Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Nov. 12, 2013

Rethinking Professional Learning and Technology: 8 Ideas for Teachers and Leaders

Teacher Ambassador Fellow, US Department of Education

We all know the feeling. It’s Wednesday afternoon! (Or Wednesday planning period.) Time to drop grading the mountain of papers on your desk, to stop planning inspiring lessons, and put off talking with parents so that you may attend your school’s weekly, required dose of unhelpful professional development.

I wish it were different. Really, I do. I want to soak myself in relevant, innovating and invigorating practices that will enhance my effectiveness in the classroom. I long to focus on my learning experiences tailored to my individual strengths and weaknesses. I need time to practice using new tools, to observe colleagues’ teaching, to receive constructive feedback about my teaching, and to reflect on how my instruction affects my students’ learning. Unfortunately, I am more likely to win the lottery than to get what I need.

However, what IS likely is that technology can and will continue to play a major role in my professional development as an educator. I know that I must leverage technology to provide engaging learning experiences for myself and for my students. And I know that technology challenges all facets of the education world to be better, to connect, to collaborate, to create, and to innovate.

Currently, I am a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, working temporarily at the U.S. Department of Education to advise policymakers on what teachers need. As part of the Fellowship, I am working in the Office of Educational Technology. So now more than ever, I find myself asking, “How do we transform the current state of professional development so that we can truly prepare teachers to use technology to impact learning and prepare students for the 21st century?” Here are eight ideas.

Rethinking Professional Learning

  1. Ask teachers what they need. When it comes to technology, we each have our own experiences and our own goals for learning. Professional learning must be based on the individual needs of educators.
  2. Stop teaching about technology. Start teaching with. There is a time and place to teach educators how to use technology. Professional learning sessions are not that time or place. Instead, focus professional development on learning with technology, on using technology as an instructional tool.
  3. Aim for low-risk experimentation. Educators need opportunities to practice without fear. Professional learning models should support educators by giving them time to mess around with new programs without implications to their evaluations. Trust in their development.
  4. Include the Internet! You don’t need the best apps or the coolest new programs with hefty price tags. Instead, allow teachers and leaders time to conduct their own research and build their own professional learning networks so that they find resources that fit their classroom needs.
  5. Think locally. Think connections. Technology provides a vehicle for linking institutes of higher education, business, and industry within communities to provide educators with online learning opportunities. These communities may also provide a means for connecting networks of coaching professionals. Initiate contact with local experts to create relationships and open dialogues around the needs of local businesses and schools to develop college and career-ready students.
  6. Be selective. There are a lot of gadgets, programs, and platforms out there. Take time to research what is best for your school and your teachers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and far too often professional learning involves one program that must then be adapted by a variety of disparate teachers and leaders. Be more selective in what you choose to implement within your school. Keep your goals in mind and always ask, “How will this improve the learning of my teachers, leaders, and students?”
  7. Make Time! Utilizing technology well as an instructional tool involves scaffolding, and often a steep learning curve. Educators need time to develop their individual skills, apply these skills within their classrooms, and reflect on what works best. Instead of bombarding teachers with new tools and programs, take a step back and allow educators time for mastery.
  8. Try a “Flipped” model. Flipped technology models are ideal for professional learning because every educator is unique. While some have a great deal of experience utilizing technology as an instructional tool, others may not. Sustainable flipped models offer “how-to” videos, online resources, and technology coaches to support educators and meet their individual needs. Technology coaches are an essential piece to the “flipped” puzzle as they assist educators with job-embedded technology, as well as the creation of personalized learning plans.

Still, while I am well aware that schools and districts may not have all the best, most modern technology tools within their schools, there are ways to get it. Your homework is to maintain a positive attitude and a desire to think outside the box to help yourself, fellow educators and administrators advocate for our professional learning and technology that will move our profession forward.

“We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.” – David Warlick (Author, Educationalist, Software Developer and Public Speaker)

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.