While a 2013 survey of middle and secondary school teachers by the Pew Research Center confirmed that digital technologies have become central to their teaching and professionalism, the continuing development of the internet, mobile phones and social media technology brings new challenges to K12 districts, and the need for up-to-date professional development. Indeed, standing still with digital technology means you are falling behind, and your staff needs opportunities to evaluate and implement new options.
It may seem expensive to budget to do online in-service education well, but it costs more in the long-run to do it poorly, and even more to skip it altogether. So whether you do professional development in-house, or hire outside consultants, the following are key elements for success I gleaned from doing countless education presentations and programs throughout the United States and abroad:
- Focus on usable content and skill acquisition : “Inspirational” educational presentations certainly have their place, but participants benefit far more if they acquire usable content and practical techniques they can apply educationally. Examples include learning how to identify, propose, and participate in online projects, and adapt social media for curriculum applications.
- Tailor programs to local realities: Teachers justifiably feel frustrated if the content presented cannot be applied because the needed technology is not available. Similarly, skills and examples that are introduced must be appropriate for the teaching levels, content specialties, and technology experience of the participants.
- Use humor “with a purpose”: Although humor can add interest to presentations and serve as an ice-breaker—which is why I maintain a topical humor file—it is more effective if it relates specifically to the content or situation. For example, when tired participant looks tell me it is time to move to a new activity, I often share the concept of the “dinosaur point,” from a student report that concluded, “This book told me more about dinosaurs than I cared to know!”
- Encourage systematic note-taking: When participants “act on” information, such as keeping notes in their own words, they will be better equipped to apply the content. I almost always provide participants with overview handouts they can use for notes and to follow the presentation as it moves forward.
- Introduce genuine examples and illustrations: While there is seldom a lack of hypothetical examples for using new techniques in enhancing, extending, and transforming the curriculum, it is infinitely more valuable to share how real teachers and real students use the content educationally. Drawing on local expertise is particularly motivating.
- Identify online professional “source sites”: Distributed lists of applications can soon become obsolete, since “drill-down” web addresses can suddenly change, move or disappear. It is, therefore, important to identify “source sites” where applications can be found, since these are relatively stable (see “K12 Hotspots on the Web” in this June 2013 issue of District Administration).
- Provide for hands-on experiences: Presentations should ideally feature live demonstrations that also model what to do when common problems arise. However, participants absolutely must try presented procedures themselves, as soon as possible, and it is good to divide long presentations into shorter blocks interspersed with work time.
- Recommend spporting resources: Staff presentations should also provide or recommend specific materials to help individuals apply what they learned when they go it alone. These can include step-by-step instruction sheets, background articles, problem sets, copies of presentation visuals, and suggested optional activities.
- Offer a variety of options: The best staff development programs continue throughout the year in varying formats that include large-group presentations, small-group presentations, individualized sessions and workshops divided by level or content area.
- Include questioning time: While some presenters prefer to interact with the participants throughout each presentation, at the very least time to ask questions should be announced in advance and built into the program. Make sure that the time is indeed included, even if you have to set the alarm on your cell phone.
Odvard Egil Dyrli is editor-at-large of District Administration.