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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Designing Meaningful Tech PD
By Jennifer Hutchings and Garland Green 08-Mar-17
How often does a school put time, effort, and money into professional development only to see it miss the mark or fall short of administrative and teacher expectations? We all start professional development with the best intentions, but so many times we find ourselves wishing for something a little more relevant. What follows is a story about a PD initiative that actually met the staff where they were, hit the target goals, inspired teachers and administrators, and provided valuable feedback for further growth. Last April, teachers at Bilkent Laboratory and International School (BLIS) participated in a full-day professional development event dedicated to educational technology titled “the teKNOWLEDGEy symposium.” In class-sized, mixed-grade-level classes, teachers began the day discussing their individual and shared ideas on the purpose of education and the role of technology within it. This was followed by an introduction of the SAMR Model with a Kahoot quiz and, eventually, break-out sessions in small groups that rotated through stations. The groups designed a learning activity at a specific level of the SAMR model, based on a stated subject and lesson objective. Teachers then had an opportunity to work on one of their own lesson plans individually, integrating technology to a minimum of the Augmentation Level. In the afternoon, teachers attended concurrent sessions, in which their colleagues showcased a program, app, or instructional method integrating technology they have found successful in their classrooms. Feedback from participants was exceptionally positive and our department is extremely proud of the event’s success. We established a shared vocabulary for integrating technology into the classroom and celebrated some of the amazing things our teachers are doing. These authors, however, are most proud of what the teachers never saw: the nine-month (and counting) process of creating this PD experience. Anyone who has planned a PD initiative can tell you that it can be done in a much shorter period of time. In fact, what most educators would think of as planning, and what we refer to as “Phase 4,” only took us a few weeks. This fourth of a six-phase process is the shortest task, however, and by no means is it the most important. Our six phases are as follows: 1. Commitment to Vision and Standards: Given the school’s mission and vision, what is our vision for technology integration? It’s easy for techies to pontificate about 21st-century skills and the importance of technology. However, PD should fit into a school’s mission and overall staff appraisal system. As a team, we had several long conversations exploring how technology integration in teaching and learning fits within our organization and supports our BLIS mission. 2. Analyzing the Teachers as Learners - Who are our learners? How do they learn? What do they already know? What do they need to learn? It is important to remember that teachers deserve the same consideration as our students do when designing learning activities intended to benefit them. They need time to process information, as well as opportunities to practice, work collaboratively, and be engaged. However, adult learners—and teachers, in particular—bring with them a wealth of prior knowledge and expertise. As in any good lesson or unit, we began with formative assessment in the form of surveys and interviews. 3. Setting Goals and Objectives - What do we hope to achieve and what do we want them to be able to do? We drew a major conclusion from the data collection and analysis from phase two: teachers want to do a good job, but they needed clear expectations and meaningful feedback. We concluded that we should establish a common vocabulary and demonstrate examples of quality technology integration. While not part of the PD, we also worked with our administrative team to include tech integration in our teacher appraisal system. 4. Planning the Learning - How do we want them to learn or develop these skills? Teachers would be learning for a full day, so we wanted to ensure that they stayed engaged. To this end, we created mixed-grade-level groups, so that they would interact with new people and keep things moving with different sessions. These included discussions and demonstrations, as well as whole group, small group, and individual activities that were covered in 40 minutes or less. 5. Implementation - Facilitate and/or lead the learning activities. All members of our team, in addition to some recruited teachers, facilitated, led, or documented the learning activities in the teKNOWLEDGEy symposium. 6. Evaluation - Did we achieve our goals? Again, we collected a lot of data. First we asked for immediate feedback from our teachers in the form of a survey, the results of which were overwhelmingly positive. We then used the comments to formulate questions, and interviews were conducted by interns from the Psychology department of Bilkent University, our parent organization. The results of both of these data-collection initiatives will now serve as the starting point for next year’s PD planning. Our process, rooted in the latest research and based on best practices in professional development, not only served as a planning roadmap but also ensured that we truly reflected before and after holding our event. It has additionally served as the impetus for our departure from what we call “T2” or “Tool Talk,” in which PD sessions simply highlight a specific technological tool and ask teachers to use it. Instead, our technology integrators now focus on supporting teachers more holistically. The implementation of technology is now focused on the quality of student learning and teacher satisfaction rather than the quantity of tech tools. This process has allowed us to engage in PD that is authentic, meaningful, and actionable.
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