Differentiating Professional Development for Teachers

I’ve been an Instructional Technology TOSA for 3 years. I love teaching teachers and sharing my passion for technology in the classroom with others. What I haven’t been fond of, is trying to find the right way to offer PD. We’ve tried the district wide invites to trainings after school and gotten 3 people to show up, we’ve done building level training by teacher request and gotten 3-5 people, we’ve modeled in classrooms, we’ve sent out newsletters, made videos, trained select teachers in the buildings, created building leaders, worked with year long cohorts to develop human capacity, etc. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made huge strides and seem to narrowing in on the things that work best for us and we continue to try to adapt and make changes to meet our teachers needs but I’m not sure we’ve hit on the answers to a few critical questions. In light of the new ESSA definition of professional development, it’s time to take a new look at answering these questions:

  1. How do we scaffold learning for teachers? – I like the idea of professional development being broken down into three phases: Knowing, Doing and Experiencing. The Knowing is understanding the why of using a tool, a instructional  strategy or process. It gets to purpose and gets teachers excited about how something can help their students or change their teaching. The Doing is the skill building, what skills does a teacher need to do that project with their students or use that strategy? If they are excited enough about the why, the hope is that there will be some motivation to learn the skills needed to successfully implement and that they’ll seek out some of that learning if you make it available to them. The Experiencing is the elusive transferability of those skills to other projects and building the confidence and automaticity with a tool or skill that will make it easier to take a risk with other tech learning.
  2. How to we make it relevant for teachers? – Large group tech trainings are almost destined for frustration on the part of some participants. Either you are moving too fast or too slow for someone and half of them know what you are covering already and are waiting for something new. How do we keep it relevant and personalized  for all learners in a training without having to do everything one-on-one.
  3. How do we make it hands on? – I think part of this is making sure that our teachers are experiencing rich, tech infused PD… as a student. They need that perspective and they need to see trainers model what it can look like to use technology to teach with all the strategies they know are best practice as well as model dealing with the occasional troubleshooting issue. We can’t have more “sit and get” sessions to teach blended learning. It just doesn’t make sense.
  4. How do we make the learning sustainable over time? I run into teachers at grade levels between 3rd and 9th grade who feel that they have to teach Powerpoint because the students “don’t know how to do it”. I’d argue that the older students probably do and just need a reminder or their friends will help them figure it out. The bigger issue is how do we help students revisit skills regularly enough that things like Powerpoint are just tools that a student pulls out of their pocket when the teacher gives them a choice of how they want to present their learning. And how do we do the same thing for teachers with our PD so that they aren’t “relearning” a tool every time they need to use it.

There is a model called H.A.C.K. Model of Innovative Instruction out of the Doceo Center  of Northwest Nazarene University. They’ve created a system for teaching using something similar to the SAMR model that stretches the Professional Development for teachers out over time and pushes them to use the same tools to provide more and more choice and sophistication for students. The short version is that they would teach teachers how to use one tool in their classroom until they were comfortable with it and then move onto another. Once they had two or three under their belt, they’d start learning to teach students to make choices between the right tools for the job and apply them to new projects. Eventually, they’d lead them to teaching the students to use the same tools to mix, remix or create their own projects. The tools don’t necessarily change a whole lot through the year but the way they are used might become more sophisticated. If we could start doing something like that with teachers and teaching them some core technology skills and tools appropriate for their grade level, maybe we could continue to encourage them to use those same tools in new ways. It’s something to think about.

Community Engagement Project – Differentiating Instruction for Teachers

The conclusion I came to after the thinking I’ve done this quarter in my Digital Education Leadership Program is that we have to find a way to start looking at how we can differentiate professional learning opportunities for teachers. I’ll acknowledge that there are differences between K-12 students and Adult Learners, although, as I posted in a previous blog post (Developing Human Capacity in Teacher Leaders) the differences aren’t as wide as you’d think. They still need choice, they would rather do than listen, they don’t want to waste their time learning something they already know or that doesn’t apply to them and they want to talk to each other, collaborate, and engage with the learning in different ways.

I choose to submit my workshop proposal (Differentiating Professional Development for Teachers)  to NCCE 2018 because it’s local and I’ve presented before. Talking to my colleagues at that conference has become part of my professional development for the year and I’d like to get more involved. I chose a 2 hour workshop model because I want to model what I’m suggesting about differentiated Professional Development. I’d like the chance for my participants to experience that kind of PD as a “student”.

I’m using Canvas because my district is using it and the “how to” videos I’m hoping to host in KyteLearning.com, which is a new video learning platform our district is beginning to use to provide on demand training for a variety of common software tools as well as custom content we’ll create for our own uses.

