ISTE Standards for Coaching

Designing Professional Development Sessions That Go the Distance

Imagine the following scenario: You are a seasoned educator who receives an email informing you that you are required to complete an asynchronous, online educational technology training by next week. You carve out the time, log in, go through the training alone, and perhaps pick up a few pointers that you may use someday in your classroom instruction.  Though there are benefits of completing asynchronous, online trainings, which can be quite valuable to enhance professional development, what could be augmented in this scenario to reflect best practices?

Now, imagine this alterative scenario: You are a seasoned educator who is offered an opportunity to help shape the agenda for an upcoming professional development series on educational technology.  You are sent a needs assessment survey via email and are encouraged to discuss the questions with your colleagues before submitting your input. The survey seeks to understand the specific needs of the students and educators in your building to better inform the development of the professional session. Some of the questions in the needs assessment might include:

  • What are your pressing professional development needs in educational technology?
  • In what areas of educational technology would you like to improve?
  • What is something collectively that you and your colleagues would like to learn and/or practice during the session?
  • What do you think are some important digital technology skills that your students should learn to be successful in the workplace?
  • What needs do you have about incorporated educational technology into your curriculum?
  • How can this conference help to build capacity for you, your colleagues, and your institution?

My question for this blog post is as follows: What best practices should be considered when planning professional development sessions that will engage educators in active learning activities and seek to build capacity and improve technology integration into teaching practices? 

My questions align with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 4.5: “Coaches plan, provide and evaluate the impact of professional learning for educators and leaders to use technology to advance teaching and learning,” and 4.5c: “Evaluate the impact of professional learning and continually make improvements in order to meet the schoolwide vision for using technology for high-impact teaching and learning” (ISTE).


Following, I will summarize what I have gleaned to be best practices when designing professional development focused on educational technology:  

Who:  First off, it is imperative that you know your audience! Sending out a needs assessment survey prior to developing a curriculum and agenda is essential to tailor the information to the needs and wants of your audience. Educators will undoubtedly vary in their knowledge, skills, confidence, attitudes, and interests, but knowing and addressing the needs of a particular group of professionals will make the professional development meaningful to your participants. A simple way to survey your target audience is by designing a Google survey. Anyone with a Google account has access to this resource. Asking a combination of open-ended and multiple-choice questions would solicit a variety of feedback that can help tailor professional learning to the audience’s needs (Bray, 1999; Roland, 2015).  

What: Instruction should be based upon varying levels of professional growth within the context of technology integration. Roland (2015) recommends that each professional development offering is “self-contained” so educators can choose to attend what is most valuable to them. For example, if a basic session is offered that covers using Google Classroom, educators who are interested in this training could attend (and those who are proficient in its use could wait to attend another training more useful to them).

When:  Offering multiple sessions throughout the year on specific content is recommended over lengthy conferences offered less often.  Purposely schedule these professional development opportunities when educators are already available, such as during several departmental meetings (Bray, 1999). Results from a nationwide survey reveal that teachers realize they need ongoing training on technology integration (Rowland, 2015).  Increasing contact hours around educational technology can support teachers as they advance their knowledge and skills in this vast subject area (Garet et al., 2001).


Where: Now that many educators have become familiar with using teleconferencing due to the pandemic, there is more flexibility in how professional development is offered to educators. Some options include offering continuing education via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Handout or some other teleconferencing venue. Other options include in-person or a HyFlex model where participants can choose to attend face-to-face or virtually. Personally, I am a proponent of the HyFlex model, and it is more inclusive and offers choice.  Conducing a synchronous professional development session online requires that the presenters understand how to use the selected teleconferencing platform well. This webinar includes many excellent pointers on presenting virtually.

Why: A nationwide survey found that 48% of educators surveyed cited a lack of training opportunities as a primary barrier to incorporating technology into their instructional design (Office of Ed Tech, 2016). Thus, there is a need to provide professional development opportunities for teachers to expand their knowledge and confidence in integrating technology into their lesson plans (Rowland, 2015).  Offering “bite-sized,” personalized professional development sessions tailored to the needs and wants of educators can increase capacity building of educators by supporting “…teachers in adapting learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners” (Office of Ed Tech).

How:  Whether participants attend virtually or in a face-to-face format, planning opportunities for active learning and collaboration are essential (Desimone, L, et al, 2002).  Experiential learning is more effective and certainly more relevant if educators are given opportunities to practice something that directly benefits their students. The technology should be explained then demonstrated by the coach (Bray, 1999), then sufficient time should be allocated to practice learning the new technology, then integrating in into into an existing lesson plan. Additionally, participants should be provided time to collaborate with their peers as they are learning and experimenting with new educational technology.  

In summary, best practices in designing professional development sessions in the area of educational technology are: specific, relevant, flexible, tailored, ongoing, experiential, and collaborative.  Know your audience, provide content that is applicable to them in smaller, more frequent chunks, and give them opportunities to watch demonstrations, practice and discuss with their peers.  


Author unknown. (2016). Building capacity for the effective use of technology: New guidance on student support and academic enrichment grants. Office of Ed Tech.

Desimone, L., Porter, A., Garet, M., Yoon, K., Birman, B. (2002). Effects of professional development on teachers’ instruction: Results from a three-year longitudinal study. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24(2): 81-112.

Garet, M., Porter, A., Desimone, L., Birman, B., & Yoon, K. (2001). What makes professional development effective? Results from a sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal. 38(4): 915-45.

International Society for Technology in Education.

Roland, J. (2015). Empowering teachers to implement technology-driven educational programs. International Society for Technology in Education.

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