Personalized professional learning opportunities can help teachers implement digital learning and ensure continued student learning throughout the school year.
Personalized, ongoing professional development is essential for teachers to effectively teach in a digital learning program. While some teaching strategies are relevant for both traditional and digital learning, teachers will need professional learning opportunities to support the use of unique strategies and tools in digital learning.
When designing a comprehensive professional development plan, a few key topics should be addressed:
- Best practices for digital learning (see “Teaching with Digital Learning Tools“), such as:
- The appropriate use of synchronous (i.e., at the same time) and asynchronous (i.e., not at the same time) learning activities
- Conducting full-class discussions in person and using video conferencing
- Facilitating one-on-one and small group interactions synchronously and asynchronously
- Communicating with students through different tools (e.g., video conferencing, phone calls, email, learning management systems)
- Use of digital learning tools, including devices and software (see “Teaching with Digital Learning Tools“)
- Student privacy and security, including FERPA privacy requirements, state laws, and district or school policies (see “Safe Use of Technology and Digital Data“)
- Age- and developmentally appropriate pedagogical practices for digital learning within teachers’ content areas
- Professional practices for digital learning such as work-load management, scheduling, and work-life balance
When planning your school or district professional learning, consider:
- Using data from teacher surveys in the needs assessment or administering a new survey to assess teachers’ current knowledge and needs (see “Conducting a Needs Assessment“)
- Setting school or district professional learning goals that all teachers are working toward together
- These goals could be specifically related to technology such as teachers or students becoming Google Certified or related to broader student learning that can be supported by digital learning such as improving written discourse. Track and measure these goals throughout the year to determine progress and adjust professional learning accordingly.
Ongoing professional development should be provided through various options; we describe a number of them below.
Professional Learning Communities
One way to help teachers build capacity amid overloaded schedules is to provide them with opportunities to collaborate and share strategies with each other in professional learning communities (PLCs). PLCs can be formed around grade level, content, or experience using technology in the classroom, and meet on a regular basis either in person or online. Teachers who have participated in some of Digital Promise’s PLCs, such as the HP Teaching Fellows, have reported the benefits of hearing how other educators are facing the same challenges and knowing they are not alone.
To help reduce teachers’ cognitive load in terms of prioritizing and tackling the challenges of digital learning, PLC facilitators can distill shared problems of practice to help galvanize teachers to collaborate on solutions.
- Help teachers tie digital skills to relevant pedagogies
- Learn what platforms teachers are already collaborating on and help them find ways (e.g., channels and hashtags) to connect to other teachers using the same platforms
- Create spaces for teachers to informally share what’s going well and what they’re working on
- Be explicit about how you want PLC members to share important learnings/effective strategies
Micro-credentials are formal, competency-based recognition for specific skills that teachers use in the classroom. They are earned online, allowing teachers to receive on-demand and personalized professional learning based on their needs.
These powerful tools are easy to use, adaptable, focused on ongoing professional learning, and tied to teachers showing competency rather than having seat time. This means that micro-credentials give teachers the opportunity to learn new skills and hone existing ones in a format that is flexible. Micro-credentials can be completed by teachers individually or with peer support working in a PLC or school- or district-level cluster teams.
To integrate micro-credentials into a school or district professional learning plan, you should:
- Create opportunities for teachers to personalize their learning by selecting micro-credentials to complete
- Recognize micro-credentials within your district or school professional learning plan
- Allocate professional learning time within teachers’ work days, during which they can work on micro-credentials
- Train school leaders and coaches to support teachers as they embark on personalized professional learning through micro-credentials
- Highlight micro-credentials that are available to teachers and support digital learning
- Provide funding, if necessary, for teachers to pay for micro-credentials
- Explore creating district-level modules or micro-credentials for any digital learning priorities for which micro-credentials are not currently available
Coaching is an effective way to promote educational equity and enhance student learning to help teachers leverage technology meaningfully within their classrooms. Coaching provides the support teachers need to overcome the learning curve around digital learning and close the gap in technology usage through individualized support. By working with teachers one-on-one or in small groups, coaches are able to look at data and respond to their unique needs.
