The 4 most common mistakes districts make in professional development

Expert details the mistakes district leaders often make in tech-based PD; offers enlightening solution.

Across the globe, teachers are continually asked to integrate technology into their curriculums to keep up with future-ready skills and in turn they complain that they need more professional development. District administrators then tend to incorporate four common mistakes in professional development programming.

The problem is this: District leaders hear that teachers need more tech-based professional development when, in reality, the ask is much more nuanced: they are pleading with the education system for more time to plan, participate in training, experiment with new technologies and share best practices. Because of this disconnect, tech-based (and, really, overall) professional development offered to teachers is often not as effective as it could be.

The 4 Most Common Mistakes in Tech-Based Professional Development

1. Assuming your hired specialists will do it naturally

Across the country, school systems hire library media specialists, digital media specialists, technology integration specialists, and other types of curriculum training personnel to deliver instruction, offer staff training and guide teachers through changes in pedagogy; but what is their role and how are they supported in a system where the focus is mainly aimed at time-on-task, teaching core curriculum subjects?

2. Squeezing tech-based PD whenever you can

In my experience, offering PD before school, at lunchtime, after school, on weekends and during summer hours is just not feasible. Teachers are always planning, evaluating, and assessing their own curriculums and spend most of their “free” time addressing those needs to improve teaching and learning. As a result, even suggesting that teachers give up their unscheduled teaching hours is bound to get negative results and rightly so.

3. Relying on LMS or Online PD

One common mistake is to offer online tech-based PD through Learning Management Systems (LMS) or other online platforms where teachers can log in and work at their own pace; but even that fails over time since there is usually little incentive for them to complete the tasks. Furthermore, in an online environment, if teachers complete course work on their own time, there is still no guarantee that they will use the newly obtained knowledge in their classrooms.

4. Forcing it through the curriculum

The use of technology always brings about change. With little planning time, changing curriculum content to integrate technology and ensuring that it will enhance the classroom experience can be somewhat overwhelming when everything is working well. With some teachers, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” is the silent attitude.

To support this effort, some schools offer tech-based PD as an added option, which may or may not set it up for failure. If administrators expect teachers to use the latest and greatest technology and teaching methods then there needs to be an overall Professional Development vision for the school. Not a one-line statement simply stated in the tech plan, but a true vision that incorporates time in the school calendar to foster skills and pedagogy that is deemed important by teachers and administrators.

(Next page: An enlightening solution and action plan)


Going digital? 5 tips for a smooth start

A digital transformation doesn’t have to be hard, as some innovative and successful school districts are proving.

As schools look to modernize teaching and personalize learning, technology is becoming an indispensable tool in the classroom. Though technology alone does not improve learning, it does offer a greater opportunity for students to improve skill proficiencies, test scores, spontaneous collaboration and productivity.

While it’s no longer a matter of if technology is right for the classroom, just which technology and how much, districts aren’t always sure about the best ways to get started on the digital journey.

Like any other important education initiative, going digital requires a hefty amount of planning and implementation. Districts that have been most successful in their digital transformations [Read: “12 districts honored for their innovative digital curriculum transition strategies.“] seem to share a commitment to a careful, multi-stage process involving the full range of stakeholders – administrators, teachers, students and parents.

Here are five lessons from these best practices:


1. Planning is crucial. School technology programs always begin with the broad idea to use laptop computers, tablets and other devices to maximize the learning experience. But what needs to come next?

As a first step, districts should articulate a precise vision that goes beyond adopting technology for technology’s sake. What specific educational goals do they hope to achieve and what kinds and amounts of hardware and software will be required to reach them? And not just in the near term but over the next 18-24 months?

The Eanes Independent School District near Austin, TX, addressed this essential first step called by the Consortium for School Networking Leadership for Mobile Learning (CoSN) as a “recipe for transformation” checklist. Administrators, teachers, students, parents and any other stakeholders all need to be involved in developing and understanding the vision, according to the Eanes model. And there needs a clear, shared understanding of what success looks like, including quantitative and qualitative metrics.

smart-collaboration student choice

2. An inclusive approach works best. You could say it takes a village to develop and implement a technology-in-schools program. Change isn’t easy. It requires cooperation among administrators, teachers, students and parents.

