Dianne Krause is a certified K-12 Instructional Technology Specialist, Adjunct Graduate Professor in Instructional Technology, former high school French teacher and administrator of one of the oldest and persistent online gaming worlds, Medievia.com, Inc. Her current role is an Instructional Technology Coach for a 21st Century Learning and 1:1 Initiative.
During the five years that I’ve been an Instructional Technology Specialist, I’ve conducted and received a veritable cornucopia of professional development and training on how to best effectively integrate and infuse technology into the teaching and learning process. As no doubt you have also experienced, some of the workshops and sessions that I attended were very well done and I was usually an engaged learner, but upon returning to my district and schools, I found that I had very little time and energy to apply the majority of what I had learned. Some of the time it was because I was attending a 3-4 day conference and I learned so much, so quickly, that I could not discern one session from another. Some of the time it was because there was no meaningful, personal, relevant use for that tool/topic/best practice for me at that time. Some of the time it was because I had no opportunities to reflect, collaborate or even have a hands-on experience with what I was learning. But, the majority of the time, it was because I did not have someone to coach me along the way, remind me of what I had learned, and was there for support when I need it the most – when I tried it out with my students.
When it comes to technology use in education, one of the end goals must be that the technology devices and their uses become ubiquitous and transparent. Technology must be seen as a tool (albeit a powerful one) in the teacher’s toolbox, available to use whenever it is most effective for reaching objectives, goals, and standards. Therefore, the goal of technology professional development for teachers must be to not only teach them the technology tools, the resources, the best practices for their grade level and discipline but also to continually coach and support their efforts with technology infusion.
In my hands-on work with teachers and students, I have come to learn that when it comes to teachers and their technology professional development, it is the most effective when the concepts and practices that best work with students are applied to our work with adults. Therefore, all the great methods and strategies that good teachers know already should be applied to technology professional development.
Chunk information. Use manipulatives. Make it meaningful. Acknowledge different learning styles. Engage the students in their learning. Differentiate. Give choice. Learn from mistakes. Reflect, assess, and modify.
All the topics above are strategies that good teachers know to use with students in the teaching and learning process. During professional development, because the teachers are the students, all these same teaching strategies should apply. But, as we all know, this is not often the case. Many times technology professional development is of the “sit and get” variety and often-times the participants don’t even have hands-on access to the technology when they are learning about it!
We MUST provide opportunities for our teachers to truly be the students when it comes to their own professional learning.
- Instead of offering 3-6 hour workshops (do we teach k-12 students in 3 and 6 hour sessions?), offer 30-45 minute sessions where teachers learn one or two new things with immediate application in a hands-on and relevant way.
- Encourage teachers to walk away with something that they can use with their students in the next week.
- Allow time for teachers to collaborate and learn together during professional development.
- Provide resources in print and video format for teachers to review what was learned on their own time, and in their own way.
In addition the best practices and teaching strategies above, professional development must include opportunities for follow-up, assessment, reflection, and for the teachers to provide evidence of growth. As we know, a student-teacher relationship is on-going, lasting usually one academic year. During that time, the teacher is there to continually assess what the students are learning and to adjust instruction to assure growth in each individual student in the classroom. Students have opportunities to work with their peers and to collaborate, reflect, and process. When it comes to technology professional development, this is rarely the case. However, I believe that in order to truly grow as teachers and to best learn how to effectively use technology in school, there must be this type of relationship between the teachers and their teacher, the Instructional Technology Coach.
With an instructional technology coach in place, not only do the teachers receive professional development and training sessions throughout the school year, but they have the opportunities to put into practice what they’ve learned at those trainings with the support and guidance they need to take risks and try new things. In an ideal model, the coach provides support for the teachers in the following ways:
- Before – The coach is there to plan technology-rich and content-specific learning activities and projects with the teachers. Higher-order tasks, 21st century skills and relevant standards are discussed and implemented in the plan.
- During – The coach is in the classroom with the teacher and students when a new activity involving technology takes place to provide both instructional and technological support, in a co-teaching capacity in some cases.
- After – The coach reflects with the teacher after the project or activity is complete on the effectiveness of the activity, changes for next time, and the comfort of the teacher to implement this type of technology infusion in the future.
This type of professional development through coaching provides not only professional development when it is needed most, in the classroom with the teacher, but because the teacher is truly learning how to integrate technology in a true project or activity with students, it is immediately relevant and meaningful.
Effective technology professional development for teachers need not be an enigma. If we simply applied the strategies, concepts, and best practices that we already know and use as good teachers to the concept of professional development, with a compassionate, energetic, and very tech savvy instructional technology coach, all teachers would feel comfortable with integrating technology into the teaching and learning process.