iPads in the Classroom: 4 Steps to Prepare Teachers for Success

A chart showing various best practices to help differentiate instruction. These are all covered in the article.

The best administrators know that the key to any new program or initiative is comprehensive preparation and training for their staff. If your district is considering deploying iPads in the classroom for the first time or you’re restructuring or expanding an existing iPad initiative, what steps will you take to prepare your staff and students to successfully integrate tablet technology into the classroom? Before taking the plunge and investing in iPads, it’s important to think through the instructional changes that will need to take place to ensure your iPad rollout is a success.

professional developement resources

The eSpark team supports schools and districts across the country to integrate personalized learning and iPads into classrooms. Through our experience deploying tens of thousands of classroom iPads with our partnerships, we have identified four steps that are vital to the success of an iPad initiative. Along with each step, we provide an exemplary case study of how one of our district partnerships deployed iPads in their classrooms and achieved remarkably successful teacher and student outcomes.

1. Identify an Instructional Purpose

When you initially consider buying iPads, you need to determine what instructional change you want iPads in the classroom to make. While the devices can be innovative and engaging classroom tools, your teachers will need direction around how iPads should be used in the classroom, and most importantly, to what purpose.

You may be hoping that iPads in the classroom will lead to:

  • More differentiated instruction: iPads could help teachers to differentiate content from student to student in classrooms with diverse learning needs.

  • Greater student investment and engagement: Students’ lives are saturated by technology and media outside the classroom. Integrating iPads into the classroom could be a motivating factor for students to show up to school and be more engaged in their learning.

  • Better test prep: Many districts have been using the same workbooks for years. iPads could prepare students for testing by digitizing learning.

  • Updated teacher practices: iPads could re-engage teachers in how they create lesson plans and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.

  • Innovation: Districts must find ways to innovate as they explore new 21st Century tools to prepare students for college and career readiness.

  • Student progress: Engaging students with new practices and material can renew interest in lessons and lead to greater student learning outcomes.

Simply introducing a technology tool will not accomplish any of these goals. Once you decide on an instructional purpose, deconstruct it to identify individual teacher actions that will need to change to achieve this purpose.

differentiating classroom instruction with iPads

For example, if the goal for iPad in the classroom is more differentiated instruction, what does this really mean for teachers? Guide them to adapt to desired outcomes. This could mean teaching in smaller groups, pulling more students to the side, or developing station rotations. If teachers are familiar with large group instruction, they will need to develop new classroom management styles so they can manage students as they work independently. Teachers will also need to learn to collect and analyze data more frequently to ensure the effectiveness of differentiated instruction.

Our Case Study School’s Approach

Goals for Integrating iPads into the Classroom:

  1. Expand blended learning
  2. More small group instruction
  3. Leveled stations, not centers

In this successful iPad deployment, the district identified two specific teacher actions (small group instruction and leveled stations) that would directly support their higher-level purpose to expand blended learning. This purpose looked beyond the administrators’ decision to purchase new technology to how teachers and students would leverage the iPads in the classroom.

2. Build Teacher Investment

With change in teacher practice, how will you create teacher buy-in? The announcement of technology typically generates momentum in a school district. But if no one knows what to do with the new devices, the excitement is often short-lived and the investment could end up sitting to the side. Students may know how to surf the web, but teachers often struggle to know how to evolve and incorporate iPads in the classroom. To ensure that classroom iPads are integrated successfully, administrators should build teacher investment in new teacher practices, rather than the technology itself by:

  • Clearly stating expected changes in teacher practice: Clear communication will eliminate ambiguity and set the right tone with teachers.

  • Explaining instructional rationale for changes: Explaining why you think these changes are important will make teachers more willing to adapt to meet your expectations.

  • Intentionally creating a safe environment for trial and error: With every failure, teachers will learn from their mistakes. The key is to create an environment where failures are accepted and not criticized.

  • Clearly illustrating the plan for ongoing PD: People do not learn technology immediately. Create a plan for how to train your teachers and communicate what this will look like throughout the year.

Professional Development Resources

Our Case Study School’s Approach

  1. Program expectations announced before end of current school year
  2. Ongoing PD calendar published with a substitute plan
  3. Non-evaluative first year

By announcing the goals for the new classroom iPads in the spring before the program roll-out in the fall, those teachers who did not want to participate had the opportunity to find work elsewhere. The district provided time for the initial announcement to reverberate and for teachers to decide if their personal goals were aligned with district goals to give new purpose to their professional life. The district eased teachers’ nerves by publishing a comprehensive training plan to support them and communicating that they would not evaluate teachers based on factors of the iPad deployment during their first year of blended learning.

3. Provide Engaging and Effective Professional Development Resources

Once districts have identified an instructional purpose, teacher actions, and strategies to build investment, administrators should thoroughly plan how they will support their staff in changing their instructional practices. eSpark’s Partnerships Delivery team has lead countless hours of professional development and classroom coaching to prepare teachers to use iPads in the classroom. Here are their suggestions:

  • Schedule multiple, shorter trainings: Design your PD schedule with multiple, shorter sessions over the course of the year instead of a single blast of PD at the beginning of the year. This allows teachers time to try new things in small increments and independently discover best practices to share during the next session. Multiple sessions over the course of a year have been proven to be most effective in increasing new practices that are incorporated into the classroom.
  • Focus on introducing new instructional practices before new technology. The content of PD should first address changes in instructional practice and then explore the new technology. It’s critical to focus on the iPad as a tool that will support specific instructional practices in the classroom. For example, you could offer training on data analysis skills and how teachers can use iPads as tools to collect and analyze student data.
  • Promote collaboration and provide planning time. For each session, be sure to build in teacher collaboration and provide time for planning to allow teachers to apply what they are learning to actionable outcomes for the classroom. Because teachers know their own strengths and weaknesses, they should set personal goals to accomplish before the next PD session related to what they just learned.

Our Case Study School’s Approach

  1. Two-day kick-off PD before school year
  2. Midyear PD format: ongoing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
  3. Moderated by non-district staff to create safe space
  4. Applied, hands-on, problem solving

Teachers participated in an intensive 2-day training session before the start of the school year to familiarize them with the new instructional changes and get their feet wet with the iPads and other new technology they would be using. Teachers met with groups of their peers Professional Learning Communities to receive additional training and share best practices. Sessions were lead by non-district staff to encourage teachers to address concerns and frustrations in a safe space. All PD and PLC sessions focused on applying new instructional practices and finding actionable ways to use technology to solve classroom problems.

4. Manage Your Expectations

Changing teacher behaviors and incorporating a new tool will not happen overnight. Integrating something like iPads in the classrooms could take a district several years. It’s important to set a realistic timeline against your goals and manage your expectations for achieving your district’s purpose.

Timeline for Integrating iPads into Classrooms

Our Case Study School’s Approach

  1. One grade level at a time will adopt new technology
  2. PLCs created safe space to share struggles
  3. Non-evaluative first year

While our example district planned to eventually rollout new technology to multiple grade levels, they kept it manageable by introducing iPads one grade level at a time, one year at a time. Pacing it over multiple years meant the devices would only be new to one group of teachers each year. Because they rolled out iPads in primary grades first, as the initiative progresses into intermediate grades, their students are already familiar with iPads from their previous year of schooling.

Although many districts can increase student achievement by using iPads in the classroom, the major difference exemplified by our sample district was the trust these teachers had in the new technology. Taking the time to build a solid plan for achieving your blended learning purpose will set up teachers and students for long-term success with iPads.

Try eSpark in your school or district for free! Reach out to our team today.

Ready to see student-centered learning in action?