P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

Driving Question: How Can Schools Rethink Professional Learning to Improve School Success?

Twenty-four years ago, I stepped through the doors of my first fourth grade classroom.  I was a young, dedicated, new teacher ready, I thought, for the opportunities and challenges of my new classroom and hoping to bring some of my experiences and interests to my students.

I walked through the door with my personal computer, the heaviest, biggest portable computer you can imagine.  I knew how to use it for word processing.  How could I not know how to use it with my students?  And boy, were those kids excited.  Suddenly everyone wanted to do Writer’s Workshop because it meant they got to use the computer.

However, I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to effectively integrate it into the classroom. And collaboration with my peers was not an option.  The technology was too new for my school.  There were no Internet connections in the classrooms.  More importantly, there were no professional learning opportunities for me. There was no one to observe using a computer in his/her classroom; no one to model a lesson for me that might be exciting for my students; no one to test out new software or add-ons; and no one to plan a curriculum with technology as an integral component for learning.

So you might say, “That was twenty-four years ago”. Yes, and the need for meaningful professional learning around digital tools and technologies is as urgent now as it was back then.  Probably it is even more urgent today because the tools are an integral part of real life and if we want to prepare students for college, career and life, they need to be able to use digital tools productively.

It has repeatedly been shown that teaching is the single most important lever for improving student achievement.  We, therefore, have an urgent mandate to support teachers and prepare them for the coming opportunities and challenges that a modern learning environment demands.  We want teachers to be able to teach in a paradigm where all students are using their knowledge, skills and digital tools in a way that prepares them for real life, a deeper learning environment.

To do this, we need to organize schools for our teachers to be successful and this means overhauling teacher professional learning systems and the conditions under which this professional learning takes place.

Factors to Consider

There are several factors that need to be considered as we rethink professional learning, particularly around digital learning.  These include: time, tools, context, and trust.  For every tool and subsequent change that is needed or desired, there needs to be consideration of how we are supporting the educators who will use these tools in their learning environments.

Teachers should have a voice in determining their own professional learning and their needs to be buy-in from the teachers.  For every professional learning opportunity, there should be an understanding of why the professional learning is needed and how, specifically, it is going to improve their teaching and the learning of their students while fitting into their curriculum and plan for teaching.

About the Author


Melinda G. George, President of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), began her career as a fourth-grade teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools. From 2002 to 2006, Melinda served as the first executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). To learn more about Melinda’s work, visit www.nctaf.org and follow her on Twitter @MelindaGeorge2.


For Melinda George’s complete commentary on new ways to foster professional development, go to Solution Tree Press’s latest collection on deeper learning themes: Connecting the Dots, Effective Teaching and Deeper Professional Learning. (2015). This post adapted with permission. All rights reserved. You can read added posts from the P21Blogazine on this site or by subscribing to its RSS Feed at www.p21.org for three times per week posts.

About Marshal Conley

Marshal Conley is a senior technical assistance consultant and Educational Technology and Innovation lead at the American Institutes for Research. His current work focuses on innovative, technology-infused solutions to improve educator professional learning. He is the Project Director for Connected Educator Month and serves in a leadership capacity on several other projects focused on educational technology for K-12 and adult learners.
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