Professional Learning for the Digital Age

The field of education must acknowledge the transition into the digital age of learning. The growth of online learning has brought new tools, resources, and techniques to our field that cannot be ignored. Blended learning is defined as “any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/ or pace” (Horn, 2015). With the shift to common core standards in most states, pedagogy must reflect the objectives of building critical thinking skills within these standards. Blended learning offers students the opportunity to hone their critical thinking skills using the digital tools that they will need to have mastered to gain employment in the 21st century.

In order to bring blended learning to our students, teachers must first understand and appreciate the blended learning techniques. This is the driving motivation behind “A Blended Approach to Professional Learning”. This presentation aims to introduce an effective alternative to professional learning within a school. Research has shown that traditional “sit and get” professional development is an ineffective use of schools’ resources. Teachers in the 21st century deserve the resources and opportunities to comprehend, practice, implement, and hone pedagogy that best facilitates learning within the classroom. My presentation encourages teachers to ask important questions: Is the current model of professional learning at my school effective? What pedagogy, resources, and tools are at my disposal to promote 21st century learning techniques? Is my school using the resources designated for my professional development appropriately?

The next step after whetting teachers’ appetites for knowledge is to offer the chance for those teachers to learn the material, to practice the use of the material, and to improve implementation of the material. This professional learning model will be structured using the 5 key principles of effective professional learning:

5 Key Principles of Effective Professional Learning

  1. Professional learning will take place once a week for an hour on early release Wednesdays and will consist of an on-going process of developing lessons, sharing lessons, implementing lessons while being observed, and assessing observed lessons. Teachers will move through the program in two steps: Step one entails learning the blended learning models, collaborating with peers, and having an instructional coach observe mentor through the implementation process over the course of one semester. Step Two demands accountability as the teachers will continue to collaborate with their peers, but will observe each other and provide each other with meaningful feedback on the lessons and will serve as the on-going process that teachers maintain as professional development.
  2. Teachers will develop their lessons through collaboration with members of their department and will be observed by an instructional coach. After being introduced to the various blended learning models, teachers will work together to build lessons that implement a blended model. Collaboration will be between teachers of the same grade level and content area.
  3. Teachers will create a blog, share a post, and interact with peers’ blogs within the first session. Teachers will watch and create their own station rotation model within the first session. Teachers will use digital tools to share their ideas and model digital citizenship for their peers and students.
  4. The creation of a blog, following other blogs, and posting on a blog will be modeled in live-time, and the implementation of a station rotation model will be modeled via a Youtube video. This provides teachers the opportunity to continue their practice and model for their peers and will serve as reinforcement of the professional learning.
  5. Teachers will be working to create lessons with peers that are teaching the same grade-level and content area. Teachers that participate in this personalized professional learning will discover and practice learning models aimed at benefitting the classes that they teach. Teachers will have the ability to make professional learning work for them.

A team of 2-4 instructional coaches will introduce teachers attending voluntary professional learning sessions to blended learning models. These teachers will use the computer labs in the school’s media center to practice using digital tools to create lessons that implement the blended learning models being introduced to them. Instructional coaches will use Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools to introduce teachers to the various models. Teachers will then plan their own lessons using a blank Understanding by Design template. While teachers should be comfortable using the UbD model, instructional coaches will provide the UbD template for the professional learning sessions as a model. Due to the use my school’s early-release Wednesday professional learning time slot, the schedule for my innovative professional learning plan takes place in four steps. These steps follow the four groups within the school: early adopters, early majority, late majority, and new teachers. To accommodate each group of learners each group will move through the program at different times. The timeline for implementation is as follows:


  • 2017-2018 school year
    • Write curriculum for on-going process of professional learning
      • Station rotation
      • Lab rotation
      • Flipped classroom
      • Individual rotation
    • Collaborate with Instructional Coach in school to determine leaders of each model
    • Promote blended learning models through word of mouth and demonstration of piloted models within my classroom
  • 1st semester of the 2017-2018 school year
    • Present “A Blended Approach to Professional Learning” presentation to engage the early adopters in the school
    • Begin early adopters on learning plan using early release Wednesdays to practice blogging and developing lessons and the remainder of the week for observations
  • 2nd semester of the 2017-2018 school year
    • Continue program with early adopters
    • Begin the program with the early majority using a second computer lab
  • 1st semester of the 2018-2019 school year
    • Early adopters are given autonomy to collaborate and complete observations of each other
    • Early majority continue with the support of the instructional coach/s
    • Late majority begin program using resources the early adopters used
  • 2nd semester of the 2018-2019 school year
    • Early adopters continue being an autonomous group
    • Early majority is given autonomy to collaborate and complete observations of each other
    • Late majority continues the program with the support of the instructional coach/s
  • 1st semester of the 2019-2020 school year
    • Early adopters through the late majority are given autonomy to collaborate and observe each other
    • New teachers begin program with the support of the instructional coach/s

This professional learning plan focuses on two key needs for teachers: the need to model the growth mindset and the need to collaborate with grade and content specific colleagues. Teachers that promote the growth of critical thinking skills within their classroom must also model those skills by living as a life-long learner. The field of education constantly evolves, and members of the field must stay current as to the evolution of their practice in order to create positive impacts in student achievement. Along with the common core standards push comes a push for common practices and common assessments for differing classes in the same grade and content areas of the school. Collaboration among teachers will need to be fostered throughout the process.  Teachers must collaborate with each other to create consistency within the school that leads to positive impacts in student achievement. Not only will collaboration between teachers lead to better developed lessons, but it will also assist the teachers in honing their understanding and implementation of the station rotation model. While in professional learning sessions during early release Wednesdays, teachers will be grouped by grade level and content area. Teachers will move through activities in these groups and will begin their blog experience with the support of their peers in their grade level and content area. After the first year of working with an instructional coach, teachers will observe each other to provide feedback on lessons and to collaborate on future lessons.

The success of building a positive school culture in the 21st century depends on teachers preparing themselves using 21st century techniques and resources. The age of high-risk assessment demands that teachers prepare their students to demonstrate mastery of critical thinking skills. 21st century students will not hone their critical thinking skills using outdated techniques and resources. Schools’ must recognize their responsibility to prepare the youth of today for the careers of tomorrow. Teachers that take “A Blended Approach to Professional Learning” courses will be prepared to facilitate learning in 21st century classrooms with 21st century students.


Horn, Michael B.; Staker, Heather. (2015). Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools (p. 34). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

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