Teachers, coaches and administrators complain to me about the lack of time they have to keep up with the constant push for implementation of new instructional practices. There is an expectation for educators to stay up to date with our ever-evolving world in order to successfully develop 21st century learners. But when are teachers supposed to get the training they need in order to engage students with our digital world? When are coaches supposed to make time for on technological integration when they are required to focus the little time they have for professional development on data-driven instruction? How are teachers supposed to practice new tech tools in order to gain familiarity and feel comfortable with using them in the classroom?
Genuine technological integration and implementation of new instructional practice and methods can only be achieved through practice, and practice takes time. Unfortunately, the time for teachers to practice new strategies is not usually prioritized. It was this common dilemma that led the Digital Learning Instructional Coaches in my district to ensure our teachers had the opportunity to learn and practice new digital tools. This was the start of Appy Hour.
Each Appy Hour focuses on one new online application or digital tool that we present to teachers, and then we follow that with an activity so that there is immediate application. Appy Hour takes place during lunch at least once a month and teachers RSVP in advance. As a way of incentivizing attendance to these optional PDs, we have also created a system where we give teachers who attend appy hour and immediately implement the new tool into their class a reward to celebrate their work.
While lunch is a sacred time for many teachers, most have come to demonstrate a sincere appreciation for appy hour. As many have shared, this is the only time they get to really focus on digital learning. While we wish there was more time during our modified days for professional development that focused on building up digital toolkits, we also realize that just because there’s no guaranteed time, it doesn’t mean it’s not important. Many teachers have shared with me that they often go home and do research to try and figure out new tech themselves, so having access to appy hour allows them to do that with the support of someone who is knowledgeable on technology integration.
I can’t guarantee appy hours will be a hit at every school. They are still a form of professional development that requires teachers to give up some of their free time. But I would recommend exploring the option as more teachers at my own school site have shifted from being against giving up their lunch, to making requests for specifics topics to be discussed during appy hour.
There is not a secret formula for success. Some of my colleagues have chosen to host appy hour right after school. Others have chosen to host them in the morning before school starts. I have come to realize that lunchtime works best for my teachers, even if we have a scattered lunch schedule. All you need is snacks, a list of tools worth sharing with teachers, and a space that encourages creativity and innovation. Taking the first steps to provide teachers extra opportunities to sharpen their own skills makes all the difference.
Do not let the lack of time deter you from providing teachers the opportunity to add to their own toolkits. If we want to ensure our students are being prepared and equipped to succeed in this new era, it is critical that we also make time to prepare our teachers with the digital skills necessary to serve as true facilitators of learning for their students. Don’t be afraid to get creative with how we implement professional development so that our teachers can be well-rounded educators. In the end, it’s all for our students.
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