The Eanes district is on the cutting edge here too. It established a Digital Learning Task Force that brought together teachers, parents, community members, students and administrators to guide the process. Its purpose includes researching the latest technology trends and current integration models of technology and learning, researching expectations and goals for professional development and standardization of digital learning platforms, and collecting feedback. The task force even distributes a monthly newsletter and prepared an online course on “digital parenting.”

(Next page: Digital transformation tips 3-5)


12 districts honored for their innovative digital curriculum transition strategies

Learning Counsel's annual National Gathering was an occasion to celebrate success and connect ed-tech leaders facing similar challenges.

At the Learning Counsel’s Annual Gathering and National Awards event, twelve leading districts were recognized for their vision and innovation in integrating digital curriculum and technology into their teaching and learning process. Attendees at the event included top education executives from around the U.S., who gathered to acknowledge exemplary progress and discuss how innovation, technology, and school and classroom remodeling is pushing the education envelope—all in the name of better outcomes for our youth.

The Learning Counsel is helping education leaders chart a course that includes actionable data and current trends,” said Janell McClure, the director of Digital & Multimedia Learning from Cobb County School District. “These awards share incredible examples of innovative thinking. The knowledge we’ve gained at this Gathering event will guide our work as we continue to strive for excellence in teaching and learning through digital platforms, tools, and practices.”

The national awards were made possible through sponsorship from Ruckus Wireless. As schools like these go truly digital, they need resilient WiFi. With so many types of mobile devices integrated into a student’s learning process, schools need a WiFi network that can handle a high density of devices with speed and reliability.

LeiLani Cauthen, the CEO and Publisher of the Learning Counsel, shared when she spoke at the Gathering that, while on the road this year visiting 29 different cities she observed more schools running “smack into the issue of digital curriculum coverage models,” and “face-planting into the issue of classroom implementation.” She said that every city had Superintendents and other school administration staff worried about how to get every teacher transitioned more fully, taking digital learning objects “out of the shadows” and into core curriculum use.

While it is common to find districts with decently established infrastructure and devices, 1-to-1 (one device for every student) or BYOD (bring your own device), what is happening with teachers is far from well executed with regards to software oversight. “By survey, teachers are spending upwards of twenty-five percent of their time just trying to find content to fit the additional changes in standards and testing. In the meantime, technology and digital content collections continue to grow into realms that individual teachers and even IT Departments can’t hope to keep up with,” stated Cauthen.

“With our Special Reports and the discussions we hold in every city and at the national Gathering, we help define and guide leaders, have all attendees discuss their best practices, share solutions, and make sure to appropriately laud superlative districts for their hard work. At the end of every event we have everyone thank each other for what they have been doing – because we find that these executives rarely get that pat on the back from their own peers in other schools and districts who know exactly what leaders go through in K12 education. At the Gathering we especially make a big deal with a lot of glitz and glam for the best-of-the-best who fly in from across the U.S. It’s our great honor to do that for these hard-working schools.”

(Next page: The 12 winning districts for innovative digital curriculum strategies)


Digital e-Learning program allows innovative district to open the world to students

KY's Boone County Schools expands its digital world language program to 10,500 students this fall.


Boone County School District is offering digital world language learning to 10,500 students—half of its student population. With help from Rosetta Stone’s language learning solutions, Boone County Schools is providing students with access to programs that it hopes will enhance college and career readiness and global competence.

Following the district’s successful pilot in 2013 for 1,700 students at two elementary schools, the program is expanding to 14 elementary schools and five middle schools in the 2016-2017 academic year. Three hundred kindergarten and first grade ELL students and 10,200 WL students in grades 2-8 have access to the digital learning program. The use of Rosetta Stone in the classroom is a new initiative being funded by a county-approved tax levy.

“Like many public schools districts encounter, it often can be difficult for us to find and, more importantly, afford certified world language educators,” said Linda Black, director of Elementary Education for Boone County Schools. “The Rosetta Stone language learning program affords a strong supplement to our teachers’ blended learning curriculum, while also providing an excellent resource for our classrooms that do not have teachers with experience in a particular language. It’s a win-win situation for our students.”

Teachers began working with Rosetta Stone in May 2016 to familiarize themselves with the programs and decide how they’d be integrating the program into their lesson plans. Each school in the district has its own language learning goals and implementation plans tailored to its needs. The program is being used in classrooms, both supplementing teacher instruction when an accredited teacher is present, as well as providing an online resource for students.

