Feb 08 2024

TCEA 2024: Schools Let Teachers Take the Lead in Professional Development

Innovative models of professional development have K–12 educators doing what they do best: teaching.

There has recently been an influx of new educational tools for schools, meaning that educators need to know how to use them. Tennessee’s Polk County Schools saw this play out when the district made changes to teaching and learning in its middle schools as part of a grant from Verizon Innovative Learning.

At the 2024 TCEA convention and exposition Monday, instructional technology coaches from the district and supervisor Jason Bell explained how the grant helped the district adopt a one-to-one tablet program for its middle school students. With technology consistently in the hands of students for the first time, the district quickly realized the need for professional development for its staff.

“It was a huge change for how we taught and how kids learned,” said Danielle McClary, an instructional technology coach. “We had tons of professional development, and looking back on it, we know how valuable that PD was.”

Click the banner to find technology lifecycle resources for your K–12 school.

The district truly saw the effects of its digital transformation efforts when the pandemic shut down in-person classes.

“We found out quickly that our middle schools were very prepared for online learning because they had the devices. But most important, they’d had the professional development to know how to use the platforms and digital content,” McClary said. As funding brought even more technology into Polk County Schools in the form of Chromebooks and interactive touch panels, district IT professionals knew that they needed even more support for tech integration.

“When we added all of those things to our district, we also realized what we had to add was support to go along with it,” McClary said.

“It’s so easy to buy technology and leave people to figure it out,” added Bell.

Teachers as a Resource for Continued Learning

The Polk County Schools IT team first heard about the Teacher Leader Academy from David Timbs, supervisor of secondary and instructional technology at Johnson City Schools in Tennessee.

“We were looking for something and throwing around different ideas when this idea of the Teacher Leader Academy came into our paths,” McClary said.

Bell said that the team contacted Timbs for insights as members worked out how to implement a TLA in Polk County Schools. “The concept that we had was about empowering teachers,” he continued.

KEEP READING: Teacher training can improve your device ecosystem.

From there, the district built out a program that runs as a two-year cohort consisting of two teachers from each school. These educators must attend five meetings over the course of the year, in which they lead professional development, have a voice in planning and share best practices. As part of the cohort, they also must commit to attending one ed tech conference per year. In return, they’re given stipends and have their travel expenses covered.

Teachers at Polk County Schools are so eager to apply for the Teacher Leadership Academy that Bell and his team are moving to a new application process for the next round of participants in which they don’t interview every candidate; there simply isn’t time.

Beyond sharing their knowledge in the five yearly meetings, these educators also support continued learning at their schools by bringing home knowledge from conferences.

The TLA model encourages teachers to continue learning and sharing tech tips, and it rewards educators for doing so.

Professional Development from Staff, Students and Administrators

For Geri Gillespy, the “train the trainer” model didn’t work — at least not the name. Gillespy, who is the superintendent of teaching and learning and headmaster of secondary programs at Innovate Academy and Preparatory School in Indiana, needed another way to formalize what her educators were already doing by sharing tips and best practices.

“I call them my support team members,” Gillespy said. She led a Tuesday TCEA session with CDW K–12 education strategist Victoria Thompson titled “School Transformation Using Microsoft Tools and Technologies.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: Learn three ways schools can win when upgrading to Windows 11.

When Gillespy explained that she needed educators to help people with new technology, answer questions and show them what to do, the teachers were eager to help since they already did many of those things.

Teachers weren’t the only resource Gillespy tapped into. “Your students will always outnumber you, so use them as a resource,” she said, and explained how she created a training force of K–12 students.

“We implemented student tech teams to help us train others within our buildings. We started training these students on the ways we wanted them to use these tools, and they became our training force.”

Finally, Gillespy said, she encourages the adoption of Microsoft Teams by using class teams instead of staff teams. In this way, she as an administrator models the use of the technology for the rest of the staff.

“I purposefully did not use a staff team. I used a class team,” she said. “I am constantly modeling what it is I want to see in the classroom.”

Three Key Components of Professional Development

K–12 schools should imagine professional development as a stool, with three equally important components as the legs, Thompson said.

TCEA - Professional Development
Victoria Thompson and Geri Gillespy used the legs of a stool as an analogy for three components of professional development in a presentation at TCEA. Photography by Rebecca Torchia


“You cannot sit on a stool with two legs,” Gillespy said. “Even if the three legs are uneven, it’s going to be a wobbly stool. You have to have equal legs.”

These professional development components are:

  1. Direct, explicit training: This is the first contact and overview of the information.
  2. Self-guided materials and resources: These allow educators to learn and review the information on their own time.
  3. Just-in-time support: This is the support team, where teachers or experts step in to help others when they encounter roadblocks.

Delivering professional development in this way, using digital resources, is so important for today’s educational landscape, Thompson said: “I think about when I was a child versus now as an adult. I barely consume print media when it comes to learning about tech tools and technologies. We are consuming media differently.”

To catch up on all the TCEA event coverage, keep this page bookmarked and follow @EdTech_K12 on X (formerly Twitter) for behind-the-scenes looks.

SDI Productions / Getty Images

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