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)

Solution: Create a Vision for Personalized, Tech-Based PD

In the education arena, educators are bombarded with hundreds of options with little time to explore and integrate them into the classroom. In addition, new initiatives continually emerge that require participation and training during department and faculty meetings that may not directly relate to personal teaching goals.

For professional development to be effective, school administrators need to establish a vision, personalize PD for educators based on their input, support training, and provide time in the school day schedule to achieve goals. With all of the demands placed on schools systems and education leaders throughout the country, this is not an easy task.

In my view, to fully integrate Professional Development into the educational system we need to:

  • Create a separate tech-based PD plan to identify teaching and learning expectations as a supplement to the District Technology Plan. For example, an expectation could be the use of Project-Based Learning in every curriculum, or the use of weekly assessment strategies. As schools leaders, decide on the vision for PD in your school.
  • Personalize PD for teachers. Allow educators to decide on the types of tech tools and resources to use, methods to deliver instruction, and how to share best practices within their departments based on the PD plan.
  • Incorporate PD in educator’s goals with benchmarks to provide accountability for the vision. This would ensure that the PD identified is carried out in the curriculum.
  • Update the school calendar to include PD on a weekly basis as a required block of time. This is a necessary task to provide time for training and development.
  • Make valid use of library media specialists, digital media specialists and technology integration specialists during the PD blocks of time to offer departments assistance with future ready skills. Teachers need ongoing assistance with various types of technology tools and resources. Having these professionals in a small group setting or on a one to one basis would be beneficial in helping them attain their goals.
  • Encourage teachers to participate in at least one off-site workshop per year to explore additional best practices and network with professionals in their field.
About the Author:

Dianne Pappafotopoulos is the District Instructional Technology Specialist at Dover Sherborn Public Schools, where she assists faculty/staff with technology integration. Dianne is also a member of the high school Technology & Engineering Department where she teaches an Introduction to Programming course and a Technology & Society course.