Melissa Banks, Director of Digital Learning for the Mississippi Department of Education, says good teaching is the cornerstone of good technology integration.

Jul 19 2023

Here’s How Modern Teachers Boost Their Ed Tech Skills

As digital transformation sweeps the nation’s K-12 schools, teachers gain in-person and virtual professional development opportunities.

When Patti Bartley, a first grade teacher at Cook Elementary in Columbus, Miss., heard she was getting a digital learning coach from the Mississippi Department of Education, she was nervous.

“I don’t really use technology unless I’m forced to,” she said in a video highlighting the department's Digital Learning Coach program. She went on to explain that although she regularly uses her Promethean whiteboard, she hadn’t figured out how to implement lessons using student devices.

Bartley’s hesitancy isn’t unique. As millions of principals and school officials rushed to establish remote learning at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition was often rocky. Only about 10 percent of teachers nationwide felt they were adequately trained to teach remotely, according to a 2021 article in the research journal TechTrends.

Melissa Banks, director of digital learning for the Mississippi Department of Education, says teachers across her state had similar feelings.

“When I started working at MDE in 2015, I was the only instructional technology specialist at the department,” she recalls. “At the time, there were only a handful of districts with one-to-one devices, and the rest had varying levels of access to computers in the classroom.”

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To say COVID-19 forever changed educational technology in Mississippi would be an understatement. According to Common Sense Media’s 2021 report about the digital divide, between 40 and 50 percent of Mississippi’s 441,000 students lacked adequate internet connectivity and devices.

However, when the pandemic forced school closures across the nation in 2020, Mississippi led a heroic effort, supported by private institutions, to purchase and distribute roughly 390,000 devices as part of the newly established Mississippi Connects program. 

By January 2021, MDE had created an office of digital learning to help teachers like Bartley better integrate ed tech into instruction.

“We’ve been working ever since to increase the training we provide to educators,” she says.

DISCOVER: How this instructional tech leader empowers students and educators.

Professional Development Breaks Down Challenges, Barriers

In a 2022 survey of 977 K­-12 teachers by ed tech company D2L, 94 percent said ongoing professional development is important to teacher effectiveness; however, only 36 percent expected regular, ongoing training from their districts.

This is where MDE comes in. The department offers two distinct PD programs to supplement local training.



The Digital Teacher Academy reaches a broad base of teachers looking to level-up their digital knowledge and professional skills. The yearlong, voluntary program includes online and in-person training. Those who complete the program can then provide digital PD to their peers and earn educator certifications from Google and Microsoft.

The Digital Learning Coach program, paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, is personalized to meet teachers’ needs.

“Schools apply for our services, and we send in a coach who goes to the school one day a week and works with a cohort of six to eight teachers,” Banks explains. “That coach will also work with the school’s administration to set up schoolwide learning goals and lead professional learning communities.”

In addition to in-person PD, coaches also work with teachers to set goals and implement appropriate digital tools in their classrooms. Coaches and cohort members support, encourage and collaborate through conferencing, modeling, co-planning and co-teaching.

Penny Reinart, deputy executive director of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, says successful PD programs thrive on this kind of peer support.

“The coaching services offer deep support and provide teachers with extensive time to make changes,” Banks says. “At the end of the day, we’re looking for good instruction. Technology is just a tool, and the students live in a digital world. Why not use a tool that can help improve learning?”

Penny Reinart
Seeing their peers teach is really motivating. You end up creating a system where people are striving together to do better.”

Penny Reinart Deputy Executive Director, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

District Elevates Teachers to Frontline Trainers

On the other side of the country, at Alisal Union School District in Salinas, Calif., Josh Harris is leading the PD charge. As the district’s director of educational technology, he says their digital teaching curriculum continues to evolve.

Over the course of three years, this largely agricultural district serving more than 7,700 K-6 students collaborated with the local teachers association to complete Google Educator Level 1 training, says Harris.

Since then, he and his team continue to expand digital learning instruction by offering full-time classroom teachers additional compensation to complete extra training and serve as ed tech liaisons (ETLs).

“The ed tech liaisons are now my frontline trainers and professional development support team,” says Harris. “And they are an incredibly successful and prolific group.”

Each school has at least one ETL, and others serve as ETLs at large who aren’t assigned to a specific site, but instead arrange after-school PD sessions for their peers. Some of the ETLs have even developed a following.

LEARN MORE: Ongoing training helps teachers deploy a full range of tech.

Reinart says elevating teachers within the district is an excellent tactic for building a sustainable PD program.

“Seeing their peers teach is really motivating,” she says. “You end up creating a system where people are striving together to do better. It’s a much more sustainable model than having outside experts lead training all the time.”

Alisal’s program is largely virtual, mainly due to a lack of physical space and feedback from the teachers themselves. Many told Harris it was much easier to schedule and complete online sessions.

“Our most popular ETLs will have Google Meet sessions that draw between 70 to 100 teachers. I do not have a physical space big enough for that,” Harris says.

And while online PD has its benefits, he explains, “if you’re trying to build community or working with teachers who need more support, in-person is best.”


The percentage of teachers who expressed interest in online, on-demand professional learning

Source: D2L, “How the Pandemic Has (Re)Shaped K-12 Teacher Professional Learning,” February 2022

Statewide Endorsement Allows Teachers to Go Further

In Arizona, which has more than 200 school districts and serves more than 1.15 million students, there is a deep commitment to digital transformation and a decentralized approach to professional development. This gives districts and schools a great deal of independence when it comes to finding and vetting PD. For schools that may not have enough funding for ed tech training, outside groups such as teachers associations, national education organizations and ed tech companies can help fill the gap.

At the same time, the state has found a way to elevate teachers through their own home-grown endorsement programs that add significant value to an individual’s teaching credentials.

In 2019, for example, the Arizona Department of Education launched a program to standardize requirements and provide teachers with an opportunity to apply professional development toward a lasting credential; specifically, the Pre-K–8 and 6–12 Computer Science Endorsement.

RELATED: Here’s how professional development boosts teacher confidence and skills.

Teachers must select courses that not only fulfill the state’s requirements but also align with their school and district goals. Superintendents then sign off on their chosen courses, and the state board of education adopts endorsements as a way to acknowledge teachers’ expertise.

These PD offerings are “a way to recognize leadership,” says Alecia Henderson, a computer science and educational technology specialist with the department. “The endorsement is attached to the teaching certificate. It’s a way to open doors for teachers who want to go further.”

Henderson is helping to launch Arizona’s newest endorsement for educational technology. Her department partnered with the local ISTE affiliate as well as other PD providers to make it easier for teachers to find the most effective programs.

Henderson’s team is also building an ambassador program for people who can coach their peers. “We’re hoping to find folks in those rural areas and in indigenous communities who are typically difficult to reach,” she adds.

Photography by Daymon Gardner

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