Hands-on PD solidifies tech skills

"Go and show" model requires teachers to demonstrate classroom mastery
By: | Issue: November, 2015
October 13, 2015

The need to teach technology and “current century” skills (formally known as 21st century skills) is well documented. Establishing these proficiencies in our students is not just critical to the next generation of job-seekers, but to the economic health of the nation overall.

However, as any school administrator who has tried in the past can attest, digital devicesÑand training teachers to use such toolsÑrequire significant investments. Given the academic importance, the effort demands skillful leadership.

Our nation’s track record in achieving meaningful outcomes from technology investments is still questionable. Certainly, highly innovative teachers have driven successful classroom implementations, and extensive research proves the benefits of advanced pedagogy. Yet somehow, far too many classrooms are failing to make much progress.

A large part of the blame has been placed on the ineffectiveness of teacher professional development. The National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education noted that most educator training is simply ineffective. The organization laid the blame squarely on the “sit and get” model of workshop-style professional development prevalent on most school campuses.

No effect

Most teachers experience only traditional, workshop-based professional development during a school year, even though research shows it is ineffective. Despite their prevalence, short, one-shot workshops often don’t change teacher practice and have no effect on student achievement.

This stands in stark contrast to teachers’ minimal exposure to other forms of professional development.

As any teacher can tell you, only immediate and repeated application can solidify newly acquired skills into long-term habits of practice. That same dynamic applies to teachers’ technology skills. However, most workshop models lack immediate reinforcement through repeated practice in the classroom.

Even if the new skills were immediately implemented, an additional challenge of the workshop model is the difficulty of finding an expert to assess the teacher’s performance and growth. This is especially true with technology-based programs where principals or other school leaders do not feel equipped to distinguish effective digital teaching from ineffective implementation.

Classroom implementation

The “go and show” modelÑin which teachers are encouraged to go back to the classroom and show what they have learnedÑis an attractive alternative to the largely ineffective “sit and get.” But delivery of PD content is only the beginning.

The process is not considered complete until the teacher has demonstrated mastery of the training by successful implementation in a live classroom.

One example of “go and show” is illustrated in a partnership between Microsoft and Lamar University. In this example, teachers take the standards-based Teaching with Technology online course created by Microsoft, and are encouraged to extend their learning with classroom implementation.

As an incentive to take the free course and pass the Microsoft certified educator exam, tuition-free graduate-level course credits are awarded to each teacher. As an additional incentive, graduate credits and a digital educator certificate from Lamar University are also awarded when the teacher submits a portfolio that demonstrates effective classroom implementation.

The Lamar University graduate faculty who assess the portfolio provide personalized feedback and suggestions for further practice. Beyond the direct benefit of teacher feedback, administrators have the advantage of an academic third-party assessment that quantifies the number of teachers making sufficient progress toward the goal of becoming technically proficient educators.

The portfolios also contain evidence of successful implementation that can be used to document program impact.

“Go and show” offers much promise for technical training of teachers because it requires a genuine demonstration of skills in an actual classroom setting. The model assesses both content knowledge and authentic classroom implementation.

We urgently need such PD to ensure teachers and students find their place in our digitally advanced century.

George Saltsman is an associate research professor in the Center for Doctoral Studies in Global Educational Leadership at Lamar University.