging in higher order thinking skills, and asking ourselves these kinds of questions help us to understand issues pertaining to equity, access and corresponding politics. Certainly, the power hierarchies in our society have determined the type of knowledge that we deem to be the most important. We cannot deny the connections that exist between knowledge and power structures and our societies. It is from our places of privilege that we come to deem what knowledge is important and what is not. In the 21st century we also have powerful influences through social media and governments that shape knowledge creation. All too often, we have little regard for the sources of our knowledge. Still more fundamental questions to ask can include:

  • How do we define knowledge and our schools classrooms and other learning environments?
  • How do we differentiate between different forms of knowledge?
  • How do we know what types of knowledge will have more value and which ones will not?

The collaboration and co-creation of knowledge is paramount in the 21st Century. We as educators are not ‘experts’ at all of the potential knowledges that can be created via collaboration and, Information and Computing technologies. Therefore, I have even more questions about how educators can create appropriate learning environments to enable learners to be more self-determining with knowledge acquisition. For instance,

  • How can I strive to continue to make my pedagogy more interactive and strive to understand cultural experiences of the students and learners that I engage with?
  • What are the cultural ways that we come to know our world?
I think that what is important at this day in age is to recognize that the co-creation of knowledge is a cultural process. For instance, it is essential to understand First Nations, Metis, and Inuit backgrounds to incorporate Indigenous Knowledge into my Pedagogy and the curriculum. This knowledge is
especially important in see themselves reflected in the pedagogy of the classroom to increase self-esteem, but also to incorporate into other 
knowledges to create shared understandings.  It is all too easy to replicate hierarchies of power, quite unconsciously. This promotes inequity, and does not prepare learners for an increasingly globalized world that will rely on technology and Indigenous Knowledges.

However, it is nonetheless very difficult to unlearn those ingrained patterns and ideas and knowledge structures. It is important to be open as an 
educator to be flexible with knowledge structures that prevent opportunities to meeting needs of learners in the classroom. One of the ways we can do 
this is through acknowledgement of the the Seven Grandfather Teachings, specifically, the teaching that speaks of Humility. Because knowledge is 
always uncertain, we need to demonstrate humility. Because, after all, it is impossible to be an expert at knowledge. It is not fixed. It is always changing 
and evolving.

Deborah McCallum
© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written 
permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Learning Disabilities: Early Identification and Consistency

woodleywonderworks -


In this day in age, some organizations definitely ‘push’ for early identification of children who have Learning Disabilities (LD). This is often in contrast to school systems who prefer to wait until children are 8 years old before diagnoses are made. However, early identification of LD’s is warranted, because research does in fact demonstrate that early intervention equals higher levels of success for children as they grow and evolve in the world. The reality is that after early identification, supports can be difficult to find, inconsistent, and watered-down so to speak due to a lack of knowledge and education about children with LD’s. There seems to be some common myths surrounding children who are identified early as well. For educators and parents who may be unfamiliar with ASD and its signs and symptoms, it is easy to confuse them with common traits in young children who basically have neurotypical functioning. These include, but not limited to:

  • Emotional maturity (very common for many children when it comes to early identification)
  • cognitive readiness to learn academic tasks
  • Developmental readiness
  • Emotional Readiness
With this in mind, we need to distinguish the differences between traits associated with LD’s and learners who are experiencing any range of cognitive, developmental, and emotional readiness for new tasks. It is quite common for all professionals who work with children to minimize the effects of LD’s at times and normalize the symptoms in comparison with other children who are experiencing other forms of cognitive, developmental, and emotional readiness issues. But what we need is advocacy for effective educational programming, increased knowledge and education about LD’s for all of our support systems our society has in place for children.
The following are suggestions are what everyone who works with children should know about LD:

1.  Explicit Instruction Strategies: Rather than merely implementing sensory breaks and exercises prescribed by an OT, explicit instruction needs to be implemented, and is beneficial for many types of learners.

2. Visual Schedules: There is a science behind the use of visual schedules, and explicit training is warranted for all of our early childhood workers and educators. It involves much planning and preparation on behalf of the the teacher and special education team. This should not be overlooked or minimized. Visual schedules often work well with many different learners as well, not just those with LD’s.

3. Social Skills classes and Peer Play Groups: Social skills are a cornerstone area of need for individual learners who may be experiencing imbalances between cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual domains. Research shows that some individuals with LD’s can have difficulty holding down jobs, and making transitions within the school system, and from home to school. Those are just a ‘small’ part of the picture as to why specific classes and skills groupings are important for students with LD.

4. Hands-on Learning: Minimize the abstract, and strive to make learning concrete.

5. Mandatory LD training for ALL Workers and Educators of children! All educators should become knowledgeable about the needs associated with all learners.