When technology coaches were hired in schools through the Dynamic Learning Project, over 90 percent of teachers agreed coaching allowed them to address professional challenges and improve student learning and engagement. Teachers who received coaching used technology more than those that did not receive coaching. They were able to use digital learning more powerfully in their classroom to promote student collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking, and agency.
In order to develop strong coaching within your school or district:
- Position coaching as a partnership between teachers and coaches that allows for collaborative decision-making and problem-solving
- Focus coaching on active learning opportunities, where coaching is connected to teachers’ individual classrooms and teachers apply the practices they learn to their classrooms
- Personalize coaching to meet the specific needs of students and the context of a teacher’s background, classroom, and goals
- Have coaches available in schools for teachers to provide spontaneous support
- Maintain a non-evaluative relationship between teachers and coaches to promote honest feedback and support.
- Provide consistent support through multiple coaching cycles and designated meeting times (preferably 30 or more minutes per week)
Identifying and Developing Teacher Leaders
It is essential to identify teacher leaders within your school or district and to develop their role in supporting other teachers. These teachers should include those who are part of the leadership team as well as others who can help to set appropriate learning goals and expectations, identify resources and tools to support digital learning, and support other teachers to plan and orchestrate effective digital learning opportunities for students. Teacher leaders often act as mentors and provide support to their peers.
One option is to give teacher leaders the agency to propose a project they want to work on for the year—for example, determining ways to use digital technology to improve student public speaking skills. Once the lead teachers have determined ways to do this in their classroom, have them share their learning and educate their peers. When considering teacher leaders, ensure leadership is identified not only within each grade band (K–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12), but also around other areas of student (e.g., special education, bilingual educators, assistive technology specialists).
Edcamp is a participatory professional development event organized by teacher volunteers in which educators lead their own learning experiences. It adopts the “unconference” model, where sessions are organized, structured, and led by the people attending the event. Edcamps give teachers “voice and choice” in their professional learning, which leads to personalization of the professional development experience with sessions based on the teachers who attend the Edcamp.
Edcamps are driven by four key tenets: free and open to all attendees; participant-driven; focused on experience rather than expertise; and driven by “the law of two feet,” allowing teachers to find the sessions that best meet their needs. Teachers who have attended Edcamps have reported feeling less isolated and re-energized as professionals, and have pursued new professional learning topics and ongoing professional development opportunities. Edcamps also act as PLCs, providing opportunities for teachers to connect and build supportive relationships, even after the Edcamp experience. For many teachers, these professional connections led to collaboration on projects and shared tools and resources.
Schools and districts who want to take advantage of the value of the Edcamp model can:
- Allow Edcamps organized by teachers in their district and in surrounding areas to count as professional development time and to occur during designated professional development days.
- Provide space within school and district buildings for teachers organizing Edcamps.
- Use the Edcamp model to design professional development within the district by identifying teacher leaders and creating space for participant-driven professional learning.
- How will teachers develop skills for leveraging digital learning and technology to effectively and powerfully enhance student learning?
- What digital learning professional development have teachers already received and what additional professional learning will support the integration of digital learning?
- Have you identified a plan for ongoing professional learning for teachers? Does that plan include multiple models of professional learning (e.g., micro-credentials, coaching, grade-level meetings)?
- What additional resources does the district or school need to support ongoing professional learning about best practices in digital learning? How will you develop or procure these resources?
Tools and Resources
- U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology: Professional Learning
- Laura M. Desimone & Michael S. Garet: Best Practices in Teachers’ Professional Development in the United States
- Florida Center for Instructional Technology: Technology Uses and Perceptions Survey (TUPS)
- Michigan Virtual: Teaching Continuity Readiness Rubric
- Digital Promise: Micro-credential Explorer
- Digital Promise: Transition to Digital Learning Micro-credentials
- Digital Promise: Micro-credentials for Impact: Holding Professional Learning to High Standards
- Digital Promise: Making Professional Learning Count
- Digital Promise: Dynamic Learning Project
- Digital Promise: Fostering Powerful Use of Technology Through Instructional Coaching
- Digital Promise: Scaling Up Classroom Coaching for Impactful Technology Use
- Dallas Independent School District: The Personalized Learning Coaching and Development Tool
Professional Learning Communities