ISTE Focus Group Reflection: Professional Learning Experiences

Posted by Shivani Stumpf on Aug 7, 2018 9:07:46 AM

ISTE Focus Group Reflection - Professional Learning Experiences


I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a group of educators at ISTE 2018 — here are the successes, challenges, and concerns they shared with me.

At the end of June, I attended the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) 2018 Conference & Expo, a three-day event regarded as one of the world’s premier EdTech gatherings. This year’s conference attracted over 16,000 attendees, including teachers, school administrators, technology coordinators, and policymakers.

Over the course of the conference, I moderated a series of focus groups: one around data management and analytics (see my previous blog post here) and one focused on the state of professional development (PD) in today’s schools. My conversations with these teachers and administrators validated our  understanding of their challenges, successes, and interests — and how traditional PD models often fall short of their needs and expectations.

It was incredibly valuable — not to mention informative — to talk to these educators about everything from the latest trends in PD (the group remained split on microcredentials) to the importance of accessibility and flexibility for educators. Here are a few of the trends that everyone in the room agreed on:

Personalizing Learning for Teachers

Personalized instruction for students, or at least a push for it, is commonplace in today’s schools. People grasp concepts better when they’re learning about what interests them in the manner that they prefer — that’s common sense. But too often, we forget that teachers become students when they participate in PD.

As the focus group conversations made abundantly clear, it shouldn’t. A school administrator in one of the groups recalled a teacher asking why the professional development he receives shouldn’t be just as personalized as the instruction he provides to students. “He called us out on that one,” the administrator reflected, “and he’s 100% right.”

Teachers want options. They want their PD to reflect both their weaknesses and their competencies. They want to learn more about subjects that they don’t know well, but they don’t want to sit through mandated courses covering material that’s already familiar. Just like students can test into more advanced classes in the areas where they excel, teachers should be able to prove their understanding of a subject without having to sit through a course.

This really helped us validate why a platform like Hoonuit is so valuable. With Hoonuit, teachers can not only tailor their PD path to their interests, choosing from our extensive library of modules that are aligned to national and state standards or courses that their districts author themselves within our platform, but also test out of subjects they know well without sitting through the module.

The Growing Need for Flexibility

However, the challenge of tailoring PD to each teacher’s unique needs doesn’t end with subject matter. Many folks in the group brought up concerns regarding the reach and accessibility of PD, some even going so far as to call teacher prep a “crisis.”

The further a town is from the interstate, the more difficult and time-consuming it becomes for teachers to reach a set location for in-person PD, they explained. Teachers often balance all of the tasks that go along with their job description — classroom instruction, grading, lesson planning, paperwork — with coaching school sports teams, mentoring after-school clubs, and raising their own families. They shouldn’t have to add unnecessary hours in the car to the list of items taking up their time — especially when several educators cited a lack of time as the biggest challenge to effective PD.

The focus group participants pointed out that districts could solve this problem by hiring experts to educate teachers on key professional learning initiatives like SEL, data literacy, and mandated state and federal compliance training. Unfortunately, most school districts simply can’t afford to have specialists on staff in each and every one of these subject areas.

By partnering with an organization like Hoonuit, school districts can address these concerns efficiently and affordably. Hoonuit offers teachers the flexibility they need to continue their professional education when and where it’s convenient for them. The platform also encourages collaboration between learners, allowing them to share ideas and learn from each other’s experiences.


Every educator deserves to complete their professional learning requirements in the way that best fits their schedule and learning style, and every school district needs to ensure that PD is effectively aligned with its initiatives. A tool like Hoonuit offers the accountability districts need and the convenience teachers want, which is why I left the conference reminded of why I believe so strongly in our mission.


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Topics : Professional Development