The topic I chose to model with is a PD around the topic of Video/Web Conferencing. I chose it because it’s applicable across grade levels and content areas. I’ll start with a discussion around the new ESSA definition of professional development. There will be lots of opportunities built in for interaction by the participants because I’m curious if their understandings of the legislation are different than my interpretation.

When we are ready to model differentiated PD the participants will have the chance to take a quick quiz which will guide them one of three pages in the Canvas course I created. The beginning group will watch some videos about the basics of video/web conferencing and how to set them up. The second group will have had some previous experience or knowledge and will spend their time with me talking more about their experiences, how to prepare students for a successful conference and they will work together to come up with some video conference ideas. The third group will hopefully have done a video/web conference before and will participate an independent group to discuss how to use video/web conferencing to redefine projects and lessons, how to get students more involved in planning and hosting them and will also work on planning some lesson ideas to share.

All the groups will be actively contributing to a shared doc where they can leave their contact information if they want to work together after the workshop to collaborate with teachers in other districts to actually put some of their ideas into practice. The ideas will also be there to look at later.

As an added bonus, we’ve been talking a lot this quarter about accessibility. I’m putting a module at the end of the course that will contain some resources for creating accessible content. It’s under construction but I did create this first video that is closed captioned.

I’m excited about the possibilities although I suspect it will a lot of work at first as I’m figuring out how to make this a reality for PD in my own district. I’m hoping that as the conference rolls around in February I’ll have a much better feel for how this actually will work and can share some of the things I learned with the workshop participants.

Helping Teachers Make Digital Learning Accessible to All

Recently, many districts have faced the reality of making significant overhauls to their websites in order to be ADA compliant. Some districts have been sued by parents, like the 2014 lawsuit against Seattle Public Schools and others, like mine, have received notices about pending action if changes aren’t made. The web compliance guidelines aren’t new. The WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) have been around since 2008 and were made standard in 2012. It’s taken the threat of legal action to light a fire under most organizations to actually get their websites into compliance.

This is good news, although it’s creating a lot of work initially for district webmasters. The changes to make our websites more organized, cleaner, and more readable will benefit everyone. The next step though, will be to make our learning materials more accessible as well. I’m hoping that all the publishers of digital learning tools, learning management systems and textbook companies with online materials will take a closer look at their structures and materials and do some of the work for us, or at least provide us with the tools. In the meantime, it will be up to teachers and district content developers to make their learning content accessible for all learners. This infographic on “5 Things to Know About Your Role in Ensuring Accessibility”  can help define the responsibilities of different state, local and district leadership in addressing the issue of accessibility for all of our students.

Since my responsibilities center around teaching teachers, I chose to focus on steps teachers could take to make their classroom web content more accessible to their students. The infographic* I created shows 5 tips teachers can start with. They are also areas that I’ll concentrate on creating PD around for this upcoming year.

* One point of irony – after just about finishing creating the infographic in Pictochart I realized that it doesn’t have the capability to add alt text to graphics. I did submit a feature request to them and suggested that they add that as an option in the future.


  • 5 pro tips to make digital learning accessible to all students [VIDEO]. (2017, June 4). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=943
  • TAKE A TOUR: LEARN ABOUT UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING. (2015, July 22). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/take_a_tour_udl
  • WCAG 2.0 checklist – a free and simple guide to WCAG 2.0. (2011). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from https://www.wuhcag.com/wcag-checklist/
  • 5 Things to Know About Your Role in Ensuring Accessibility. (2017, May 18). Retrieved July 24, 2017, from http://www.ctdinstitute.org/library/2016-10-11/5-things-know-about-your-role-ensuring-accessibility

Building Community Online

My task this week was to answer the question: How do we design, teach and facilitate digital age learning environments for students and teachers that promote collaborative learning while maintaining effective classroom management practices?

I feel like I’m starting from scratch in my district when it comes to digital age learning environments for teachers. We don’t yet have an online PD presence so the only way we are promoting choice for technology PD is to come or not to come. I do work with a little bit of a captive audience with the Cohorts I teach, and although I feel like I’ve been able to create pockets of collaborative learning within that group, I still haven’t gotten it to extend beyond our class time.

I went to Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (Rheingold 2014) first for a definition of collaboration. “People collaborate because their coordination, sharing and attention to common goals creates something that none of the collaborating parties could have benefited from without collaboration. Collaborators develop and agree on common goals, share responsibility and work together to achieve those goals, and contribute resources to the effort.”

