Disrupting Teacher Professional Development

If you’re a teacher, you’d probably agree with the statement that most of the professional development you have taken suffered through over your career has been less than amazing. What is a shame—actually tragic—about this is that with all the research that is available on staff development and professional development, no teacher should have to feel this way.

Professional development is an essential element in helping one grow as an educator. It should be an enjoyable experience that one looks forward to with anticipation and excitement. It should be viewed as an opportunity to innovate, experiment, and improve one’s practice. Professional development should be based on what we know from the robust research that is available.

I want to be clear that I’m not trying to be Henny Penny and say the (professional development) sky is falling. However, after 17 years as an educator with the last 2 years being my District’s academic coach in educational technology with the responsibility of providing on-going professional development, I am keenly aware that there is much room for improvement with how professional development is delivered.  With the vast amount of research available on effective professional development and the capabilities that Web 2.0 tools afford, professional development can now be highly personalized, and therefore, more meaningful

My District began piloting a 1:1 iPad initiative in 2012. The district was going to roll out hundreds of iPads to students in 6th grade, and teachers needed training on how to manage and facilitate learning in such an environment prior to students receiving the iPads. Timing was tight, and giving teachers an option to take live training or take the training online at a time that was convenient for them made the most sense.  After going through one round of training with the pilot group of teachers, I knew I needed to approach the training with a more systematic approach. With this in mind, I created a model of Technology-Enhanced Professional Development that combines elements of effective staff development/professional development, change theory, innovation adoption, and blended learning.

Disrupting Teacher Professional Development

 A Technology-Enhanced Professional Development Model

The foundation of this model is the extensive research Bruce Joyce and Beverley Showers have done on effective professional development and peer coaching. Their research indicates that for professional development to be successful and for teachers to implement what they are learning into their own teaching practices, the professional development needs to follow a systematic process (Joyce & Showers, 2002). This process includes:

  • Providing a clear discussion of the theory and rationale behind what is being learned,
  • Modeling the skill or concept being taught in an authentic setting
  • Time for teachers to repeatedly practice their new skills
  • Peer Coaching with time to reflect on their own implementation

In addition to the Joyce and Shower’s research on professional development, I considered Michael Fullan’s research on educational change, Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations, and Gene Hall and Shirley Hord’s Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM) when determining how I would provide PD for teachers in technology integration. The teachers participating in the PD, which is required for some and optional for others, have varied comfort and ability with technology. Some were excited about participating in a 1:1 iPad program, and others were terrified of the change they would need to go through in order to be effective with this innovation. As I moved beyond the pilot group of teachers, I needed to know the concerns the teachers had about using the iPads in their classroom, and I wanted to know the adopter category that each teacher fell in. This information allowed me to modify the PD sessions based on who was taking the training.

I also needed to weave in effective technology integration that would model the types of activities and tools teachers could use with their own students. A key concept that is emphasized is student-centered use of technology and how to best facilitate this in the classroom. Providing opportunities for students to choose not only the tool they will use but also the way they will present their learning is an integral part of student-centered use of technology. (This requires a shift in thinking and in the ways that feedback and assessment occur, but that’s a topic for another day!) I found that best way to model student-centered use of technology was to follow a blended learning approach.

According to the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation (2012), “Blended learning involves leveraging the Internet to afford each student a more personalized learning experience, meaning increased student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of his or her learning” (para.1). In addition to providing a more personalized learning experience, it also allows students the ability to interact with one another in a positive, academic setting, long after the traditional school day ends.  Teachers are implementing blended learning in classrooms across the world, so conducting professional development using this approach seemed natural. I wanted the teachers in my district to experience this type of environment so that they would have some understanding of blended and flipped learning.

What Does the Technology-Enhanced Professional Development Look Like in Practice?

The Technology-Enhanced Professional Development model I created is facilitated using a blended learning approach. The professional development consists of three sessions around a specific topic, concept, or skill: sessions one and two are delivered through our learning management system, and session three is facilitated in a live face-to-face session. By having two training sessions online, teachers are able to go through each session at their own pace over one week. Allowing teachers the option to attend professional development online has given them a chance to see how to integrate technology in a new way. Throughout the online training, teachers are interacting with tools they can use immediately in their own classrooms, and they are also participating in the types of discussions that could occur within their classrooms. Additionally, teachers have continued access to the content from the online PD sessions.

I realize that online PD isn’t a new approach—there are many districts that provide online professional development. One key component of the training in the model I created that does differ from typical online professional development is that the third session is always held in person. Teachers who attend this training are asked—prior to the live training session—to preview or review content that will be discussed at the live training. This gives teachers experience with the flipped classroom approach. In this live training, teachers work collaboratively in grade level or content area teams to apply their learning by developing classroom action plans. Teachers have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions about how to use the technology or how to integrate it effectively after determining the standard, objective, and activity of the lessons they are planning. In the feedback I’ve received, teachers are grateful to have collaborative time with colleagues and have the coach (me) in the room.

The goal of any professional development is to positively impact student achievement.

Another key element (based on the research of Joyce and Showers) is that when teachers return to classrooms after the third day of training with their action plan they have the opportunity for safe practice. They are able to observe others in practice and have the coach (me) come and provide demonstration lessons and provide feedback on their own lessons and implementation. After teachers have had a few weeks of safe practice, they are brought back together again for additional support and time to collaborate. We reflect on what went well, what needs to happen next, and what their personal needs are in moving forward with the effective integration of technology in the classroom. Just as Common Core pushes teachers to provide collaborative learning opportunities for their students, those who create professional development should be providing similar opportunities for teachers.

The goal of any professional development is to positively impact student achievement. Does this model of technology-enhanced professional development meet that goal? The answer remains to be seen through the research I am conducting on the effectiveness of the model.


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