“School districts don’t need big budgets to think innovatively and provide access to 21st-century skills for its students; Boone County is living proof,” said Matt Hall, vice president, Enterprise & Education, Rosetta Stone. “I’m excited to see how Boone is preparing its students for success in college, in their careers and beyond.”

Rosetta Stone has worked with more than 22,000 educational institutions around the world to implement language learning programs for students. Additional information on Rosetta Stone language learning solutions for educators can be found online at

Material from a press release was used in this report.



Here’s what you need to know about Betsy DeVos, likely Education Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump's nomination for Education Secretary has sparked enthusiasm from school choice groups, but outrage from those who view public schools as a U.S. institution.

With his nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education, President-elect Donald Trump seems to be making good on his campaign promise to promote school choice.

Trump has proposed a $20 million fund to support school choice for students, namely through charters and vouchers. DeVos, who has no professional experience working in schools, is a vocal proponent of school choice and vouchers. Currently, she chairs the American Federation for Children, which promotes school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.

[Read the higher education version of this story here.]

A Polarizing Issue; A Potentially Polarizing Nomination

Vouchers are a polarizing issue for many in the education community, with opponents saying they funnel valuable public school dollars to private institutions that aren’t always accountable. Several state courts have heard cases involving students using vouchers to attend private religious schools.

Voucher supporters say they enable students to break free from geographical or financial constraints and pursue a quality education at the institution of their choice.

DeVos has ties to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a pro-Common Core organization, but said on her website that she is not a fan of the Common Core because “along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.” Trump said he wanted to abolish the standards, but that could prove difficult. Because they are implemented at the state level, a president likely cannot abolish the standards, though lawmakers in Republican-controlled Common Core states might feel more empowered to challenge the standards or call for Trump to offer incentives for states to move away from them.

Earlier this year, DeVos was vocal about her belief that Trump did not represent the Republican party, as well as her hope that voters would move away from supporting him.

Yet, in a statement, Trump said DeVos is “a brilliant and passionate education advocate. Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

(Next page: Education stakeholders react to the nomination–find out what they said)


K-12 data is failing students-here’s what education could look like

A new report offers insight and 7 steps policymakers can take to better leverage data in schools.

U.S. education is not effectively leveraging data to increase student performance and close achievement gaps in the same way other sectors have used data to improve work processes, according to a new report from the Center for Data Innovation.

And while many have lamented education’s slow adoption of data-driven practices, there may be a hidden bonus to slow progress.

“The United States now has an opportunity to rebuild its education system to support data-driven education by taking advantage of technologies and best practices already established in other sectors,” noted the report.

Characteristics of a data-driven education system include personalization, evidence-based learning, school efficiency, and continuous innovation.

However, because improved data use has such a huge potential to improve education for all students, educators and administrators have to act quickly and make systemic improvements.

(Next page: 7 steps to the ideal data-use situation in K-12)


App of the Week: Inspire a love of music and creation

Music-exploration app offers great balance of play and guidance.

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? 

Easy Music combines guided practice games and open-ended free play to introduce kids to some musical basics. Start by exploring beat, rhythm, pitch, or melody; a different animal leads each category and guides kids through 25 levels that increase in difficulty. For instance, repeat the whale’s song by tapping on the underwater vents to match its pattern of different pitches. Once kids have some practice under their belts, they put it all together in learning to play a familiar song such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on a keyboard, first by tapping on shaded keys in song sections and then by playing the whole song from memory.

Price: $3.99

Grades: Pre-K-2

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Great sound quality and fun visuals make music come alive.

Cons: The music theory games can get repetitive.

Bottom line: A science sensor that pairs with your mobile device to gather and analyze data is perfect for inquiry-based learning.


Stop! Why the mis-definition of student equity needs to end

A new look at barriers to students getting the resources they need to succeed starts with defining equity versus equality.

“Equity doesn’t mean the same for everyone; it means that everyone gets what they need.” These wise words, from a Florida elementary school principal, get to the core of a new look at barriers to equity in education.

Teachers and principals surveyed in a new Scholastic Education report universally agree that equity in education for all children should be a national priority.

Educators noted that equity in education is not the same as equality–students should have equal access to high-quality teachers and learning resources, but equality means each student has the same support necessary to achieve success.

“There needs to be an understanding that equity doesn’t mean the same for everyone. Some families need a higher level of support and resources to participate equally in educational success,” said a middle school teacher in Colorado who participated in the survey.

