By Tracy Huebner, PhD, Director of Advancement Teaching and Learning at WestEd, and independent education researcher and writer Rachel Burstein, PhD. 

Amy Scarbrough, a high school Humanities and Spanish teacher in rural Kentucky, is a pro at using technology in her classroom—a fact that has not gone unnoticed by her colleagues. Fellow teachers often turn to Scarbrough for advice on what edtech products to use in their lessons.

As an ISTE-Certified Educator, Scarbrough has extensive training in the ISTE Educator Standards and has thought critically about how to integrate technology strategically into her instructional practice. “The ISTE Standards are very expansive, and I tend to use them for reflection and for inspiration,” Scarbrough explains. “I look back to see how I’m meeting some of those standards and areas that I would like to work on. Then I use that as inspiration for how I would like to move forward in my classes.”

But the vast majority of Scarbrough’s colleagues have only passing familiarity with the ISTE Standards or other technology integration frameworks. Scarbrough has been a leader in orienting colleagues to these resources. She has led professional development sessions for fellow teachers and provided advice on live, online teaching during periods of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scarbrough is also fortunate to teach in a district that operates a 1:1 program and that recently implemented a digital coaches program to aid teachers.

But for all her work to integrate technology into her own practice and despite the resources available to her in her school community, Scarbrough still feels that something is missing.

“There’s no formal team that takes the lead on identifying the best ways to integrate technology into the classroom,” Scarbrough says. She adds, “We don’t use a [single] framework at our school.” Instead, Scarbrough’s school takes a more informal approach to teacher learning around how to use technology effectively in instructional practice. “We find that a lot of people are [turning to] teacher leaders within the school [to provide] strategies that are going to be conducive to student learning in today’s society,” Scarbrough says.

While Scarbrough is happy to share her expertise around frameworks such as the ISTE Standards and SAMR, she feels that a district-coordinated approach could be useful. Crucially, that approach needs to consider not just what technology tools to use and the mechanics of using them at particular times, but also how those tools can be leveraged in teaching to advance student learning. In other words, instructional frameworks and technology integration frameworks need to be considered together, and promoted as a district-level vision for technology-enabled instruction, a concept that we explore in a recent post  and thought piece.

Bringing Together Teacher Leaders

Scarbrough is one of ten teacher leaders from across the United States that WestEd convened in the spring of this year in a series of focus groups. At these meetings, teacher leaders discussed their use of instructional and technology integration frameworks, and provided feedback on a new framework that was developed by the nonprofit organization Leading Educators. (We document how Google for Education convened partners—including WestEd—to research and develop this framework in a recent post  and in a longer paper.)

Like Scarbrough, all the members of the Teacher Leader Network are school-based classroom teachers who also hold leadership roles in their school communities, often as a professional learning community (PLC) leader or as an edtech coordinator. (A complete list of Teacher Leader Network members is available in the Acknowledgments section of our recent paper.)

What We Learned

The participants in the Teacher Leader Network were intentionally diverse, hailing from a variety of K-12 school settings and geographic locations, and teaching a range of subjects and grade levels. Yet despite these differences, there was remarkable uniformity in what we heard about how teachers use frameworks, and how best to support technology-enabled instruction. Here are three key takeaways from our work with the Teacher Leader Network:

  1. New resources can be beneficial, but they shouldn’t take the place of existing materials. Teachers in the Teacher Leader Network were enthusiastic about bridging the existing gap between instructional frameworks and technology integration frameworks and saw practical applications for such a tool in their own teaching. However, they emphasized that existing frameworks such as the ISTE Standards, SAMR, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and TPACK were all still valuable and should be used in combination with any new framework.
  2. Teachers are more willing to engage with frameworks when they help surface clear next steps. Members of the Teacher Leader Network emphasized the scarce time that educators have available to them and appreciated frameworks that used straightforward language and were easy to implement. They particularly appreciated frameworks that offered practical advice and clear examples of how to make changes in their practice. Teachers emphasized that opportunities for reflection empowered teachers, whereas frameworks that were used for evaluation often put teachers on the defensive and did not result in meaningful changes to teaching.
  3. System leaders play a critical role in supporting teachers in the use of frameworks. As leaders in their school communities, many focus group participants were willing to seek out and experiment with new resources, including frameworks. However, they emphasized that support from school and district leaders made implementation much easier, and allowed teachers to work together toward a shared vision of how technology could be used to advance learning outcomes. Teachers emphasized that it was important that this vision be co-created with teachers and other members of the school community, not imposed from above with little regard for the particular context and needs of teachers. In addition, Teacher Leader Network members told us that system leaders needed to provide critical support, including meaningful professional learning opportunities, IT resources, and access to useful technologies.

Other Blogs in This Series

Huebner, T. A., & Burstein, R. (2023). The need for and development of the “Value Add of Technology on Teaching Framework.” WestEd.

Huebner, T. A., & Burstein, R. (2023). Strategies for encouraging effective technology-enabled instructional practices in K–12 education: A thought piece drawing on research and practice. WestEd.

Leading Educators. (2023). Value Add of Technology on Teaching (VATT).