After doing some of the reading and research this week I think there are three areas I need to address in some more clearly defined ways in order to create collaborative digital age learning communities – the why, the what and the how…in that order.

Defining the Why

After watching Simon Sinek’s TED Talk about The Golden Circle last year, I find myself always going back to the “why”. Whether it’s designing PD or talking with a teacher about using our LMS, it’s important that I’m clearly able to define the why of what we are doing. The why sometimes shifts because of my audience but the big why always comes back to “Why is this important to our student’s success in a digital age?” I tend sometimes to not clearly articulate that to my audience. I may have thought it through but in training I jump right into what we are going to learn. According to Rheingold though, I need to spend some time having my teachers “develop and agree on common goals.” That’s trickier to do with a purely online community outside my cohort groups but I think that I can make sure to include why statements as a part of online PD as well.

Developing the How

After reading the Gates Foundation article “Teachers Know Best: Teachers Views on Professional Development” and having done some reading last quarter about the shifts in the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) around Professional Development, my new mantra for addressing the “how” is make PD “relevant, hands-on, and sustained over time” as well as “personalized”.

There has been a picture forming in my head about what this might look like. First, I believe that most teachers, if they know what they are supposed to be teaching (standards) and what the districts expectations are, can pretty much identify their own areas for growth and also know what areas they are interested in enough to become “experts”.  The trick is providing the resources for them to differentiate based on their needs.

At the basic level, we need teachers to have the skills needed to not only teach the technology related standards to their students but to show a certain level of professional competency with the tools the district expects them to use to do their jobs. Skill based training can certainly benefit from being taught in context of a persons job or content area but it’s not necessary. Our district has recently chosen KyteLearning to help us provide our staff with an alternative to face to face training. Kyte offers a growing library of video modules based on commonly used education technologies for purely skill based training. We’ll also be able to create our own videos to fill in with skill based training on more district related software.

They are also branching out into Implementation videos that will give teachers application examples and suggestions of how to integrate tools into their classrooms with student projects. This really is the stage where teachers are using the skills they learned and implementing it into the classroom. How long will a skill stay with you if you never apply it? This should promote deeper learning and provide the relevancy and part of the sustained over time criteria of good PD. For this type of learning in Kyte we will eventually be able to have teachers submit evidence of projects or build an “idea forum” where teachers can learn from each other and find others to collaborate with.

I love the idea of micro credentialing for those that want to pursue mastery or expertise in something. There is a site created by Digital Promise called #Love2Learn that offers opportunities for teachers who are ready to “prove” or provide evidence of their mastery on various topics to earn micro credentials. They are personalized, shareable and competency based.  We also want to develop human capacity in our district and encourage leadership and collaboration. The more teachers we have with skills that they are willing to share, the more support and innovation will happen at the school level. This is were I believe that the collaboration tipping point will begin to be reached at the school level and when shared technology goals will become part of every day teaching practice.

One of the pieces of “how” is even more truly process oriented and that is the development of common norms around sharing, collaboration and digital citizenship as part of our digital learning environment. One place I can start with again is my cohort groups. Modeling the development of clear digital norms for the group, coming to agreements around online behavior and expectations, discussing classroom management around technology and reinforcing digital responsibility and ethics need to become parts that are not just modeled but explicitly labeled and discussed with the group about how they can adapt the topics to their own teaching style and classrooms. It’s not always enough to model if you no one recognizes that you are modeling with a purpose.

Defining the What

It’s becoming clearer in my head how all the pieces I’ve been learning, researching, and talking about with colleagues is coming together into something coherent. What it’s going to take now to make it a reality is a lot of work. I need to still define the “what” of technology use in our district for people. What will their classroom look like if they are using technology to engage their students, manage their workflow, provide rich learning opportunities that are available 24/7 for students. It’s going to be about getting them to see what our new way of educating students will look like and how they can get there based on where they are starting from. All we are asking for is growth and that teachers move from their point A to their point B in terms of learning this year.

It’s going to take a lot of work to pull this together but I at least feel like I’m on a clearer path than I was and I’m grateful that I’m part of a collaborative community of  like-minded folks in our area that I can call on for ideas and support.


Rheingold, H. (2014). Net smart: how to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. doi:http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.spu.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=6b2724f3-e527-4b2e-98a0-9d7a69df6c95%40sessionmgr120&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPWlwJnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=nlebk&AN=439531

Sinek, S. (2009, September). Retrieved July 10, 2017, from https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

Teachers Know Best: Teacher’s Views on Professional Development (pp. 1-20, Rep.). (2014). Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. doi:http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf