The Missing Link

It has been approximately nine days since I defended my dissertation on my study titled “Supporting Teacher Technology Implementation Practices Through Peer-to-Peer Coaching: A Mixed Methods Study.” It was the culmination of three years of work, and it was worth every single minute.

The purpose of my study was to investigate if peer coaching would influence teacher technology practices. The focus stemmed from what I saw and heard regarding how teachers and students used technology in the classroom.

Working at a Title I school, we were able to purchase quite a bit of technology over the years. With the introduction of the SBAC, our mode of testing switched from scantrons to technology devices. Because we now had even more technology in the hands of teachers and students, I felt the need to share with teachers ways to integrate technology so that students would learn with it, instead of from it. In other words, my vision was for technology to serve as a tool for learning, and not the end itself.

But the questions remained: How to go about supporting teachers so that they see why change was necessary? And how to go about making that change?

All too often (and usually after a one-shot workshop), teachers are expected to implement the change and then student achievement scores would naturally increase. Easy, right?

Ha!

When this video came across my Twitter feed, my first thought was “This is really cute” . . . and then I realized that this is the reality of poorly-designed PD when teachers aren’t given the proper support structures.

If school leaders want teachers to change their instructional practices, then they have to provide professional learning opportunities that include the following:

  • Active Learning
  • Content-based Focus
  • Sustained Duration
  • Coherence
  • Collective Participation

These five components are from the work of Desimone and Garet (2015) and served as the framework for my dissertation study. Other researchers (Darling-Hammond, Hyler, & Gardner, 2017; Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, & Hunter, 2016) have offered their own list of must-haves for PD, and they more or less include the same components.

What is missing from most PD is follow-up support–sustained duration. It seems obvious that in order for change to occur, learners need a strong support structure. When you equate it to effective classroom practices with students, as teachers, we know that one lesson on a particular topic or skill is not enough to effect change. We have to provide multiple opportunities for students to practice and refine their learning. Talking at students does not equate to learning.

So why do we expect that from teachers who attend PD?

And why is this such a hard concept for school leaders, program facilitators, and PD providers to understand?

My dissertation study showed promise in using peer coaches to help teachers change their instructional practices to include meaningful learning with technology. The 8-month study included multiple opportunities for teachers to ask for and receive support from peers. Both novice and expert users of technology seemed to benefit for this symbiotic relationship. As the teachers came from multiple disciplines (i.e., English language arts, history, mathematics, science), they were also exposed to various ways that technology could be used to support student learning. The next step is to see if this informal support network can be sustained for the upcoming school year. #fingerscrossed

What I’ve learned from the research and my dissertation study is aptly summed up by a quote from George Couros:

If we want people to take risks, they have to know we are there to catch them and support them.

(Couros, 2015, p. 7)

We cannot expect change to take hold if we don’t, first, provide support for the change-makers.

References

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (with Espinoza, D.). (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-prof-dev

Desimone, L. M., & Garet, M. S. (2015). Best practices in teacher’s professional development in the United States. Psychology, Society, & Education, 7, 252–263. doi:10.25115/psye.v7i3.515

Jensen, B., Sonnemann, J., Roberts-Hull, K., & Hunter, A. (2016). Beyond PD: Teacher professional learning in high-performing systems. Washington, DC: National Center on Education and the Economy. Retrieved from http://www.ncee.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/BeyondPDWeb.pdf

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