Redefine PD with the 80/20 Principle

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A very significant part of Educational Technology Leadership is devoted to professional development, new systems implementation, and the long term planning of support.

Every year as the semester starts-up, administrators around the world are planning for professional development (PD). There is pressure during those initial weeks to try and rapidly develop the faculty within new areas, to help everyone review all current requirements, and to re-train in areas of concern. Many of these areas rely highly, or solely, upon technology; technology is often the center of the professional development process.

Year after year, group after group, and plan after plan, results tend to be the same. There is never enough time to meet everyone’s agenda, teachers feel rushed, and confidence among many is low but silenced. So why do organizations follow this same pattern?

After many years of asking this question, and proposing options, the answers seem to come down to:

  • This is the only fair way to expose EVERYONE to EVERYTHING.
  • The goal is not mastery; the goal is introduction; mastery comes later.
  • Large groups working together help to create future support groups; the process is team building.
  • Support and resources for PD are easier to manager in mass; the first week or two of the new year shift support to critical needs.

Everyone is 100% and 100% is Wrong

The Pareto principle (80/20) is taught in economics, business, marketing, etc., because when tested, it tests true.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity)[1] states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. (

For example:

  • 20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
  • 20% of the software bugs cause 80% of the crashes
  • 20% of the features cause 80% of the usage
  • 20% of users create 80% of the technology support tickets.

80/20 is often seen as a negative metric, when in fact, is a great opportunity to improve PD outcomes.

Following the 80/20 rule, any given PD item needs to be mastered by only 20% of the organization in order for the entire organization to benefit.

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Technology Surveys for New Hires

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Since 2008, I have been working with groups of new hires. There is much stress and confusion when people are relocating to another country. I always try and provide the information new hires need to understand the technology culture at the school, and within the country.

Initially, I was simply doing Q and A, and creating FAQ documents. One year, I realized that I was missing a huge opportunity to do some data driven decision making. I began to develop a set of surveys.

Survey data helps to shape the professional development for orientation and possible configurations for IT systems. Additionally, the data aids in the team building process by identifying new people with higher level skills. These people can then immediately contribute at the level they should be contributing instead of being sidelined because they are new.

Meet Them Where They Are

Many schools are hesitant to do surveys because new hires have a tremendous amount of paperwork to complete. Schools often do not want to add any additional communication to an already very busy process.

I do understand this view point, however, new hires will not be overwhelmed if a technology survey is incorporated into an already required technology process.

In the spring, I recommend all schools setup and activate the email accounts for the new hires. The moment they sign in the first time, they are a captive audience. The first email they see in their inbox could be the technology survey. New hires usually like getting their new account in the spring, so they will not be irritated at the process.

If the school has setup social media for new hires, such as a Facebook Group, those accounts can also be used to share links to surveys.

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Required Professional Development, That You Do Not Have to Attend

The Forest for the Trees

The title is a bit misleading, this is about PD, but it mostly about people not actually believing in people.  This post will summarize a solution to a problem I have been struggling with for the last few years. When the solution came to me, my mind began to fill with phrases like:

Many years ago when I was working on my masters, I remember having a very detailed discussion with my professor about motivating teachers to do professional development (PD). Obviously, people can be bought. There is no other way to say that. If you have money and pay people, they will attend PD. Most schools cannot afford this type of model, and many types of PD are required for people to do their jobs well- so schools should not pay people to meet requirements. The other things you can offer teachers is time. Time-off for doing something or a removal of a normal duty.

Not offering people anything is very common. Trying to appeal to people by explaining how important learning X  is, is the strategy most schools employ. The fact is though, doing this does not ensure anyone is learning. It does not mean people will arrive prepared and ready to learn. This strategy cannot predict who will pay attention and who will simply hang-out until the end of the required time.

