As I conducted research for Master's thesis, I focused on the components of effective edtech professional development. After organizing notes from a multitude of peer-reviewed articles, I synthesized the top 10 characteristics of effective PD based on their mentions in the literature.
I offer them below so we can pursue more impactful forms of professional development for our teachers (and if you're desperately interested in the reference list and full literature review, you can find it here.)
So with no further ado, effective edtech professional development needs to include...
- Clear, content-specific connections to classroom practice
The most frequently mentioned characteristic of effective PD is that it has a clear link to a teacher's content area and their classroom practice. To accomplish this, we may need to restructure the way we present PD so that teachers can be clustered together based on content areas. We may also need to consider blending our PD so we present a whole group, face-to-face session on the general functions of a digital tool, then allow teachers to choose an online pathway that walks them through the applications of the tool in their content area. Whatever route we choose, the adult learner is focused on practical application and learns to solve problems, so we need to make sure we provide clear connections to their daily context.
- Time for collaboration and reflection
Without reflection, there's a danger that the teacher's PD experience could be misunderstood and misapplied in the classroom. For example, if a teacher walks away with plans for implementing at only the lowest levels of integration, they've missed a chance to increase rigor and engage students. Reflection and collaboration provides time for teachers to develop plans and for us as facilitators to make sure that our intended takeaways are actually taken away...
- Extended duration
The duration of effective PD includes both an extended span of time to implement the new learning as well as a high number of contact hours outside of the initial session. One-time workshops are ineffective in changing teacher practice, especially when there is little to no follow up outside of the training. Positioning our training in the context of regularly scheduled Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) or other forms of job-embedded PD allow us to extend the contact time we have with teachers and support them in their new learning.
- Non-threatening support and follow up
The teacher's support shouldn't also be the teacher's evaluator. This is where the role of coaches comes into play. The teacher has to feel that they have a partner in implementation who will respect their need for confidentiality as they incubate new ideas and attempt to execute new plans in their classroom.
- An engaging and active format
Often, if we were the teachers in our own PD, we'd be checking Facebook too. If we're not doing our part to model active learning and engaging instruction, we have no one to blame but ourselves for the slack-jawed faces staring back at us. Teachers need "sandbox time" to experiment and play with new technology, and it should happen during our sessions where we can provide structure, guidance and support.
- The same technology teachers will use in the classroom
With our current Chromebook pilot, we made assumptions early on that teachers would understand how to use the devices. Based on that assumption, we moved to quickly into digital tools without making sure teachers could navigate their way around a different interface than what they were use to. Teachers need to experience the actual classroom technology to understand what student's will experience as they use the tools. Additionally, greater learning transfer will happen if what teachers experience in training matches what they will be using in the classroom.
- Modeling by colleagues
I've been out of the classroom 8 months (and here are some lessons I've learned). In the eyes of a teacher, I'm out of touch. Whether that's true or not, perception can quickly become reality. The more we can get classroom teachers presenting the PD and sharing what they do with real live students, the more buy-in we'll have from the teachers we're training.
- Institutional support
How does your campus or district show support for your early adopters? Do they allow them to take risks, make mistakes, and blaze a new trail? Or do they flog them at the first sign of a data dip, blame the devices, and remove the technology from the classroom? For PD to be effective, teachers must feel they have the support of the broader institution to take the often uncertain path of pushing through to new and higher levels of learning.
- Processes for evaluating teacher learning
Exit surveys are an awful way to evaluate professional development, but that seems to be our default method to determine if PD has been effective. To truly evaluate and refine our PD, we need to find ways to see if what teachers have learned is reaching the classroom, changing teacher practice, and impacting students. How do we do that? I'm not sure. There are so many variables that go into effective teaching that it becomes difficult to tease out exactly what is making an impact. If anyone is using metrics to measure PD that are working, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section.
- The feeling that the time invested is outweighed by the benefits gained
We've all walked out of training sessions that were a complete waste of our lives. So for PD to be effective, the teacher has to feel like the time they just put in will result in positive changes in their classroom. It's incumbent on us as facilitators to make sure that connection is clear, so that when teachers leave our initial face-to-face, they have plans for immediate implementation with their students.
That's what the literature says. What would you add to the list?