Technology and data tools can help teachers manage their classrooms and better target academic interventions.

Oct 21 2019

Teaching Teachers to Put Tech Tools to Work

Classroom management and data analytics tools can help teachers in the classroom — if they understand how to apply them.

There’s a temptation in the world of educational technology to think that if only instructors had the right tools, all their teaching troubles would go away. But Kathleen Perdisatt knows better.

Technology “should be the secret sauce on a teacher’s plate,” and not another dish altogether, says Perdisatt, an educational technology teacher on special assignment at Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita, Calif. 

The latest tech solutions, she adds, are typically only helpful “when teachers understand them, and when they actually know how to use them.”

A 2018 survey by the Data Quality Campaign backs up Perdisatt’s observations and highlights the obstacles many teachers face when attempting to use technologies in the classroom. 

When it comes to data collection and analytics, for example, the survey found more than half of teachers don’t have enough time in the day to put potentially relevant data to use. 

Fewer (34 percent) say there’s “too much data” available and they can’t “determine what is most important,” while 26 percent report accessibility issues — that they can’t get the data they need when they need it.

At Saugus Union, Perdisatt notes, the district’s technology challenge stemmed from a new one-to-one computing program in fifth and sixth grade classrooms. The rollout took place so quickly that some teachers had trouble with classroom management.

“They hadn’t received any kind of training on how to make the transition to the one-to-one model,” Perdisatt says, “and they struggled with keeping the children on task.”

Perdisatt met with district administrators and suggested they implement two solutions: First, they should schedule half-day educational sessions for all of the teachers in question. Second, they should add software to their arsenals that would allow them to monitor student activity online and remotely control the students’ Dell Chromebooks.

Perdisatt steered district leaders to GoGuardian Teacher, which offers several resources for professional development, including webinars, online videos, and onsite one-on-one instruction

The district’s teachers, she explained, would be taught to use the tool effectively. “We wouldn’t expect them to try to learn it on their own.”

After securing administrative support on both fronts, Perdisatt recalls, the district bought the software and set a date for the GoGuardian trainers to visit.

(Other vendors, including Lightspeed Systems and Securly, offer products with similar classroom management features.) 

Our hope is that these tools can help them in their teaching and ultimately help improve student performance.”

Kathleen Perdisatt Educational Technology Teacher on Special Assignment, Saugus Union School District

In early August, before the start of school, teachers spent an hour in training that “prepared them with everything they needed to know,” Perdisatt says.

The tool allows teachers to see every screen in their classroom at the same time, and if a student is doing something unrelated to the current lesson, teachers can click on their account and close off-target tabs.

Teachers can also lock students’ screens, hold digital chats with individual students and display what’s on students’ screens to the entire class on an 85-inch monitor at the front of the room. Such screen sharing, Perdisatt says, encourages accountability.

“When the kids see what they’re doing up there in front of everyone, they tend to do what their teacher has asked.”

The software has been so effective, Perdisatt says, that the district is going to skip the one-to-one training sessions she originally thought teachers would need

Instead, she explains, they’re taking a “train the trainer” approach to gradually implement new GoGuardian tools focused on data analytics and personalized learning. 

Their plan is to train three teachers from each of 15 sites across the district and have them be available to help other teachers on their campus.

“Our hope is that these tools can help them in their teaching and ultimately help improve student performance,” she says.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out these three steps to finding the right content monitoring tool for your district.

Breaking Down Barriers to Student Success

Improving student performance is the No. 1 goal for any K–12 instructor, so when technology promises to help, most will accept it. 

Sometimes, however, as the teachers at Saugus Union found, the technology in question can take some getting used to — and may be ineffective without basic training.

“The problem is teachers aren’t taught this kind of work when they come into the profession. If they’re going to use these tools and use outcome data to inform instruction, they need professional development to have success,” says Tanji Reed Marshall, senior practice associate for Pre-K–12 literacy at The Education Trust.

Schools Prepare Teachers to Help Students in a Modern Environment

One school that has invested in professional development for data analytics and student learning is St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass. 

“You want to have tools that make the teacher’s job easier and not take up any more of their time,” says Kerry Gallagher, St. John’s assistant principal for teaching and learning.

All new faculty at the school, Gallagher says, receive one hour of training on the student information system and three hours of instruction on the learning management system

Returning teachers are also offered training: One-hour drop-in sessions, taught by a digital learning specialist, are available as needed to anyone.

“One of the great uses for the data we’re getting is in the conversations it helps us have about students,” Gallagher notes. “The more we know about a child, whether they’re struggling or doing well, the meatier our discussions can be when we talk with school counselors and that student’s parents.”


Percentage of teachers who say lack of time is the top obstacle preventing them from using data effectively

Source: Data Quality Campaign, “What Parents and Teachers Think About Education Data,” September 2018

The data St. John’s examines includes formal academic information, such as grades and scores from standardized assessments such as Advanced Placement exams, the PSAT and SAT, as well as formative assessment data

The analysis can provide early warnings about student achievement; for example, if educators see a student’s scores trending downward, they can talk with a school counselor, other teachers or even parents about potential causes.

The data tools enable teachers to be more effective and proactive — reaching out before a final exam, for instance, instead of after a student fails and an F goes on their transcript.

Teacher training at St. John’s also includes instruction on its mobile device management system and on the use of formative assessment tools, Gallagher says. “They’re a way to make sure students are mastering the content without having that assessment become part of their record.”

The tools they’ve deployed require some preparation by teachers to ensure the questions asked are on target, “but on the correcting end, everything is automated so they get the results right away,” she says.

Looking ahead, Gallagher predicts that St. John’s will continue to leverage classroom management and analytics tools — along with the requisite professional training — if they add value to the teaching and learning experience, and that their approach to these technologies will remain the same: 

“We’ll use them when they can help us and our students, but they’ll never become substitutes for the face-to-face connections that are required for education to be successful.”

John Davis

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT