Can Technology Drive Change in Professional Development?

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Teacher training needs to shift away from one-shot workshops and move toward a model of ongoing, sustainable professional development, according to a new report from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) released Friday.

Where this may have been difficult or impossible in the past, according to the report, technology is now making this sort of approach a reality. And what makes it critical at this time is the impact that poor teacher preparation and support can have both on students and on the educational system itself. The cost of public school teacher turnover is estimated at about $7.3 billion per year nationally, with 40 percent to 50 percent of all new teachers abandoning the profession within their first five years. This, according to the report, can be partially alleviated through effective support and career development, as "lack of support" is cited as one of the two major reasons for teacher turnover (the other being poor working conditions).

"On-going professional development that supports the life-long growth of a teacher helps maximize the potential of each teacher and ultimately each student," according to the report. "This kind of approach has been proven to help retain highly qualified teachers, which is critical to the success of our education system."

The report, "Empowering Teachers: A Professional and Collaborative Approach" (part of SETDA's ongoing Class of 2020: Action Plan for Education series), focuses on technology used to facilitate professional development and spotlights innovative approaches to ongoing teacher and administrator development in K-12 schools, including the use of online communities, portals, and coaching programs. What characterizes the innovative uses of technology in these professional development programs are several common factors:

  • Effective school and district leaders driving the innovations;
  • Collaboration and participation in professional communities;
  • Use of data to improve instructional approaches;
  • Subject matter expertise;
  • The sustainability of the programs; and
  • Access to resources and tools.

"Professional development approaches and policies must shift from one-time, stand alone workshops to sustainable, on-going learning opportunities for teachers and administrators," said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of SETDA, in a statement released to coincide with the report. "While some school districts and states are moving toward on-going relevant and continuous learning for teachers, this is not necessarily the standard and is not scalable nationwide. Technology is key to make this happen for more teachers in more districts and states. Online learning communities, education portals, and coaching and mentoring are some of the proven methods for providing sustainable professional development for our teachers."

But there are barriers to effective professional development standing in the way, according to the report. These include:

  • Lack of funding;
  • Poor pre-service technology integration programs;
  • Lack of access to proper tools;
  • Lack of communication with stakeholders; and
  • A basic lack of understanding of the importance of professional development.

The report makes several recommendations for schools and districts to develop more effective, sustainable training programs for teachers and staff, such as providing technology coaches or mentors for every 1,000 students in every school, improving access to online professional communities, dedicating funding to maintaining best practices teaching portals, providing technology-integrated tools to pre-service teachers, and several others.

Further information, including the complete report, can be found on SETDA's site here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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