EDTC 6106: What Role Should Technology Play in Professional Development?

Starting a new course for my Masters in Digital Education Leadership program has me looking at Professional Development through the lense of ISTE Coaching Standard 4b. Having previously looked into how to increase participation in Tech PD, I’m now considering factors that promote best practices for designing and implementing PD based on clear evidence. This leads to my inquiry, how can districts design effective personalized professional development that incorporates educational technology?

For the past decade, my only teaching experience has been in my current district, which is large and spread out. Understanding that PD varies from district to district, I’ve really begun questioning what teachers find effective in other districts.  With that, how much technology and differentiation is offered to meet teachers where they are at in their careers?

Does my district offer PD? Yes!  Does my district offer a variety of PD online?  Not that I’m aware of. Most PD I find out about is presented onsite in person.  This poses a challenge when working in a large city famous for bad traffic and limited parking.  Reality is, most teachers only choose optional trainings that are either directly related to their curriculum, at their own school or neighbouring school, or conveniently located near their existing commute route. I will say, my district did offer online PD this past summer for the first time.

Understanding Professional Learning Environments in Washington State

This week I discovered that Washington state participated in a research project (TPL – in WA state) in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In collaboration with 91 schools from 31 districts, the Gates Foundation funded “a three-year project to support professional learning that would engage leaders in the work of developing effective processes and support structure to create a culture of collaboration that would positively impact teacher knowledge and skills to improve student learning”.

Digging deeper, I was able to find my district listed as one of the participants. Concluding remarks were:

“Schools have traditionally been very site-based, leading to many gaps and inconsistencies across schools; this makes the work of developing a learning system very challenging. Analyses showed that many structural elements are currently exist (albeit to various degrees) from which to build a strong learning system—however, the content and focus of work inside those structures needs strengthening and alignment. Furthermore, access to and participation in professional development has been inconsistent and inequitable. To develop gap-closing learning designs, we need to define baseline expectations for all schools and staff along with differentiated professional learning supports and guaranteed access.”

Do these remarks surprise me? No. Seeing evidence that my district is striving to change professional development and has created a tiered support system, similar to the way teachers have been asked to differentiate to meet student needs, instills hope that we are moving forward. Our union had bargained for more collaboration time, which did begin this school year.  Most of that is still site-based, but perhaps technology will come into play more in the future.

So what did the TPL three year study conclude?

  • Engaged leadership is critical and must extend beyond administration, shifting distribution to shared leadership
  • Using standards for teaching and learning in conjunction with researched best practices can effectively support planning and implementation of new structures
  • Districts who received more external funding and coaching showed greater gains in their perceived level of collaboration and content
  • School culture focusing on inclusiveness, and collaboration between all professionals  allow shifts in the district that better support student learning (eg. paraeducators, teachers, administrators and coaches all valued as equal collaborators)
  • Time is needed to build positive relationships, establish trust, and collective community with social norms in order to maintain effective PD experiences
  • Strong correlation between positive PD experiences over time and student achievement scores
  • Districts should understand the pressures teachers face associated with standardized assessment and support teachers with understanding how to examine student data to further drive student growth specific to their school population

Tech Integration Success

Curious how other large districts successfully implement PD that their teachers find useful, I came across the article Technology Starts with Professional Development and Training from EdTech Magazine that specifically talks about how large districts have found success with integrating technology within district-wide PD. For example, Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Louisiana have been using technology in the classrooms for over 30 years. With 64 schools and a relatively large district, they have learned the value of teacher training before rolling out new technology.  

So how has their district supported the needs in so many schools?  

  • The district built a training center where teachers can receive coaching or learn how to use new tech tools
  • They offer online summer courses that teachers can take at their convenience
  • They offer a variety of webinars, giving teachers freedom to pursue professional development relevant to their current position based on teacher input
  • They incentivize PD by offering “tech points” that teachers can apply to gain extra classroom technology
  • Technology integration is designed around student learning goals and a larger framework rather than just another tool

Similar to Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, the Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina, has also found success with effectively offering professional development with tech integration.  Another large school district with limited funds, found they had to get creative in how they get on board with PD. They chose to assign a technology specialist to each school, dedicated to supporting staff through co-teaching, modeling, and offering teacher support with tech integration in the classroom.  They also emphasize the need to respect teachers time, level of expertise, and willingness to try.  With that being said, support must be available for teachers who may struggle and time available for reflection and coaching of new skills.  They value offering scheduled PD during the day and not expecting teachers to only learn during their own time. Presently they also use Twitter chats, accessible to all teachers in the district with scheduled times where teachers can collaborate online.

Another large district near Georgia had similar responses about supporting staff through adequate training.  They recognize that without dedicated staff available to train teachers with tech integration, teachers would not have the skills necessary to access their LMS and online trainings. They also have funded a tech specialist for each school to support staff needs. They expect teachers to be proficient with using their LMS in order to support student learning, an example of this is offering lessons online when weather prohibits students from attending school.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if districts truly value teacher retention and active participation in professional development, then personalized PD needs to be offered. Districts also need to design opportunities for teachers to be valued stakeholders and have input on the direction of PD.  Understanding the needs of each school, in addition to district trends can allow more personalized options to be offered online rather than always on-site. Although tech specialists on-site are beneficial, districts must provide adequate support and follow-up sessions to avoid overwhelming staff with one more thing to learn. Districts need to ensure tech integration supports student learning goals and offers multiple opportunities for successful implementation and training. Just like teachers are always being asked how they scaffold their instruction to meet the needs of all learners in the classroom, districts must do the same for educators.

References

Bishop, D, Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R, & Crane, C. (2016). Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State – Project Evaluation Report. Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA.

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction – Teaching and Learning. (2017, March 27). Partner Sharing. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/PartnerSharing.aspx

Peterson T. (2016, June 22). Technology Starts with Professional Development and Training. Retrieved January 14, 2018, from https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2016/06/technology-starts-professional-development-and-training 

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