6 Mistakes I Made with Professional Development

20 Mar 2014 | Under Lists and Infographics, Technology | Posted by | 7 Comments
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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.

6 Mistakes I Made with 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.

6 Mistakes I Made with Professional Development

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.

6 Mistakes I Made with Professional Development

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.

6 Mistakes I Made with 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.”
6 Mistakes I Made with Professional Development

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 Mistakes I Made with Professional Development

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.

Just remember:

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.

Dan Adiletta

About Dan Adiletta

Daniel Adiletta is a licensed teacher with experience implementing 1:1 programs. While guiding an iPad initiative and teaching Computer Science, Adiletta went through numerous response systems until he found ExitTicket. It was exactly what he was looking for and he told his colleagues about it via YouTube.

  • Atif Hussain

    Thanks for a really honest reflection piece. We all can and should learn from our mistakes and that of others.

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  • Deb V.

    What a great candid reflection. Thank you for sharing it. Very worthwhile. Honest dialogue is what helps us all move forward.

  • Brad Moser

    Love the advice. I am competing my first year as an edtech leader and have attempted many of thing things you tried also. Glad to hear it from others. I would love to hear more about your leaderboard and badging? I know about Credly and have been thinking about ways to help my teachers know area they are proficient in and areas they may want some help. I want to then provide PD options for those areas. What kinds of badges do you provide for your leaderboard?

    • Dan Adiletta

      Thanks for the comment and the question, Brad. My work with Credly and my leaderboard is actually just beginning. I have created a WordPress site using Woo Theme’s Sensei plugin as well as the Badge OS plugin. That gives me the infrastructure to build online lessons, exams, and automatically award badges when the lessons have been marked as completed. It’s a bit of work to set up, to be honest with you. But the promise is awfully exciting and I’m seeing a lot of interest. What caused me to describe it as more of an established success was last year’s success with our “Tech Showcases”. We would call a few teachers up at the beginning of a faculty meeting and they would show a screenshot of what app they have been using and describe their implementation. It was nice, little work and it really encouraged other users. Please feel free to reach out to me at if you’d like to chat about PD.

  • Peggy

    Thanks! Very helpful. And, brought me lots of giggles as I thought about some similar situations with initiatives I’ve tried to implement!

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Giving frequent assessments allow teachers to help struggling students before they fall to far behind because they provide quick feedback. They also give the teacher the opportunity to reteach.

Chanda Jefferson, High School Biology, South Carolina

Kept frequent and fun, real-time feedback can identify where interventions are needed.

Kelly Metz, MIddle School Science, Michigan

Students know where they stand, and can take charge of their learning when needed to understand a certain concept.

Jen Ciok, Middle School Social Studies, Illinois

Prior to ExitTicket, paper-based quizzes, exit slips, and even tests would sometimes go ungraded on my desk.

Robert Rigonan, Middle School Science, Nevada

Today, I ran a professional development my teaching staff at Allen Park High School. It went great. Before today, I have 8 teachers who are using it. After today, the number will definitely increase.

Tim Brown, Mathematics Department Chair
Allen Park High School

ExitTicket has been designed how education technology should be designed: In the classroom, by teachers and students.

Scot Refsland, Ph.D.
LPS Innovation Fellow

We designed and built ExitTicket with the purpose of giving teachers a powerful tool to accelerate student learning – particularly for students entering significantly below grade level.

Louise Waters
Dr Louise Waters, CEO, Superintendent
Leadership Public Schools

Great app to be a more responsive teacher, save time grading, and have students celebrate growth

Mitch Mosbey, First Grade
Promise Road Elementary

Looking for a way to track and monitor student progress? Use ExitTicket student response system for beautiful management!

Lindsay Hudak, Edtech Integration Specialist
Tri-Creek School Corp.

Your app has helped me teach my students how having ‘grit’ leads to success

Kristin Thomsen, 6th Grade Teacher

I saw ExitTicket when it was just barely a functional prototype two years ago. Now seeing it in action recently at the Education For the Future’s Summer Institute, Wow! It’s a real game changer.

Marcy Lauck, Director, National Data Strategies, NLET

I am very enthusiastic about ExitTicket because it fills a much needed gap in our education reform efforts.

Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart

I’ve seen a lot of technology over the years, and ExitTicket is one of the most impactful educational tools I’ve ever seen.

Tim Koogle, Former CEO of Yahoo

I’m a huge ExitTicket fan.

James Sanders, White House Fellow

The power of change it produces in both students and teachers is amazing. The way it handles detailed longitudinal data has never been seen before in a student response system.

Vickie Bernhardt, Director, Education for the Future