If professional development (PD) is a critical element to every edtech implementation, why is it so often poorly attended? Our experience is that a teacher-centric approach to developing a PD plan for tech integration is most effective.
Here are four strategies that all districts and schools can use to build out their own PD offerings in way that keeps teachers across all grades engaged and learning:
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1. Focus on your curriculum and instructional goals. Technology should play a supporting role in the implementation of new and innovative instructional strategies that make lessons more effective and engaging for students. The best technology training is not about technology, but about learning goals and purposeful use of technology to enhance and extend these goals. Of course, some foundational tech skills are necessary, but the main focus of edtech PD should be on instruction, not technology.
Once teachers reach the stage of basic familiarity with the available technology tools, they become receptive to evolving their teaching methods to be more effective in helping students to achieve their learning goals. This approach makes it possible to immediately personalize the learning process and shows how technology can help.
2. Use a blend of different delivery methods. Recognize that multiple PD opportunities should be offered for a topic, using both online (self-paced and instructor led) and face-to-face (large group, small group, individual) formats. Based on your specific resources and campus environment, you can customize this mix to optimize teacher reach and increase the return on the investment that was made on educational technology. Creating various learning opportunities for teachers also helps in adjusting the formats to educators’ individual learning styles and preferences. Clayton County Public Schools (CCPS), for example, recently rolled out a PD program that incorporates a multi-method approach for online, onsite, and train-the-trainer to support effective implementation of a classroom solution.
3. Leverage existing technology. While a teacher-centric PD program needs to be differentiated, consistency and continuity with the existing platforms is essential. It is often strongly recommended to use the technology that teachers already have—and that they’re already comfortable using—to orchestrate professional development. For example, CCPS uses certifications and digital learning specialists onsite.
4. Offer varied training opportunities. Online learning is also an effective way to keep teachers engaged in professional development by enabling the creation and delivery “niche” topic sessions. Inter-school cohorts–i.e., all high school biology teachers–can be formed to allow teachers to participate (and customize specifically) in the PD most relevant for them. It also creates great opportunities for meaningful collaboration between teachers, sharing resources and best practices with their colleagues. This approach also opens the door for learning that is grounded in day-to-day teaching practice and is designed to enhance teachers’ content-specific instructional practices. Technology treated as a tool, not the main subject of PD, can help teachers find solutions to authentic and immediate problems in their classroom practice.