When starting to integrate technology as a school, what is the best approach regarding professional development?

This question was posted recently to me on Google+. The question asker, Jennifer Derricks, was prompted while reading my new book for ASCD Arias (yeah, a reader!). Here is my response:

Jennifer, this is a great question, and I will post it right here in Google+ so others can read my response. My answer is multi-faceted because there are several considerations when first starting to implement technology within instruction.

First, look at your building goals, your school’s past successes and areas for professional growth as a school. Where are you at, where do you want to be, and how might you get there? If you haven’t identified these yet, look at your student learning results. Pay special attention to the interim/benchmark assessments instead of standardized tests and their ilk. These common formative assessments can show you trends and patterns that will guide your work.

Once you have a focus for professional learning that has a good chance of impacting student learning, the second step is to consider one possibility for technology-enhanced instruction. When I say one, I mean ONE!! (sorry for shouting). For our school, there was a recognized need to augment our assessments to provide access and accommodation for our students, especially our most marginalized. Using digital tools such as blogs and portfolios have given students a greater voice in how they can be assessed with regard to what they know and are able to do.

Third, it is okay to pilot technology integration with only a handful of teachers in the first year. We selected the willing and the interested. Once they became accomplished in using the digital tools with fluency, they became our building leaders in terms of explaining the benefits of the initiative to the rest of the staff. Some of these teacher leaders have led staff development for us at later times. Our staff development offerings are voluntary, paid, and led by the participants’ questions which they post via Google Form prior to the sessions. It cannot be just the principal leading this change process.

Finally, make this initiative a multi-year focus that is embedded within a current academic goal. One year is not enough. Plan for at least three years for these enhancements to truly take hold in your school and make an impact on student learning. Also, expect an implementation dip during the process, probably the second year. In my experience, this happens when you think things are running along smoothly. This is a sign that teachers are starting to move beyond the basics of the technology and ready for more training with regard to more complex uses of the tools.

Image Source: Renwick, M. Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment (2014)

Also, if the technology is not up to the pedagogical challenge (and you’d be surprised at how many are not), it might be time to shift gears and consider different digital tools that better meet the needs of the students and teachers.
Good luck with your schoolwide approach to digitally-enhanced learning!



Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

6 thoughts on “When starting to integrate technology as a school, what is the best approach regarding professional development?”

  1. Matt, you are absolutely right when you say that a strategic approach is required to embed technologies for learning at a school. The only comment that I would like to make regarding your article is point 3 where you mention that it is ok to start with just a few teachers. Maybe if you have a lot of time you may consider this but I have still found this to be a very risky approach for three main reasons:

    1 Firstly, while the pilot group is exposing their learners to technologies, other learners are missing out. This may be a critical time for them eg. a primary child moving into high school, and the digital divide in education between the have and have nots is a real issue. In this context the digital divide is those with teachers who can and those who can’t. You may end up with a situation where one late adopter takes more than a year to make the decision to change.

    2 Secondly, for change management to be successful, all stakeholders must be involved from the beginning. This means that leaving some teachers out of the initial process may cause them to feel under-valued. I found that establishing communities of practice among teaching professionals to be the preferred option so that all can join in from the beginning. In this example, each teacher will have the opportunity to participate or observe according to their needs. The uptake rate is higher in this example.

    3 Finally, I fully understand that there is unpaid work attached to this and I firmly believe that something as important as integration of pedagogical approaches to ICT in schools should not be an additional burden on teachers but one that they are mentored through with time for professional development. That being said in Australia we don’t have time to embed technologies slowly for the sake of our learners as we are already behind. It should not be left to the poor early adopter to bring it all together, a different approach is required. A PD budget could be well-spent on educational technologists to assist schools to strategically embed technologies so that all learners benefit now. This will be sustainable as continual change occurs and teachers update within the community of practice.

    Thank you for your thought-provoking post.


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