Last spring, I attended the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Google Technology Conference with two of my colleagues, Steve Ford and Dr. Richie Romero, in Mountain View. One of the many recurring themes we discussed was how to tie technology use to the practice of teaching. As we listened to Angela Larkin from Google talk about the Google Certification Program, we realized the power the program had to change teaching and meet our goals. It was right in front of us.

Every day, teachers should have the opportunity to learn how to engage students and get them excited about coming to class. Yet many districts focus professional development on features and functionality of tools instead of how to integrate tools into the lesson plan. Last year after we had an epiphany, our district introduced the Google Certification Program, which helps teachers learn how to collaborate, teach students teamwork and effectively use new tools in the classroom.

Four years ago, when our district rolled out Google Apps for Education, teachers weren’t trained how to use the tools. We simply expected them to figure it out on their own. Some tech-savvy teachers helped their colleagues, but most didn’t use the educational software and laptops because they didn’t know how to integrate them into their lesson plans. Our district had a technology training program, but it didn’t prepare teachers to use the tools to truly improve the learning experience.

Our goal with rolling out the Google Certified Educator Level 1 Program is to help teachers become more effective in their use of technology and create inspiring curricula and class experiences. This program trains teachers on the tools and pedagogy. In just three months, 100 teachers have completed the training. With the Google Certification Program, we’re challenging teachers to rethink how they can teach students to collaborate and build life skills. Our goal is to have more than 30 percent of our teachers Google Educator Level 1 certified. This would mean all of our students would be in a classroom at least once a day with a Google Certified Teacher.

At the same time that we rolled out the program, our district introduced the SAMR model, — which stands for substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition and was developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. Most teachers in our district simply viewed technology as a replacement for pen and paper, rather than a tool to encourage students to think creatively. We wanted teachers to understand how to use technology beyond substitution to enhance students’ learning and help them be more engaged in the lesson plan.
My 3 tips to run a successful professional development program

Our district has had several iterations of teacher training programs and in the last year, we’ve seen true change in how teachers are integrating technology and the pedagogy. Here are three reasons I think our program has been a success:

  1. Light lifting for schools: With the Google Certification Program, we didn’t have to develop coursework, and the training was free, aside from the $10 certification exam fee. The program was just what we needed because it focuses on collaboration and the Common Core, a set of standards for math and English literacy.
  2. Teacher incentives: To encourage teachers to complete the training, our district gives them a stipend. We pay teachers their hourly rate to complete the 14-hour training, amounting to about $500 per teacher or administrator. We feel strongly about providing this incentive because all of our teachers and administrators should take this training and this boosts participation. It’s changing the way they teach and learn.
  3. Buy-in with the digital literacy committee: It’s easier to get teacher buy-in when it’s a grassroots effort. To do this we enlisted the help of a digital literacy committee made up of teachers, administrators and site computer techs. That group of evangelists is effective at showing teachers the value of technology training and getting teachers excited about new tools.