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.
What elements are critical to creating and maintaining a technology rich professional learning program?
I decided to explore this question through the lens of my own experience. In 2012, the school where I was teaching began a technology overhaul. The overhaul was a response to a technology infrastructure emergency; however, it became a journey towards teacher-led technology-rich professional learning.
At the time, we had a 12-year-old Mac server and a computer lab full of 12+ year-old iMacs. Computer lab use was sporadic—a sign-up sheet was posted to the computer lab door—and generally involved students in grades 3 through 8 using the computers to perform research for writing assignments or projects that they would complete in class, on paper. A few teachers – me included – were computer lab “regulars”, but often experienced roadblocks because of network connectivity problems. Nothing was done “in the cloud” and students almost never used online tools for creation and/or sharing. Computer Science? Nothing. Teachers had personal computers—some desktop, some laptops—which were used for teacher productivity (lesson plans, creating consumable worksheets, email, grading program). Job-embedded instructional technology professional learning was non-existent. Teachers who were tech-curious attended outside professional learning opportunities.
Our principal at the time we began the overhaul was a good planner. She put together a Technology Task Force that comprised school administrators, teachers, parents, and a professional consultant, Dr. David Wicks. Our first task was to create a technology mission statement, to guide our work. Next, we began to work in teams in the areas that best suited our skills. Administrators worked on infrastructure and budget issues. Teachers worked on curriculum and identifying and planning for integrating new hardware and software. Parents worked on identifying parent concerns and planning for parent education. Members of each team collaborated to write a new acceptable use policy. At each step, our professional consultant advised us about best practices and provided feedback about our work.
At the beginning of the 2013 school year, we had a new server, a shared laptop cart in K-5, and a 1:1 laptop program in grades 6-8. Although we did not have a comprehensive scope and sequence for technology education, we had a few “early adopters” in place in each grade band who were identified as teacher leaders and who piloted new applications and worked with their colleagues to integrate technology skills lessons into the academic curriculum. As these teacher leaders became more proficient with technology use in their own classrooms, they shared out their experiences during in-school professional learning sessions. All of this represented phenomenal growth from the previous year; however, there was still much work to be done.
The following year (2014-15), we received grant funding to engage with another professional consultant, Sarah Blattner, who led us through a technology program evaluation and the development of a 3-year technology plan. We surveyed teachers, parents and students and our consultant led us through an evaluation of the results. She made recommendations based on the themes she identified in the survey results and provided a detailed 3-year plan that included actionable items for maintenance and growth of the technology program. During the course of this same school year, our school librarian and I served as Technology Integration Specialists. In this role, we worked closely with Sarah Blattner on the program evaluation, participated in a grant-funded professional learning community (PLC) comprised of educators from six local private schools, hosted several in-school professional learning sessions, and provided ongoing job-embedded professional learning for our colleagues.
During the 2015-2016 year, we worked to implement our year 1 actionable items, including improvements to infrastructure, an integrated technology scope and sequence for all grade levels (including computer science and digital citizenship), and increased professional learning opportunities.
What started as a response to a technology infrastructure emergency became a program that was guided by a consistent cycle of planning, implementation and evaluation. The technology program was far from perfect, but the process ensured that we would continue to create new goals. After infrastructure, hardware and software needs were met, one element consistently produced positive results: teacher-led technology-rich professional learning. At first, “early adopters” led the charge, through piloting new tools and applications in their classrooms and then hosting hands-on workshops during in-school professional learning sessions. Pretty soon, the next generation of teachers was ready to lead workshops, as well.
For schools who are just beginning this process, or who are in need of a professional learning boost, tools have been created that offer guidance in the critical areas of: administrative leadership, teacher leadership and creating a technology plan. Along with providing tools for evaluation, planning & implementation, all of these resources have fantastic options for technology-rich professional learning.
- United States Department of Education Office of Educational Technology
- Learning Forward: The Professional Learning Association
- International Society for Technology Education (ISTE)
- Common Sense Education
- Future Ready Librarians
The first step is to create a Technology Task Force, comprising stakeholders at all organizational levels: administration, teachers, parents, and students. Use one or a combination of the tools above to guide you through a program evaluation and the creation of a technology plan. At the implementation stage, empower teacher-leaders to design and lead technology-rich professional learning. Use a consistent evaluation tool to guide planning for both collaborative and independent professional learning. Evaluate, Plan, Implement, Repeat. Combined with empowered teacher-leadership, this is a recipe for success in creating and maintaining a technology-rich professional learning environment.