Five Steps for Developing Successful PD in a Digital Classroom

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Few would argue that improving student learning is one of the most important challenges facing us today. The educational landscape is changing as technology promises to revolutionize the way we learn in the same way it has transformed the way we communicate and do business.  One thing, however, remains fundamental to the learning process: the teacher.  Teachers are and will remain the most important figure in a student’s career, which is why supporting them in the midst of this transformation is one of the most critical priorities for education leaders across the country.

Before implementing new technology, we owe it to teachers – and their students – to provide a clear vision of the desired learning outcomes that this technology should support (the “why”).  Only then can we supply them with professional development (PD) opportunities that have meaning and give them the tools they need to integrate technology into their classrooms with impact and success (the “how”).

A first step is to discuss the end goals, then work backwards to design professional learning experiences for teachers that are consistent with these goals.  What are the results you expect technology implementation to achieve? What support will teachers require in order to make those results real?  Having these answers will allow school and district leaders to design meaningful, practical support for their teachers that will help them leverage new opportunities more fully – and with greater confidence.

In the spirit of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), whose annual conference begins on Saturday, here are some key activities identified by Dr. Debb Oliver, one of HMH Education Services’ national professional development managers, that we have seen used to develop effective professional learning experiences that empower educators, and in turn, their students:

1.    Pre-Assess

Give teachers an opportunity to pre-assess their feelings toward technology use in the classroom and their readiness to integrate it into instruction. Help them set professional learning goals that reflect their individual needs, as well as the goals that their school and/or district have identified. Like their students, teachers should also work with PD specialists to identify how they learn best to make sure the right content is provided through the right modality.

2.    Provide Hands-on PD

There are now professional development courses that allow teachers to experience the same online or blended learning that more and more schools are offering students.  Allow them to understand digital learning environments as a student; doing so will help ensure educators identify the importance of why and how technology is best fused into instruction and learning. This process is not about learning to use technology for technology’s sake, but learning to use technology to improve student outcomes.

3.    Continuously model desired outcomes for teachers

Administrators, technology coaches, and mentors should model the techniques for achieving a successful blended or online learning environment. At the start of any PD course, provide multiple examples of what successful technology-assisted learning can look like with pilot activities and programs. Educators will have the opportunity to embrace innovation, seek new learning opportunities, and commit to the school’s mission and vision.

4.    Establish communities of practice

Set aside time during the week for collaboration among educators across grades and subjects to celebrate and share successes, ideas, challenges and frustrations. Engaging with new technology together offers support for colleagues, and maintains a strong, ongoing connection between professional development and classroom implementation.

5.    Provide ongoing support

School leaders should meet regularly with teachers to observe learning practices in action and determine which strategies are gaining the most traction with students. The most important factor in determining whether blended or online strategies are successful is whether or not they are implemented with fidelity at the student level. Regular periods to observe, think and evaluate provide a great opportunity to improve and enhance implementation efforts, and identify if more teacher support is needed.

More than ever before, teachers are being asked to learn and acquire new skills and technical capabilities. This reality makes professional development an increasingly important part of any school’s or district’s overall strategy to improve outcomes for their students and help them – and their teachers – develop the abilities needed to learn and thrive in today’s global society.


Chris Goodson is Senior Vice President of HMH Education Services and executive sponsor of HMH’s Education Leadership Council.

The tips above are included in The Learning Transformation: A Guide to Blended Learning for Administrators by Debb Oliver. To learn more, please visit

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