Why Professional Learning Is a Crucial Piece of a 1:1 Program

Paula Stamey, a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Benton, Tennessee, taught for 20 years before her school became a Verizon Innovative Learning School and adopted one-to-one technology in 2017. Initially, she resisted this change, feeling it was unnecessary and distracting. “I felt I had a system that worked, and introducing this ‘nonsense’ wouldn’t add anything to my classroom and would only create more work for me and be a distraction for my students,” she said. She had her students put their devices away when they entered her classroom and continued teaching the same way she had for the last two decades.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools in March 2020, Mrs. Stamey realized that everything she had been doing suddenly needed to become digital. She knew she had to prepare herself for what may come, so she thought back on what she had learned during her initial Verizon Innovative Learning Schools learning experiences and began diving into every professional development and certification opportunity she could find. “I wanted to have as many tools in my belt as possible when the new school year rolled around,” she said.

Mrs. Stamey is not alone in her initial reluctance to use technology in her classroom. While she had time to change her mindset and be intentional with how she added technology into her teaching, so many teachers have grappled with the rapid influx of technology since districts hastily adopted one-to-one programs in a scramble to offer distance learning solutions for students during the pandemic. The heroic accomplishments of district and school leaders, IT leaders, teachers and parents to keep learning happening amidst the unprecedented events revealed two essential truths about one-to-one programs:

  1. The steady advances in educational technology — including devices, connectivity and software — affirm its tremendous potential to support teachers with powerful tools capable of reaching learners in vast and varied ways.
  2. The challenges for implementing a one-to-one program effectively to maximize that potential are complex, intertwined and not easily solved.

As schools enter their third year post-pandemic, they face challenges like aging devices and the need for robust systems supporting device procurement, connectivity and maintenance. Educators require support in harnessing technology for diverse student needs, emphasizing digital competencies and 21st-century skills. To address this, comprehensive professional learning integrated into one-to-one programs is crucial for sustainable digital transformation. It aligns district and school leaders’ vision with systems for implementation, ensures IT support for device access and equips educators for student-centered learning. This comprehensive approach aligns with Digital Promise’s soon-to-be-released Digital Equity Framework, fostering meaningful improvements in student outcomes.

The inconvenient truth, however, is that it is not easy to come by high-impact professional development. Research has shown that investment in professional development yields mixed results. Educators often experience professional development as a patchwork of different providers and formats disconnected from district initiatives, characterized by a mostly passive delivery model with few opportunities to connect learning to the local context or to extend learning into meaningful classroom practice.

Still, empirical research into what makes professional development effective at developing new skills and in changing instructional practices that impact student learning point to several effective practices that can inform the design and delivery of the type of professional learning that is needed for districts and schools to transform their one-to-one programs into high-impact models. Our experiences supporting districts to implement successful one-to-one programs through the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program over the past 10 years revealed these evidence-based keys to effective professional learning:

  • Coherent and Sustained Duration. There is a consensus among researchers that educators benefit from sustained and ongoing professional learning that is connected to both district and school initiatives and grounded in a local context, with some suggesting approximately 50 hours in a specific area. Unlike one-off workshops that may spark interest in the short term, repeated opportunities to engage with concepts and develop related skills over time are essential for educators to transfer what they learn from professional development sessions into new classroom practices. The multi-year professional learning program for Verizon Innovative Learning Schools supports learning for multiple stakeholders responsible for the successful implementation of one-to-one programs. The scope and sequence of professional learning for each stakeholder ensures numerous hours of coherent and connected content intended to spiral the development of the high-leverage knowledge and skills for each role. The numerous touchpoints over time allow concepts to develop, prompting regular opportunities to practice and refine application across all aspects of implementation.
  • Active and Responsive Learning. An active learning model promotes deep cognitive engagement and opportunities to practice while remaining responsive to individual learning needs. Feedback from experts and peers is essential for an active and practice-rich professional learning model. Furthermore, offering learners agency and choice with regard to paths and pace increases active learning and can increase their engagement. We accomplish these goals in a number of ways as part of our instructional design process. First, we lean into designing learning for multiple modalities, both synchronous and asynchronous. Live synchronous sessions are rich in modeling and collaborative meaning-making. Asynchronous sessions are more flexible for learners who can explore concepts and examples based on their interests and areas for growth. Finally, we provide bite-sized practice opportunities in the classroom, enhanced by on-the-ground instructional technology coaching. This adds motivation and enables real-time feedback for reflection and skill improvement. Verizon Innovative Learning Schools coaches are the centerpiece for an active and responsive professional learning model, constantly connecting learning to the local context and supporting ongoing cycles of practice, feedback, reflection and sense-making.
  • Collective Participation. Being intentional about collective participation speaks to the benefit of pursuing professional learning with others from the same school or district, which can increase peer-to-peer support and spur ongoing learning outside of the structured professional development sessions. The cohort model of the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program means that learners from different roles engage in professional learning tailored to their individual contributions for one-to-one implementation, which supports collective participation. This collaborative approach is heightened through our promotion of online professional learning communities. To this endeavor, we leverage community spaces, both online and through in-person and virtual events, to connect learners within districts, across districts and across cohorts in different stages of implementation.

Mrs. Stamey never went back to her old ways of teaching. “Once I allowed myself to finally give in to technology and I saw how much it increased student engagement, I began to let go of other ‘old school’ notions of what a classroom should look like and how a class should function,” she said. Thanks to insights gained from her professional development, Mrs. Stamey has created a classroom where students have a choice in what they work on and how they work on it. “I don’t think any of this would have been possible without Verizon Innovative Learning Schools… letting me see just how much more I could give to my students,” she said. “I feel more invested and engaged in my career than I have in a long time.”

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