3 Ways to Prepare Teachers for a Digital Transition

A Speak Up report highlights the state of teacher technology skills.

by / June 4, 2014 0
Roughly half of teachers lack professional development for the technology that's coming into their schools, according to the latest Speak Up survey data from Project Tomorrow.  
And that's unacceptable, said Joseph South, deputy director of the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Education Department. In a Congressional briefing on Monday, June 2, South said we can't move forward with a digital transition if our teachers aren't prepared.  
"We need our teachers and our leaders to have the right sort of support so that they can be effective," South said. 
In a North Carolina focus group, about 20 science and math teachers debated how to prepare teachers best for the digital transition so that schools can move forward. That's an age old question, but CEO Julie Evans of Project Tomorrow has at least three ideas to prepare teachers. 

1. Provide more professional development, but also different professional development. 

Instead of thinking of professional development as a training session that a presenter stands and delivers, we should move toward just-in-time coaching and mentoring, Evans said. In the survey of 39,986 teachers, 33 percent cited lack of professional development as an obstacle to effective technology use. And 35 percent of first-year teachers said they would like a more experienced teacher to mentor them throughout the year. 

2. Make sure that administrators give teachers time to experiment and explore technology. 

Sometimes principals will talk with teachers about flipping their classroom or using more digital content, but they don't have firsthand involvement with those methods, technologies or professional development, Evans said. Principals need professional development to help them lead the digital transformation. 
This next year, South's office plans to start a conversation with 14,000 superintendents across the nation about how to make schools ready for the future, including a plan for professional development and a plan to bring technology into districts at scale in a sustainable way rather than through bonds. And Evans hopes that professional development for school and district leaders — including these superintendents — will be part of the conversation.  

"We have a real need for improving our leadership amongst our school and district leaders," Evans said, "and that includes the 14,000 superintendents in terms of how do they effectively lead with the idea of technology being a transformational agent."  

In Virginia's Arlington Public Schools, an elementary school principal wanted to see flipped learning happen in classes, said Patrick Murphy, the 2014 state superintendent of the year. The principal talked with a young teacher who used technology, but she wasn't interested and didn't want to do it initially. After some convincing and the promise of tablets in her classroom, she tried it. 
The success of these attempts catches fire, and it resulted in a heartwarming ending.
"A young man says to this teacher, 'Ms. Hale, you make me feel so good because I get to take you home with me.'"
With these small successes, school districts can build a critical mass of teachers who are willing to try technology in their classrooms, Murphy said.

3. Give teachers first-hand opportunities to try technology in their personal lives. 

By using tablets or digital content on their own, teachers will see the value of it and more easily translate that technology into their classrooms. A professional learning community can help them with this as well. 
In the Speak Up survey conducted last fall, 28 percent of teachers said they were technologically advanced compared to their peers. But while these 28 percent are doing the right things, schools don't have enough of them, South said.  
The Speak Up data in the New Digital Learning Playbook report shows that the right things these teachers are doing include the following:  
  • Conducting Internet research to inform a lesson or class activity (90 percent)   
  • Learning something by watching an online video (74 percent)  
  • Exchanging text messages with colleagues (67 percent)   
  • Customizing digital content to meet the needs within their instructional plans (56 percent)   
  • Participating in an online professional learning community (55 percent)  
The problem, however, is that they've been perceived as the hero teachers who can do amazing things with technology that no one else could possibly do, Evans said.  
"We put these teachers on such a pedestal that I think we made it unattainable for other teachers," Evans said.  
Instead of putting them so high up on a pedestal, Evans suggests celebrating the small steps each teacher is taking toward technology. At the North Carolina focus group, she heard a teacher talk about being nervous to try a virtual lab with a science class, but the teacher did it, and that should be applauded, Evans said.
Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.