While most teachers believe district leaders view professional development as a priority, some say the instruction they’re offered could be more effective, according to a survey from Corwin, Learning Forward and the National Education Association. Research also suggests teachers wish their districts would increase training on specific topics, notably technology.
With one estimate indicating as many as 77 percent of jobs will require some degree of technological skill by 2020, it’s critical that students are comfortable using technology. Yet only 10 percent of educators, who are responsible for preparing students for that future workforce, feel confident teaching higher-level tech skills, according to a 2018 PwC survey.
Of more than 2,000 K–12 educators who participated in the PwC survey, 79 percent said they want more training focused on helping them effectively teach technology-related subjects.
Other educators desire more hands-on instruction: 33 percent said a lack of PD had hindered their ability to use technology in the classroom, according to a 2018 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt report.
Online PD Modules Give Teachers Flexibility
Professional development has always been integral to education, and it’s clear that technology has placed new demands on teachers. Increasing integration of technology in the classroom also puts pressure on district leaders to figure out not only what to address in teacher training, but also how.
Numerous educators, according to the Corwin/Learning Forward/NEA survey, strongly prefer onsite collaborative learning that takes place during the workday. That doesn’t appear to be the norm, however: Just 25 percent say the majority of their PD actually occurs during school hours.
Instead, nearly half of teachers say their training is typically scheduled for in-service days or during the summer, a trend that limits the number of hours schools can dedicate to educator-oriented learning.
Eighty-one percent of the educators in PwC’s survey said they’d like to have the flexibility to be released from traditional classroom duties to attend training, a strategy that research suggests could increase the effectiveness of in-person instruction.
For instance, workshops can provide extremely beneficial opportunities for hands-on, active learning. But absorbing those concepts takes time. Studies have shown that training initiatives allowing more than a single day to learn new practices can produce strong results, according to the Learning Policy Institute.
If educators have only a single afternoon for a face-to-face training session, the format may not be an ideal way to successfully master new strategies. As an alternative, on-demand instructional modules allow teachers to invest more hours in development because they can complete the work at their desired pace and time.
In addition, while group-oriented workshops often feature general information for a broad audience, online modules can help schools deliver specific guidance that targets the needs of individual teachers.
Instructional Coaches Help Teachers Gain Proficiency and Confidence
Whether instruction occurs in person or remotely, certain elements — in particular, allowing participants to customize their experience — may be the key to successful outcomes.
Take the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, for example. The district initially tried to boost participation in its voluntary professional development program by having educators work within individualized learning plans created for each person. Then, it decided to offer a group webinar and give teachers the freedom to select their own learning options. Teachers’ participation subsequently increased from 35 percent to 90 percent, according to an article in the Hechinger Report.
Providing guidance from an instructional coach is another beneficial approach.
During the 2017–2018 school year, the Dynamic Learning Project, an initiative designed by Digital Promise with support from Google, paired teachers in 50 schools across five states — Alabama, California, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas — with onsite technology coaches to support their use of educational technology.
The program helped teachers become more comfortable with and more skilled at incorporating classroom technologies. According to a report issued after the Dynamic Learning Project’s pilot year, 60 percent of participating teachers reported progress in their ability to use technology in their teaching practice.
Eighty-nine percent said the coaching improved their ability to choose the most effective tech tools, and 77 percent said they felt better able to communicate with students in a way that resonated.
By the end of the year, participants were sold on instructional coaching. Approximately 90 percent said the type of support they received could help improve student learning, and nearly 92 percent believed coaching-related professional development could have a positive effect on student engagement.
Choices abound when it comes to professional development, and the need for this support is clear. To help educators make the most of training, leaders would do well to engage teachers in their districts to solicit their input and preferences. That can go a long way to ensure that teachers have the best support possible.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.