(Next page: A new way to think about barriers to equity in education)


In the marketplace: An NBA math program, coding tools, and a new literacy initiative

Don't miss this recap of the latest technology product news, reports, and research

Tech-savvy educators know they must stay on top of the myriad changes and trends in education to learn how teaching and learning can best benefit from technology’s near-constant change.

Check below for the latest marketplace news to keep you up-to-date on product developments, teaching and learning initiatives, and new trends in education.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) and Discovery Education launched a new multi-year partnership that will deepen middle and high school students’ engagement in mathematics nationwide. In this new collaboration, which harnesses students’ interest in professional basketball to help teach important mathematics concepts, interactive math problems derived from NBA and WNBA game footage and statistics such as points, rebounds, assists and more, have been integrated into Discovery Education’s Math Techbook™. Read more.

With the support of a grant from The NEA Foundation, Girls Thinking Global (GTG) has launched its GTG Collaborative Visualization Tool, an online community of practice. The GTG Visualization Tool is an interactive global data mapping of hundreds of organizations that support the education, health, well-being, and success of young women and girls globally. Users can select a country or service area and see a list of organizations serving that geographic location, as well as the services they provide and their websites. Currently, the Visualization Tool includes information for 286 organizations. Read more.

Student devices are exploding in classrooms around the country and schools are tasked with finding ways to manage those devices so that students stay safe and on-task in the classroom. To help schools in the United States and Canada manage their digital classrooms, Impero Software, a remote monitoring and management software provider for K-12 districts, announced a $2.5 million “Best Technology for Schools” grant program. Read more.

Results are out for a Boca Raton, Florida elementary school that is in its third year of a Demonstration Schools for Rigor initiative in partnership with Learning Sciences International. With intensive professional development, coaching, and training on research-based instructional strategies, the school is now showing increased combined VAM scores and overall academic growth. Read more.

A small sphere rolls around a classroom, cycling through glowing colors, before crossing a finish line. Students cheer, because they made it happen using their own computer programming skills. These kids have been using the new, no-cost CodeSnaps app, from the makers of SAS® Curriculum Pathways®. CodeSnaps teaches coding basics by enticing students to actively work together, hands-on, to control Sphero robots. Read more.

Children’s Literacy Initiative has launched LEARN (Literacy Education and Resource Network), a new web platform providing the education community with a comprehensive and expanding resource to read, watch, and discuss the best practices in balanced literacy instruction. LEARN focuses on the core instructional practices validated through the i3 grant, and identified by the National Reading Panel. Topics include Intentional Read Aloud, Guided Reading, Message Time Plus™, Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, Independent Work Time, Classroom Culture & Environment, and Literacy Coaching. Read more.

The school schedule poses one of most significant challenges for school districts transitioning to progressive educational approaches and personalized learning. In a personalized learning environment, students benefit from daily or weekly choice in how and where they spend their learning time.
To provide greater ease and flexibility for districts seeking to make changes, Alma Technologies, Inc. announced the Personalized Learning Scheduling Tool; a new feature available in its intuitive, integrated student information system (SIS) and learning management system (LMS). Read more.


Innovative district expands access like never before using E-rate

Reforms and modernization to the E-rate, including Category 2 funding, made an unprecedented infrastructure refresh possible.

Thanks to a major funding refresh, one district found that it’s now possible to support its one-to-one initiative without scaling back access for other services or devices. Could your district do the same?

The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) historic E-rate modernization in 2014 paved the way for districts to expand their high-speed broadband and wi-fi and increase digital learning opportunities for students.

Before the modernization, Category 2 services were called Priority 2 services and were funded only after all requests for Priority 1 services (telecommunications services and internet access) were funded–but that meant most schools had no leftover E-rate funding for wi-fi equipment and other internal connections.

And now, school districts across the nation are able to improve digital learning opportunities and expand wi-fi for teachers and students.

In Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish Schools, LaShona Dickerson, the district’s director of technology, has leveraged Category 2 funding to update her district’s infrastructure to support a one-to-one rollout.

Working with Funds for Learning regarding E-rate processes, Dickerson and her team have updated the district’s phone system, implemented a student information system, improved financial payroll processes, and incorporated tools and resources that empower teaching and learning.

“We were able to do a lot of this because of E-rate funding,” Dickerson said. “We work on a limited budget–everything we do has to be planned and strategic, and always has to be a collaborative effort.”

(Next page: An infrastructure upgrade paves the way for unprecedented access)