If you’re not including your students in teachers’ PD, you’re missing a key opportunity

Whenever I’m invited to a school or district to talk with teachers about using technology, I’ll ask the principal or superintendent if I can meet with a group of students to prepare first. Often, my request is met with a puzzled reply: “You realize that we want you to come talk to our teachers, right? Why do you want to talk to the kids?”  My experience is that involving students in both staff development planning and during workshops can lead to a much more successful implementation.

Showing teachers how to use the technology itself—what buttons to push, what features to use—isn’t the real challenge in ed-tech professional development. The real challenge is helping teachers understand their students’ expectations and motivation and behavior and lack of knowledge around basic technical skills that are often over estimated. Not including students in at least some parts of the staff development is like teaching surgeons how to operate only on cadavers.

Involving your students in ed-tech PD can be very powerful. Here are three ideas for doing this effectively.

Have teachers observe others as they teach with technology

One of the techniques I like to use is to have teachers watch as I teach a class. Not only can they see how I’m using technology as a tool to support students’ learning; they also can observe how I interact with the students, and the strategies I use to elicit deeper thinking and give students ownership of the learning process. As the lesson unfolds, teachers can ask questions of me or the students to learn more about why the lesson worked or what I was thinking as I used a particular strategy.

Sometimes, what I don’t do is just as important as what I do. For instance, instead of answering a student’s question, I’ll turn the question around and have the student find the answer, then share it with the rest of the class.

The interaction between teachers and students can be very rich, giving observers a better understanding of the issues they’re likely to face in their own classrooms. Those are the kinds of lessons that teachers would miss in a traditional staff development session. For example, even though every student has a device, I might group students together in clusters of two or three to engage them to reach consensus around an academic challenge.  In this way, the student conversation gives teachers more insights into their thinking.

Watching students learn also removes the possibility of a teacher thinking, “This is too difficult for my kids,” or “My students already know this, and I don’t need to teach it to them.” We often overestimate what students know about technology, or we underestimate what they are willing to do—especially if they haven’t been successful in a traditional classroom setting. Seeing how students respond to instruction that uses technology to elicit deeper thinking can help change that mindset.

Next page: Try student-led workshops