I love the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." It's probably the most appropriate saying for professional development as well. There is no way you can make a teacher want to learn. If they don't want to, then they don't want to! But I do wonder if there is a way to help make them "thirsty" enough to recognize a nice cool "drink" when it's placed in front of them?
Honestly speaking, I'm not exactly sure how to do that! Well, that's not totally true. I do find myself agreeing with Will Richardson's last blog post at Weblog-ed on this point. Will suggests that the best way to engage teachers in learning is to encourage them to first be selfish learners. Selfish not in terms of ignoring the needs of others, but rather, first encouraging them to use tools to learn about something that is of maximum value for them.
In my previous post, I talked about how value needs to be created and engaged before any learning takes place. Inevitabley if you as a teacher do not find value in learning a new skill, then frankly you won't extend the effort needed to learn it. There is way too much other stuff going on to waste time learning something that has no value. But if a teacher can find value (in this case value would be attained by engaging teachers in something non-profession related) that they will begin to use those personal tools in the professional realm as well.
So again, how can you do this?
Besides making learning completely personalized, which I believe to be the best option, I envision removing the stuffines of a traditional learning environment and replacing it with a more relaxed gathering place.
At the upcoming Missouri District Teacher's Conference, which by the way is going to be a drastic departure for us in terms of what we've done before, we are organizing a kind of technology information booth. I got the idea from the work that Amy Vejraska (and other colleagues...sorry I don't remember names) did at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference last year. It seemed like a great idea, so we are going to give it a shot!
The information booth with be staffed with knowlegable teachers who can answer questions about wikis, blogs, Delicious, Diigo, Twitter, Second Life...you name it! Our hope is that the non-threatening, "Hey, come check us out" atmosphere, that most teachers will let down their guard and feel comfortable enough to ask questions, share ideas, or try out some different tools.
Will that help create value? I don't know, but we hope that the relaxed atmosphere will help break down any barriers to potentially finding out if something can have value for them.
Personalized and Non-threatening...I guess you've got to start somewhere!
Image "Thirsty Horse" by Flickr user: [alxandr]