Given a choice, which session do you think your teachers would prefer?

Professional Learning Meeting
Friday 3:00-4:00
Topic: Uploading course content into our new LMS

Professional Learning Meeting
Friday 3:00-4:00
Topic: Getting Comfortable

Last month I wrote about Path Models and Technology Integration: A PD Cheat Sheet. One takeaway was the importance of comfort and confidence on the part of the teacher when it comes to effective technology integration in the classroom. But how often do we see comfort or confidence as a stated goal in a teacher’s individualized professional development plan? You’re more likely to see phrases like: increase expertise, enhance my ability, implement, incorporate, investigate, or become proficient. Does it really matter how proficient teachers are in a particular technology if they aren’t confident and comfortable enough with it to actually introduce it into their classrooms?

The more meaning a goal has for teachers, the more likely they are to attain it. Comfort and confidence is a biggie for most teachers. And it’s one that’s very individual. One teacher may feel confident enough to begin using a technology with barely a moderate proficiency in the tech. Another teacher may need to be entirely proficient in a piece of tech before feeling comfortable using it in the classroom. We can’t change how people are wired, but we can account for those differences when we set goals related to comfort and confidence.


Start with Discomfort

One approach for setting goals for an individual professional development plan or a coaching cycle is to identify an area in which the teacher lacks comfort or confidence. You might ask a teacher questions like these:

  • What available technology that would have value for your students do you feel least comfortable with?
  • When is it that you feel uncomfortable with technology in your teaching?
  • What technology do you avoid using because you aren’t confident enough to use it in front of your students?
  • What are your biggest concerns about using specific technologies with your students?

For many teachers, the idea of having a goal that reduces discomfort rather than piling on more things to be discomfortable about will be a very welcome change!


Measuring Success

Professional goals should be SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. It might be fairly easy to measure a simple “proficiency” goal, but measuring comfort and confidence? There are formal self-report scales for measuring comfort and confidence, but those really aren’t necessary for our purposes. A more practical plan would be to select some specific indicators regarding the technology in question. Here are a few samples to get you started thinking about how teachers could demonstrate an increase in comfort and confidence:

  • I now look forward to using this tech with my students.
  • I understand possible misuses of this tech (if any) and know how to avoid any potential problems I used to worry about.
  • This tech now “makes sense” to me in a way that it didn’t before.
  • I am no longer concerned about looking inept in front of my students when using this tech.
  • I can explain how using this tech supports my instructional goals for my students.
  • I now can think of three ways of using this tech with my students that wouldn’t have occurred to me before.
  • I now sometimes answer questions from my colleagues about this tech.
  • I now wonder why this tech ever seemed to be such a mystery to me.

Perhaps a teacher selects five such indicators that are not currently true (but are realistic to achieve) and creates the goal of meeting at least three of the indicators by a particular date. Using comfort and confidence as a goal in no way devalues some of those more typical goals I mentioned earlier such as increased expertise, enhanced ability, or proficiency. Instead those “improvements” can be objectives along the way to the personally meaningful goal of increased comfort and confidence.

Roy Winkelman is a 40+ year veteran teacher of students from every level kindergarten through graduate school. As the former Director of FCIT, he began the Center's focus on providing students with rich content collections from which to build their understanding. When not glued to his keyboard, Dr. Winkelman can usually be found puttering around his tomato garden in Pittsburgh.