Doing – The Most Important Digital Age Best Practice for PD

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”  
― Aristotle  

Student needs and outcomes should be at the heart of how educators teach and grow but how can this happen in a thoughtful way that includes how digital practices have changed the way we all (educators and students) learn, interact with and consume information?  While looking more closely at the ISTE Standard 4: Professional Development and Program Evaluation – Performance Indicator B - Design, develop and implement technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment, this led me to my current question: How can PD use digital age best practices to showcase the positive ways technology will enhance student learning and experiences?  

What are digital age best practices? An organization called Loti, an acronym for Level of Teaching Innovation, states that digital age best practices are, “a set of research-based instructional principles that have shown a statistically-significant effect on student achievement. These practices promote college and career readiness and prepare students for success in the digital age.”  Included in this digital age best practice thinking is a strategy for educators to enact within the classroom called H.E.A.T. which stands for Higher-order thinking, Engaged learning, Authentic connections and Technology use.  While digging deeper into H.E.A.T, the part that stands out to me most is the Technology use because the H., E., and A., can be accomplished without technology.  This leads me to think more about how to use PD as a way for educators to interact with technology to then enhance their teaching and connect with student needs…and most importantly this interaction needs to be teachers doing the things the students will be doing with the technology. 

The most powerful and long-lasting PD experiences I have had were rooted in doing.  Doing an activity or lesson from start to finish, using a new technology tool by doing activities within it, doing new curriculum from a learner’s perspective, doing assessments of student work in real-time with a coach.  Yet, in my 10 years of teaching, this has been a minority approach during PD sessions.  “Sparks and Hirsh (1997) believe that a fundamental shift must occur in the way most districts think about professional development. For instance, they advocate that professional development must:  

  • Be driven by clear, coherent strategic plans   
  • Focus on student needs and learning outcomes   
  • Include multiple forms of job-embedded learning   
  • Provide opportunities for study by teachers of the teaching and learning processes   
  • Include continuous improvement in performance for everyone who affects student learning   
  • Consider professional development as an indispensable process without which schools cannot hope to prepare young people for citizenship and productive employment (12 -16).”  

 A study was done in 2005 by Lawerence Ingvarson focusing on teachers using student performance data to guide teaching. “One of the key ingredients that the Ingvarson study found in effective professional development was follow-up and coaching after the training as the teacher attempted to apply this new knowledge to practice.” (Holloway, 2006).  The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) also provides principles that can help to support deeper and more relevant professional growth and learning if: 

  1. The school recognizes a critical factor in technology integration is the teacher’s sustained professional growth by creating a culture of continuous growth and adequate support for innovation and learning. 
  2. School leadership encourages educators to seek out opportunities to build learning networks and to explore and evaluate digital tools. 
  3. The school includes technology integration as an essential component of its professional development, provides the necessary time and resources for it, and ensures that educators acquire and demonstrate essential technology skills and proficiencies. T
  4. Teachers’ use of technology for teaching and learning is included in the school’s teacher evaluation process, as appropriate for the school’s mission and philosophy.  (Principles of Good Practice – Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Both of these resources focus on giving educators adequate and continued time, multiple experiences and support as a resource to learn new practices in a meaningful way that inspires implementation. 

In order for digital/technology-based PD to be efficient and result in actual teacher implementation, finding out what teachers need support with is key. In the article, To Bring Learning into the Digital Age, We Must Empower Teachers, Bev Perdue states that, “A 2016 survey of 1,327 teachers revealed that 85 percent “believe digital tools that provide immediate, ongoing information about student understanding will increase learning.” Unfortunately, most teachers also said they feel they lack the skills and knowledge they need to effectively incorporate digital tools and personalized learning practices in their classrooms.”   Do educators need to learn how to use a specific tool, how to teach students how to use a tool, how to navigate a platform, how to blend technology into the current curriculum, etc.  Once this is known (and it is clearly recognized that not all educators are starting from the same perspective and ability level) PD can be crafted intentionally for the audience attending it. From there, PD should be hands-on.  Have educators do the digital work or use the technology tools that will be asked of from their students.  This could be practicing teaching each other how to use a tool or getting on an app/platform like Seesaw, Skype, Adobe Spark, etc.  It cannot be a ‘sit and get’ style PD when it comes to interacting with digital tools and digital education.  

Faith Plunkett did just this and it is incredibly inspiring to read her article, This Teacher Started a Hands-On PD Lab That’s Sparking Change Across the District.  (Read the whole article if you have time…make time!) 

After sending out a PD survey with almost 3,000 educators taking part in it, she launched a space called Spark Lab that offers: 

  1. Weekly PD Sessions: There are several PD opportunities each week such as book studies, one-hour sessions, half-day sessions on coding concepts or specific tools such as Makey Makey and Seesaw. 
  2. Full Faculty Activities: Some schools opt to bring their entire faculty to the lab for a full day of PD. Sometimes they lead this work and other times I run whole-group activities like a Breakout EDU game where teachers learn to use different STEM materials and practice innovative teaching strategies. 
  3. Open Playground: Teachers can come on their own to explore, ask about different ways they can use specific tools or get advice about how to teach specific CS or STEM-related standards.

Plunkett recognizes that in order for this lab to be effective, it will have to continually change and keep up with the progress of technology.  She also hits on the heart of great PD when she acknowledges, “…we must continue to build relationships with teachers, help them realize the need for innovation in the classroom and continue to support them to reach each and every student.”  What an amazing opportunity a lab like this would for all educators.  Once educators get their hands on the tools and practice using different digital education platforms and resources, they will experience firsthand the positives that come along with technology and be ready to bring this learning to their students in a productive and student-focused manner. 

Sign me up, hire me please, I graduate from the DEL program in June and would love to be a part of this starting up in Seattle and beyond! 


Bergin, Mike. (2019, March 4.) Chariot Learning. Production Effect: Learning by Doing. Retrieved from

Bishop, D, Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R, & Crane, C. (2016). Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State – Project Evaluation Report. Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA. 

Holloway, John H. (2006).  Connecting Professional Development to Student Learning Gains. Retrieved from 

Hooper, Nicole. (2018). NTEN. Using Adult Learning Principles in Technology Trainings. Retrieved from

LoTi.  Digital Age Best Practices. Retrieved from 

NAIS.  Principles of Good Practice – Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age. Retrieved from 

Perdue, Bev. (2018, June 3). Getting Smart.  To Bring Learning into the Digital Age, We Must Empower Teachers. Retrieved from 

Plunkett, Faith. (2019, April 8). This Teacher Started a Hands-On PD Lab That’s Sparking Change Across the District.  Retrieved from