Interview | Meet the “MC” of ASCD

Before joining ASCD, Mary Catherine “MC” Desrosiers specialized in customer-centered new product design, development, and delivery of instructional services. In her most recent role as chief strategy and operations officer at Integrated Educational Strategies Inc. (IES), she oversaw a wide range of activities, from strategic planning to the creation of services supporting schools implementing “blended learning” programs. Prior to IES, MC co-founded Bridge2Learning, a consultancy firm that provides strategic product design and operations consulting and development services. In addition, she’s held various management, development, and operation roles as a senior vice president at Kaplan Virtual Education and at K12 Inc.  A graduate of Mount Saint Mary’s University (“Go Mountaineers!” says MC), she earned a bachelor’s degree in business and finance, and earned her Masters of Business Administration from Marymount University. “In a lot of ways, my career has been building to my new role at ASCD,” says MC, ASCD’s new Chief Program Development Officer. “You and your readers understand that education today is at an inflection point — so much is changing. I understand the association’s rich history, and I believe my more than 20 years’ experience in the education, digital media, and technology markets will help take the association to an even brighter future.” Here, MC provides great insights for educators including the number one problem she hears as she engages with ASCD’s 140,000 superintendents, principals, teachers, professors, and advocates from more than 143 countries; the current state of publishing today; the secret to effective professional development; her take on the near future — and two little bits of advice.

Victor: ASCD has become a leading provider of professional development, and with your PD Online and PD In Focus services, a leading provider of online PD. What makes your Professional Development unique from others out there?

MC: First and foremost, ASCD’s professional development solutions bridge the gap between the expert and practice. For years, we’ve worked with top thought leaders as they refine the ideas and theories shaping education. But we don’t stop there. Through our various PD solutions, we are able to truly connect theory to practice, helping educators apply the best concepts from the sharpest minds in education to support the success of each learner.

But I don’t think it ends there. I think we are unique in the breadth and depth of our professional development content. While our award-winning digital tools like PD Online and PD In Focus certainly can stand alone, they can also be included in an overarching package of potential professional development experiences, including our in-personl capacity building services, e-books and books, journals, videos, conferences, institutes and more. These coordinated and complementary ASCD resources provide additional flexibility and personalization, and can be leveraged to provide the ongoing, job-embedded professional development we know makes educators successful throughout their career.

Victor: You deal with a large volume of educators – what’s the number one area of concern that they have/complaints they have/requests they have when it comes to technology and professional development — either tech integration into the classroom or otherwise — and how does your program work to provide a solution to that?

MC: I think the number one issue we see with technology and professional development is really not a technology issue per se, rather a more systemic issue we call “initiative fatigue.” Teaching in today’s ever-evolving classroom requires educators to continually add new skills while simultaneously sharpening existing ones through professional development. However, sometimes despite even the best intentions, professional development can be delivered in a way that obscures the big picture. We find that when this happens, teachers can get exhausted by a seemingly disconnected and unending series of new PD initiatives.

When ASCD conducts professional development work with our partners, we work collaboratively with school officials to get a sense of the overall professional development efforts so we can tailor our efforts to best fit school systems’ goals, but do so in a seamless, cohesive fashion that ultimately avoids “initiative fatigue” and helps students learn and grow.

Victor: What is your take on the future of online PD?

MC: I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the capabilities of online PD. For example, ASCD’s PD Online solution offers a broad array of important topics, but it does so with high-quality digital content that fits the needs of almost any type and size of learning group, ranging from individual learners to statewide deployments and integration with university programs. ASCD’s solutions are used by some of largest districts in the United States as integral components of their professional development strategy, but they can also be customized to fit an individual’s or school system’s professional development needs. Finally, they are highly accountable. Administrators can track progress with an online solution, ensuring that everything is on track and people are receiving credit for their efforts. And these types of benefits are just the start. As online professional development becomes an increasingly larger part of the overall professional development continuum, I think additional, unforeseen benefits will emerge.

Victor: What is one emerging technology that has the potential to change the future of PD and why?

MC: In general, educational technology provides an exciting opportunity to embrace a new array of learning environments that include digital content, social networking, cloud services, mobile devices and predictive data analysis. In my opinion, it is the convergence of these new technologies, and how they interact and complement each other, which provides the potential to change the future of PD.

Victor: ASCD is one of the leading publishers of professional development books. How is technology changing in publishing? Got any e-books? Will we begin to see more interactive “books” that take advantage of video casts, game-based learning for teachers, social media?  

MC: Publishing is being revolutionized by technology as we speak, and ASCD is at the forefront of an effort to leverage technology to bring those in the field even higher quality content, faster. We currently offer more than 300 e-book titles, with more titles being added to that number each month. In the future, you will certainly see more interactive content in e-books as technology evolves. As technology improves the delivery and share-ability of content, one thing that is constant in educational publishing is the need for high-quality content. All the technological bells and whistles will not save a book that does not help educators improve their practice. At ASCD, as we look for ways to effectively use technology to better deliver content, we keep first and foremost in our mind the idea that all our content must help educators learn, teach, and lead.

Victor: What is the secret to effective professional development? What are the pitfalls?

MC: I think the secrets to effective professional development and the pitfalls of professional development are closely related.

We all know that for PD to be successful, it must be sustained, job-embedded, measured and continuously evolving to promote continuous improvement. However, the secret sauce in the most effective programs I’ve seen is a real, meaningful vision.

In those programs, the learning architect of the professional development program has a clear plan and outline of what success looks like and that vision is communicated all the way down the line to the educator in the classroom.  This provides clarity, and is defense against the “initiative fatigue” I mentioned earlier.

When goals are clearly communicated, people can see not only where the initiatives they are participating in fit, but they can also see where they personally fit into to a program, and what the benefits of the program will be to them.

Victor: What will PD look like five years from now?

MC: When it comes to PD content in five years, less will be more. Educators are going to be looking for specific chunks of discrete information to solve their unique PD needs.

Victor: What trends lead you to this answer?

MC: The major trend here is time, or actually, the lack of time. Certainly, teaching — and life in general! — has become more complicated, leaving educators with a lot less time for PD.

Solutions will have to be shorter, they will have to be on demand, and they will have to be delivered through channels that make the content easy to consume. Smaller chunks of rich PD content, delivered on-demand through social media in engaging formats, seems like the natural byproduct of our increasingly busy lives.

Victor: What advice would you have for teachers today regarding technology integration in the classroom?

MC: I would offer two pieces of advice:

Technology in the classroom is now an integral part and will always be evolving and changing, so embrace technology, but don’t feel like you have to know everything.

Also, remember you, the teacher, make the primary difference in students’ learning. The technology should be just a transparent tool to better enable learning.

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