Digital Age Best Practices in Teacher Professional Development

ISTE Coaching Standard 4 provides three benchmarks for technology coaches to conduct needs assessments, develop technology-related professional learning programs and evaluate the impact on instructional practice and student learning. My focus is on performance indicator b: Design, develop and implement technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning and assessment.

My Question

How can we use digital assessment tools to improve the “flexibility, responsiveness, and contextualization” of teacher professional development (U.S. Department of Education 2017)?

My Resolution

When I first thought about this question… I was wondering how digital assessment tools could be used to determine whether teachers had actually learned a new skill set that was the goal of a professional development (PD) session. After looking through the Learning Forward website and delving into their SAI PD evaluation tool, I’m wondering more about how we can use digital tools like the SAI to get continuous feedback about the efficacy of PD efforts.

In my own research, I was thoroughly engaged by all of the resources on the Learning Forward website. Learning Forward is a “professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development” (2017). Two good starting points for anyone who is investigating best practices in teacher PD—after Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning, of course—are: 1) Learning Forward’s Publications, a webpage that lists all of the publications that Learning Forward members can access; and 2) Learning Forward’s Standards Assessment Inventory (SAI), a PD evaluation tool that puts teachers in the driver’s seat in evaluating the data. We all play different technology leadership roles at our schools, and there is something on the Learning Forward site for each role, as well as in general.

In sharing resources with the members of my Seattle Pacific University Digital Education Leadership Master’s Program PLC, Hanna Hermes and Justin Haney, I was led to consider how applying digital assessment tools could improve PD for teachers of students with special needs, who are definitely in need of PD that is “flexible, responsive and contextualized” to the unique challenges they face every day. Justin Haney reflected on data from a Learning Forward “Status of Professional Learning” Phase I report, “One of the key findings listed hits the nail on the head: ‘Teachers are not getting adequate training in teaching special education or limited English proficiency students. More than two-thirds of teachers nationally had not had even one day of training in supporting the learning of special education or LEP students during the previous three years, and only one-third agreed that they had been given the support they needed to teach students with special needs’ (Learning Forward, 2009)” (personal communication, 2017). A digital assessment tool could give voice to teachers of students with special needs—which, really, includes all teachers—so that PD could be honed to meet their particular professional learning needs. Justin also pointed out a shift in terminology, from “professional development” to “professional learning,” which is evident on the Learning Forward website, and is further defined in a blog post by Dr. Kristen Mattson, “Professional Development vs. Professional Learning.” I wonder whether this shift in terminology will trigger a shift in thinking about assessment. While the word “development” when used in regard to professional development may not have a natural connotative connection with “assessment,” the word “learning” in this fresh usage certainly might.

Hanna Hermes introduced me to LoTi Connection, an organization that promotes research that, “explores the connection between best practice factors and the level of teaching innovation experienced in classrooms” (LoTi 2017). In particular, the LoTi Connection report, “Digital Age Best Practices: Teaching and Learning Refocused” by Dr. Christopher Moersch, got me thinking about formative assessment during teacher PD. How often does that happen? In our classrooms, we need to respond to the individual needs our students present to us on a daily basis—this is the natural flow of the modern classroom. Most pre-planned PD sessions are just that: pre-planned. Slides have been prepared, the presenters have rehearsed and have an idea in their minds of how the session “should” flow. Even if the presenters have planned a highly interactive session, they are most often still working from a set plan, and generally try to keep to the plan. What happens when the session that was planned isn’t exactly meeting the needs of the teachers? How can we plan PD that has a “choose your own adventure” quality, a potential to shift gears in order to instantly respond to the needs present in the room during the session? Speaking of “choose your own adventure,” Hanna’s own research on this topic also led me to wonder how “classroom observation” methods of teacher PD, such as the Pineapple Chart method, are evaluated for efficacy. I wonder whether schools and districts collect any data about what teachers learn during classroom observations and how they use what they learned to improve their own classroom practice (the efficacy of the Pineapple method for affecting positive change in practice)? And whether that data drives any changes to the overall system of PD?

As emerging digital education leaders in our schools and districts, we should be advocating for the use of digital assessment tools to evaluate and improve our teacher PD programs. The speakers in the videos in the Learning Forward SAI webpage’s Frequent Questions section say it all: “creating a common language” and “teachers own the data”—elements critical to successful teacher PD (2017).

Works Cited

Learning Forward (2009). Status of professional learning: phase I report. Retrieved from

Learning Forward (2017). Who we are. Retrieved from

Learning Forward (2017). Standards assessment inventory. Retrieved from

LoTi (2017). LoTi digital age survey. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education (2017). Reimagining the role of technology in education: 2017 national educational technology plan update. Retrieved from

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