Throughout my teaching career, I’ve enjoyed sharing my passion for educational technology. I’ve helped spearhead a number of initiatives and often introduced new tools to teachers. While I have found a lot of approaches to professional development successful, I found a lot more that weren’t. These six strategies represent some of the most fundamental mistakes I’ve made while managing edtech professional development.
1. Big Group Sessions
What I did: I had so much success during the initial phases of my first iPad rollout with big group announcements and demonstrations, I thought I could continue that momentum right into some technical tutorials. Big mistake. Some teachers were so far ahead of the pack they were chatting (oh yeah, there is often chatting in professional development), while others were so far behind they were shouting for help. It was a fiasco.
What I did Wrong: I made lesson goals without knowing my students’ capabilities. I wanted my teachers to walk away with an app ready to hit their classroom. I was trying to jump to the end-goal of professional development with my whole faculty. There were teachers that showed up and hadn’t even taken the device out of the box yet. I failed to anticipate my learners’ needs, and the lesson floundered because of a lack of scaffolding.
2. Required Usage
What I did: Teachers can be very hesitant about 1:1 initiatives. We assured them that the administration wouldn’t be going from class to class to make sure that they were using their devices. It’s just another tool in your back pocket. Meanwhile, our parents were assured that the tablets would offset some costs in books. Low and behold, we ended up with a purist English teacher that wanted to insist his students read A Catcher in the Rye on paper, while parents were objecting that the free digital version was supposed to save them money.
What I did wrong: Our core teachers didn’t have input on finer policies until it reached the professional development phase. Many of these conflicts could have been identified early if our conference-room planning was opened up to wider input. Don’t avoid criticism for expediency’s sake. School policies go hand-in-hand with edtech professional development; it’s best to keep that aspect transparent and full of community input from the start.
3. Mixed Messages
What I did: We flip-flopped on a lot and, just like the previous example, found ourselves in a conflict of promises. It got worse, too. Teachers are often and understandably reluctant to spend even more of their time attending edtech professional development. I tried to stay firm on our expectations, while certain administrators were cutting deals and lowering the bar.
What I did wrong: We should have designated a single voice, an “edtech czar,” who could establish talking points for the administration to follow. Perception and clarity is vital not only for professional development but for the whole edtech initiative it’s supporting. Perhaps it sounds draconian or excessive, but keep the tempest of outcry in mind. When using precious resources for a controversial investment in technology, your community outreach needs to be a sophisticated, branded and coordinated effort. I failed on that my first time around, and we had an uncomfortable frenzy to establish a unified front — in the midst of managing professional development.
4. Starting Too Small
What I did: I wanted to establish shared terminology so we could discuss rigor in our classrooms and how technology could help. Many of our teachers had 15-30 years’ experience but no exposure to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Going back to the basics of professional development at the start of the year and during the rollout of a 1:1 initiative was not appreciated.
What I did wrong: Including basic concepts, even ones of a critical nature, during professional development is insulting to the urgency that drives our educators. Teachers know how to read and teach themselves core pedagogical concepts. If they are busy applying what they know, give them support doing just that. I remember one of my friends and star teachers getting fed up and saying, “Okay, I get it, jump to the part where this will help me go to bed before 1 am.”
5. There’s an App for That
What I did: I reviewed hundreds of apps when I first started managing a 1:1 initiative. Much of my meager budget was spent trying out different tools. I cranked out YouTube videos to encourage my teachers to bulk-purchase apps that fit their current content. There were glimmers of apps that dissected frogs and helped readers understand Shakespeare, but they passed quickly. The technology wasn’t making the impact I needed and promised during professional development.
What I did wrong: Tools that fit all content should be stressed. Fun, content-specific apps were cool, but they distracted teachers from finding regular applications of technology that could find a permanent place in their routine. It was when I heard Tom Daccord make the point that “all apps should fit on one screen without folders” that I realized what I was doing wrong, especially during the early phases of edtech professional development. When I pushed ExitTicket and Educreations, we started seeing real, measurable impact from our investment.
6. Skills Check Sheet
What I did: To motivate teachers to push forward in an ongoing professional development initiative, I created a publicly accessible spreadsheet with a row for each teacher and a column for each skill. I included myself as well as every administrator that also taught a class. Reluctantly, teachers did check the sheet and tried to keep apace. But when they noticed the administrators were behind, the sheet’s importance vanished and became a ghost town.
What I did wrong: I tried to pretend there were due dates when there were none. The faculty tried to get each skill approved and checked off the spreadsheet at first. But when they realized there were no ramifications for being behind, the sheet only proved the ineffectiveness of my half-baked attempt at establishing accountability in our professional development. I have found a lot of success creating a “Leaderboard” that celebrates teachers earning Credly badges for training. Rockstar technologists race to be at the top, while reluctant users reference the Leaderboard to find help and advice.
You are going to make mistakes while you lead a faculty through professional development. It’s okay. Moving from faculty to a position as junior administrator did not cost me friendships. Perhaps it made for a few tense moments in the faculty lounge, but at the end of the day the faculty understands why professional development is important and will work to find a balance.