Empowering Teachers to Create Effective Learning Environments

Overview

In my studies for my digital education leadership master’s program, I have frequently been reminded that effective teaching strategies are not dependent on the learners or the environment.  Specifically, many great teaching ideas I come across for my ninth grade classroom are just as relevant to a group of teachers learning about technology.  This realization has been especially apparent I as have been studying ISTE Coaching Standard 3 (Performance indicators e and g), outlined below.

ISTE Coaching Standard 3 – Digital age learning environments: Technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.
E – Troubleshoot basic software, hardware, and connectivity problems common in digital learning environments
G – Use digital communication and collaboration tools to communicate locally and globally with students, parents, peers, and the larger community

These performance indicators call for technology coaches to help educators create effective digital learning environments.  To do so, classroom teachers must feel confident enough with digital tools that they can use them independently in their classrooms.  I initially responded to this standard as I normally do, thinking the solution was as simple as just showing teachers some cool digital tools and assuming that alone would be enough for them join the digital learning bandwagon.  With this in mind, I started my research by exploring the question: how can digital video, audio, and social media be used in professional development (PD) in hopes of modeling these platforms so educators can use them comfortably on their own?  However, I soon realized that the second part of this question, getting teachers to use digital tools comfortably on their own, was the essential point to address.

To create such an environment, technology coaches must first consider the end objective, to help educators feel motivated and empowered to embrace educational technology.  Coaches must also consider their learners who are teachers that may or may not embrace technology. With this in mind, coaches can work to create PD opportunities using the effective teaching methods educators rely on in their classrooms. If successful, coaches can empower teachers to confidently explore and implement digital learning tools independently.

Teachers as Students

Teaching teachers is scary.  Anyone who has had the opportunity to lead professional development for educators likely knows this to be true–if you disagree, please tell me your secrets!  Many educators, myself included, can’t help but judge “teachers of teachers” on their presentation methods, learning activities, and management strategies. How can we not when our own careers revolve around creating killer lessons and learning opportunities?  If we assume that most teachers get hung up on the delivery of professional development, it becomes clear that teachers of teachers must consider effective teaching practices used in the classroom when creating PD. When teachers are students, they expect to be engaged and leave motivated.  To help foster this, some questions to consider when before developing PD opportunities might include:

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Know your Learners

Professional development opportunities require a lot of forethought in order to be successful.  In the planning stage, it is vital to think think about the unique needs of your learners.  In any given PD session, the learners are not simply educators, but rather a diverse group of people with varying learning preferences and needs. Some may require accommodations to access the material, some may have significantly more prior knowledge of the content than others, some may be unmotivated to learn, and so on.  When providing PD, I have noticed a few common trends in participants which appear to hold some back from embracing new learning.  Below, I outline these trends and provide possible suggestions to address each.  While applicable to any learning environment, the trends and suggestions specifically consider learners participating in technology PD.

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Combatting the “Curse of Knowledge”

Technology coaches, among others who lead PD for teachers, are typically current or former teachers who have demonstrated exceptional confidence with using digital tools effectively for learning. These coaches, who often have a wealth of resources to share and enthusiasm to boot, also commonly share one potential fatal flaw, the curse of knowledge.  “The curse of knowledge”, as described by Christopher Reddy in Edutopia’s article “The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About”, is the phenomena that occurs in educators when they have such a strong base of content knowledge that they overlook the difficult and time consuming process it takes to acquire this knowledge.  Reddy explains that educators, “do not remember what it is like to not know what they are trying to teach” and therefore “cannot relive the difficult and lengthy process that learning [the] content originally took” (2015).  In creating technology PD, coaches must consider how the curse of knowledge might be negatively impacting the participants. Does the coach meet the learners at their level and build them up, or is the learning process overwhelming the learners? To address the curse of knowledge, Reddy offers several thinking points which are outlined in the Coggle mind map below.  While these points relate to teaching in a K-12 classroom, they are applicable to any learning situation. 


 

Future Questions

  1. For this module I had intended look at methods to empower educators to use video, audio, and social media in the classroom by using these tools in professional development.  In my research, I came across several resources (included below) on the topic.  I ended up shifting my focus a bit and would like to look back at my guiding question and address it more fully in the future.
  2. I ended up reflecting professional development as a whole rather than just on technology PD.  I think that most of my resolution is relevant to technology PD, but wonder what other points technology coaches should consider when creating PD opportunities.  

Resources

Arora, D. (2014, June 25). How to Use Social Media for Professional Development. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/how-use-social-media-professional-development

Davis, M. (2013, February 26). Social Media for Teachers: Guides, Resources, and Ideas. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-media-resources-educators-matt-davis

How to Encourage and Model Global Citizenship in the Classroom. (2016, July 19). Retrieved August 18, 2016, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/07/how_to_encourage_and_model_global_citizenship_in_the_classroom.html

Raths, D. (2015, June 17). 6 Ways Videoconferencing Is Expanding the Classroom — THE Journal. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from https://thejournal.com/articles/2015/06/17/6-ways-videoconferencing-is-expanding-the-classroom.aspx

Reddy, C. (2015, December 18). The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-curse-of-knowledge-chris-reddy