Whether it is a new learning management system or a fleet of Chromebooks, providing new technology tools to teachers can be a difficult task for any school district. The costs — not just the financial commitment required of the district, but also the need for change management and training — can be daunting. School districts need to be conscious of how teachers learn best so they can provide them with meaningful and relevant professional learning opportunities. The following tips can help districts structure effective training and professional development (PD) programs to prepare today’s teachers to effectively educate students for their coming world:
1. Give Teachers Choice and Voice in PD Planning
Classroom teachers want and need to be involved in the planning for their professional learning. Like students, adult learners appreciate choosing their own learning pathways. Allow teachers to incrementally learn the new skills they will need for any new technology. At Garnet Valley School District in Pennsylvania, we use a strict timeline to plan the most meaningful and relevant PD for our faculty and staff. It helps keep us on track.;
2. Call on In-House Tech Experts
Whether in-house experts are early adopters of new technologies or they’re experienced in just one area, having faculty members facilitate professional learning sessions for other teachers can be one of the most powerful components of any plan. Seasoned faculty members will be able to connect the dots from their own experiences, struggles and successes. Teachers less comfortable with technology will be able to draw upon their instructor’s experiences and avoid similar pitfalls. At Garnet Valley, most, if not all, professional learning sessions are led by our faculty and staff. We are lucky to have outstanding teachers who are willing to put in the time to create presentations, prepare conference materials and offer support to those both inside and outside the district.
3. Allow Time to Explore New Tech
Providing teachers time to practice and apply newly acquired skills is critical to ensuring success with any new initiative. For many teachers, formal training may not meet immediate needs in the classroom; providing time to play offers opportunities for informal learning through trial and error, observing others, and completing tasks at their own pace. Based on feedback from our staff, all our professional learning sessions have built-in application time. Depending on the session, the application time may be up to an hour long to allow teachers time to become comfortable with a new tool or delivery system.
4. Differentiate by Offering Blended Learning
Increased access to technology has given many districts the ability to offer blended PD opportunities for teachers. At Garnet Valley, our faculty and staff have several options for professional learning. A blended format allows faculty and staff to choose their professional learning in the morning, while providing departmental or grade-level professional learning in the afternoon. Blended sessions combine CHOICE and assigned formats.
- CHOICE Format: CHOICE sessions are professional learning days where Garnet Valley faculty and staff have complete choice in what they learn, and where and when it takes place. Some staff members prefer face-to-face sessions led by another Garnet Valley faculty member. Other staffers choose to work remotely, completing asynchronous learning modules through websites like Kyte Learning, Edivate and Atomic Learning, which provide synchronous and asynchronous options for a wide variety of content. Most sites allow teachers to easily track their progress and provide either a certificate or digital badge when courses are completed.
- Assigned Format: State and federal mandates require all districts to deliver mandatory training sessions throughout the school year. At Garnet Valley, we use “assigned days” to provide those training sessions to our staff. When possible, our curriculum supervisors and curriculum coordinators collaborate on the planning and delivery of the content.
5. Provide Follow-up PD and Support
PD is not effective using a one-time delivery system. To truly make improvements to instructional practices or to become comfortable with a new technology tool, teachers need time to reflect and adjust. Follow-up sessions with colleagues or instructional coaches will provide opportunities for continuous growth, effective implementation and sustainable change. Today’s fast-paced and ever-changing educational environment has teachers juggling several different national, state and district initiatives. Organizing professional learning days that meet the varying needs of every teacher has become increasingly difficult, as the pace of change far exceeds the number of days allowed for PD. The secret to any successful organization lies in its ability to train its workers. A strong professional learning plan is an investment that surpasses the hard work, time and effort it takes to organize it.