6. Strategies to help students understand emotions: This includes, and certainly not limited to using 3-point, and 5-point scales, Zones of Regulation, etc.,

7. Social Stories: This should be something readily available to help students navigate transitions and social situations. They also help fill in the gaps that may exist due to lack of experience with certain situations

8. 1:1 Support: There are times and places when students with an LD will need to learn one on one, even if they are high-functioning or gifted. There should be programming provisions for this.

9. Strategies actually help ALL students: The wonderful thing is, that implementing any  of the above strategies globally in a classroom will be beneficial for all students!

Because we are still in the relatively early stages of implementing appropriate strategies to support learners with LD, many educators and childhood workers have yet to receive the training, knowledge, or expertise to support students on the spectrum. If training has been undertaken, then we should not be waiting for opportunities to put the training to practice, the practice should be happening already with anyone working with our children and students, regardless of early identification.

Let’s start creating a balance of the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ between the organizations and individuals who want to promote early-identification of LD’s.


Deborah McCallum


© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It is not about Technology. It is about Pedagogy.


In this era of rapid evolution of informational technology, new pedagogies are necessary to meet the demands of our connected world. This includes providing equal access and opportunity for students to partake, share and build knowledge in virtual spaces.

Educators are creatorsfacilitators, curators and collaborators of knowledge in the 21st century, and technology plays a big role in these functions. However, education is not about the technology, it is about the pedagogy. Unless we re-imagine our current school and education structures, technology-infusion will not be meaningful for our learners. If we want tech integration, we must change the way we do things. Tech does not integrate well into our factory model of schools.

21st century pedagogy should evolve as we re-imagine our schemata of how schooling should be structured. This includes how we participate in sharing, exploring, and collaborating of new knowledge networks, and of course, to meet new trends in globalization fuelled by technology.

The integration new technology into pedagogy is a skill that requires knowledge, and understanding. There is a lack  of readily available research and discussion throughout our ‘Professional Learning Networks’ that touches on technology integration and the implications on Pedagogy.

This is also not an area where we can berate other educators about. Not all educators are tech-savvy. However, as educational leaders, our educators need support and facilitation to explore how technology can be incorporated into pedagogy.

Technology integration alone does not equal higher test scores and more effective learners. In fact, there are large percentages of students who are easily distracted by technology, and simply do not have the working memory to be able to process the multiple tasks co-existing at once, ie., pictures and text at the same time. This point presents very real implications to our students when we integrate the newest technologies. As educators, we do need research, training, and better practices to best educate our learners.

It is our pedagogy that needs to evolve to support technology and new ways of globally sharing, knowing and building knowledge. 

In fact, technology in itself is not new. Technology has always existed. Modern technology has been around as long as people have existed, and doesn’t just refer to the 21st century.

Also, absolutely no one can deny that the newest inventions tend to engender or require the development of certain skills or attitudes. But is there anything really new? What is new is our ability to access knowledge, collaborate, and share on a global scale. We no longer need the ‘teacher’ as the ‘sage on the stage’. We have opportunities to break out of the previously built structures that bind us to when, why, what, and how we should all learn. We have opportunities to re-imagine what learning can look like, feel like, and how it can impact ourselves and others.

What opportunities lie ahead if we can embrace this kind of change! 

But it is not about the ‘technology’. It will always take good educators to help learners find their own paths to learning that is important to them:

Good teachers know that abandoning good teaching practice, & allowing yourself to be distracted by technology results in poor teaching.

Good teachers also know that they do not have all the answers, and that we can use new technologies to ignite passion for learning that is personally meaningful.

It has been suggested by educators with PhD’s discussing the notions that some of our lower levels of literacy across the Western world come from educators having abandoned certain practices that promote deep learning, to experiment with new technologies. Let’s not forget that tech-integration takes a lot of time, resources, and practice.

Still, others have argued that the spell check and word processors of our modern day technology has resulted in generations of students with increased difficulties in spelling, reading, and writing, and critical thinking. If there is actually truth to any of these arguments, we as educators have much to contemplate when it comes to integrating technology.

So how do we maintain high standards of excellence, while shifting pedagogy to incorporate technology meaningfully?

Perhaps before we jump into integrating the newest technologies, and the newest ‘flavour of the month’ perhaps, we also remind ourselves of the ‘truths’ that make us good educators, and the research based art and science behind our teaching practice, and make sure that whatever tools we use in the classrooms, we do NOT abandon good pedagogy to simply use a new technology in our classrooms.

This takes training, facilitation, and new professional development strategies for teachers to be able to shift previous schemas of how learning should unravel.

Further, human challenges will always remain human challenges, will always remain human challenges.  Regardless of the date and time in history humans will always have the same basic needs including needs for love, acceptance and to learn new information. New technologies do not automatically offset universals in the areas of human behaviour. We do need research and training to understand the implications of  technology usage in the classroom on the nature of human beings and learning.

New technologies should not offset good pedagogy. Rather, pedagogy should evolve to incorporate meaningful ways of learning, collaborating and sharing in the 21st century.


Deborah McCalllum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content