Your mind is now generating this statement, “But in a few weeks the ones who did not pay attention will have trouble with ‘X’ and the school will know who they are.”  No. That is also not going to happen. The reason being, the school probably setup PD sessions that were overcrowded, on a short time constraint, or both. So those who were sitting in the PD on their Facebook can simple say that there was not enough time for them to ask questions, and they will claim they need to be heavily differentiated.

That was the past. That was the wrong way to do things. This is the correct way. This is the future.

Time is a currency, and for an overworked staff, or a staff that believes they are overworked, time is often worth more than money.

First off, for this to work, the PD needs to be organized. All PD needs to have a lesson plan that links to some type of instructional material and the lesson plan should have learning goals. These goals have to connect to activities that can be measured or monitored.

Sample Partial Lesson Plan

Lesson : Office 365 Calendar

  • All participants will understand the concept of sharing a link vs sending an attachment.
  • All participants will be able to access their web calendar.
  • All participants will be able to add a new event to the calendar and invite people.
  • All participants will be able to view their calendar in weekly, monthly and daily layouts;
    and they will be able to print the calendar if needed.

Activity 2:

Everyone need to create a new event.

They should create a start and stop time during the PD time. We want them to all get a notification before the PD is over. For example: a 4:45 start – 5:00 end

They need to PASTE the link to their shared document in the event body. They need to invite two people to the event.

Once someone receives and invite, they need to accept it. 

Once the lesson plan is complete it needs to be distributed. Yes, email is an option, but using Moodle, iTunes U, Edmodo, etc. would be better. When it is distributed, tutorials need to be include. Tutorials like this:

Do you need PDFs, Videos, Audio, or a celebrity guest to help differentiate the material? No. All you need is a good source that covers all the topics that will help people achieve the goals. Time is important for everyone, including the people running the PD. Powerpoint is probably the worst option though. People who want to do things on their own, want to be able to move around easily and find topics. Unless you are one of those people who use Powerpoint to write small novellas, then your talking points and notes will not be very useful to the audience. If you are one of those people, please stop and seek help. No one can read that much on a Powerpoint slide.

Now that the lesson is made and training materials are connected to the lesson plan, the final step is to contact the audience and include:

1. The goals of the upcoming PD
2. The lesson plan
3. The link to the materials
4. And this sentence: “If you can complete all the goals in the lesson plan, and notify [name/person] when you are complete, you do not need to attend the PD session(s) today. You are free to do whatever you want to do. If you want to help other participants instead of being a participant, let [name/person] know.”

In the lesson sample above, I would have added instructions for people wanting to opt-out to include me on their calendar invites and other sharing activities. This allows me to monitor their progress, and add them to a list of people who do not need to come to the PD session.

This strategy allows me to remove about 20%-30% of the population from the training, and gain some extra help for those people looking for uber-differentiation.
I would call this a win-win. Teachers, even if they hate all PD, will realize they have a choice. Anyone who values their time and has a bit of confidence will be able to take some control of their day and schedule. Those who choose to come to the PD, will be in smaller groups and have more support.

The first time I did this, I had one teacher email me and say, “I have finished. I am helping others in my department so we can all skip the session.” I thought this was amazing. The department did not just walk out early, they all met on their own and worked on their projects. They actually used the time to save time in the future.

For me, there is no turning back. I am going to encourage everyone at school to not go to PD. I am going to focus on making it easier and easier for people to do their own learning. The data collection on who is doing what is easy and includes a record of achievement. I want PD session to be EMPTY!

I firmly believe most people can handle most of the PD topics on their own, at least the ones geared towards the classroom teachers. I also believe paying people with time and control over their schedules will prove this theory to any school who has doubts.

I spent the last few years trying to structure the end-of-day sessions to be more appealing, and to find clever ways to get people to follow-up on training. This approach used more of their time. I was focused so hard on the PD sessions, that I lost the point of the exercise. Learning is the point. Motivating people to learn is what I needed to focus on. Motivation requires most people to perceive some kind of gain. I was only giving them loss. No more.

Tony DePrato