Best practices for professional development in technology-enabled classrooms
By Lisa deRoy
Education Advocate, SMART Technologies
The National Staff Development Council’s (NSDC) current definition of professional development sets the stage for progressively repositioning professional development in a new light. It focuses on continuous, professional learning within a school where educators actively take part in setting the goals and assessing the outcomes.
This definition also makes additional key points:
- Professional development is aligned with both state standards and school improvement goals
- Professional development occurs multiple times a week, working with an established and prepared group of administrators, teachers, coaches and mentors. Participants engage with one another through a continuous cycle of improvement
- Professional development offers qualified coaches to help teachers transfer new skills and knowledge to the classroom
- Professional development should assessed regularly for its effectiveness
Professional development practices moves the teacher forward in sustainable, targeted learning over time. Training, on the other hand, has an end point. It offers purposeful activities for learning in the short-term.
Based on these two fundamental elements of training and professional development, SMART has developed a Practitioner’s Continuum outlining five phases that an educator commonly moves through – from perceiving classroom technology as an “event focused” ordeal, and therefore is rarely used, to using the technology daily in meaningful, purposeful and impactful ways.
SMART’s continuum offers realistic expectations about how quickly teachers can incorporate classroom technology into the curriculum; moving away from teacher-centered activities to student-based activities. Ideally, the goal is to move briskly and seamlessly through the first two phases so that learning becomes action-oriented in later phases.
As you work through phases 1-5, the following results should occur:
Phases 1 and 2
- Teaching and guided practice occur in a whole group setting
- Interaction with the technology is mostly teacher-led
- Both teachers and students see the technology as novel
- Integration of the interactive technology into lessons is isolated rather than constant
Phases 3 and 4
- There is a combination of teacher-led instruction and student centered activities
- There is evidence of student rotations and centers appropriate for primary and secondary settings
- Students are working independently using SMART software on computers
- Students are producing work, projects or reviews using SMART software
- Students are taking responsibility for their learning
- There is a combination of whole group, small group and independent class work, with each using interactive classroom technology.
- Formative and summative assessments continue
Changes begin to occur when the perception of using classroom technology is no longer an ‘event’ or challenge. It is simply part of everyday teaching and learning. It works quietly in the background to support active learning, curriculum, student-centered activities and learning outcomes.
When you use the SMART Practioner’s Continuum with an end-goal in mind, it creates motivation for moving through the different phases and for full participation of continuing professional development. It correlates teacher knowledge and skill set with the gradual integration of classroom technology over time. As the integration of classroom technology builds, the environment moves from teacher-directed learning to student-centered learning. And that’s when students begin to take responsibility for their learning and outcomes improve.
School districts have found that without providing ongoing professional development opportunities that allow teachers to learn, share and practice what they’ve learned, they cannot progress past novelty use (phases 1 and 2). That means, in order to improve student learning outcomes, teachers need to participate in ongoing training, mentoring and sustainable professional development opportunities.
Does your school and district work in tandem to provide greater opportunities for continuing professional development?
Best practices that support NSDC recommendations
Teachers across multiple school buildings receive support from the central organization in a combination of ways.
School building-supported services
School administration encourages and provides opportunities for teachers within a building to participate in multiple activities that support staff needs and are convenient.
Organizational technology troubleshooting support
The organization provides school personnel with a multi-tier approach to technical support that may include the following:
- Asking teachers to follow recommended troubleshooting steps
- Approaching the building technology facilitator or technology lead teacher within the building for assistance
- Submitting a work order to the organization help desk
School building troubleshooting support
If a teacher follows the suggested troubleshooting steps and cannot solve the problem, the teacher goes to a designated individual within the building for assistance.
Organizational technology training
These sessions are usually held off-site (in a location other than the teacher’s assigned school building). The focus is on:
- Establishing a knowledge base
- Building a skill set
- Attaining additional practice and experience
Summer months and professional development days are popular times to offer these types of training.
School building training
Training in a school building happens formally and informally throughout the year and utilizes internal resources. It may include:
- One-to-one time after school
- Department working through steps to create a new, digital student activity during a team meeting
- User groups where teachers can practice and share
- Q and A sessions during preparation times
Organizational professional development
These sessions are usually held off-site (in a location other than the teacher’s assigned school building) or as online webinars or user groups. The focus is on:
- Expanding an established knowledge base
- Refining and cultivating a skill set
- Synthesizing the knowledge base and skill set to integrate the best practices in teaching and pedagogical district initiatives
Summer months and professional development days are popular time for face-to-face PD sessions. Online opportunities offer greater flexibility and can be made available after the school day.
School building professional development
Ongoing professional development can take on many forms. Examples include:
- Encouraging staff to develop and perform action research
- Inviting teachers to observe colleagues. Peer reviews provide an excellent way to see how others do things.
- Offering a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in which teachers can come together multiple times a year to focus on the integration of interactive technology
- Taking advantage of professional development days by providing workshops, sessions or collaborative work days focusing on interactive digital materials and resources