Ideas on Professional Learning

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This document shares ideas on professional learning in AT.  There is no one way to provide professional learning on AT, and face-to-face training is not the only way to provide support.  Adult learners, like students, need multiple representations of information about AT.  

Multiple individuals can contribute to this list of ideas about building capacity to enhance AT services and supports. If you have an idea that you would like to share, please contact the NATE Network at



Adult Learner Variability

Adult learner variability is for real and people respond differently to PD at different points. It’s not an either/or regarding F2F vs. other strategies. Like students, adult learners need multiple means of representations of information. I never objected to my team doing even some 1:1 training, but we had a mindset to not be enablers. So if it was a simple issue, we’d send a video link or a link to A Quick Guide. And we kept records of requests for support. IF a team repeatedly asked for similar supports, we’d respond in a way that emphasized coaching­­––not showing, not telling, not taking control of the device, but asking questions and guiding verbally.

 If a school wanted an AT team member to come to them to do training, we would work out a 3 session, 75-minute after school training for at least 4 to 5 persons. 1st session taught the basics of the tool and left them with homework that would show application. 2nd session introduced more features and assigned a task. 3rd session they had to demonstrate how they applied this in the context of the classroom. We set the expectation for implementation of the skills that were taught.

  Like most, I went into AT because I loved working with technology and kids, but AT service providers are often guilty of playing savior. We get a bit addicted to being able to show folks a new way of doing things. The important thing is to ask yourself, is this the most efficient and cost effective way to provide training (e.g., making the best use of your time and reaching the most staff/learners)? One exercise we did as a team was to add up the hourly wage of an AT specialist to provide a 45 minute 1:1 training. It ended up being very expensive when you consider prep time, travel time, time at the school. It was a good exercise to make us “think” about how we use our time. It wasn’t about the cost of providing that one-to-one training, it was a question of how we can help more students with the time that we have. That’s the equity issue.  (Contributed by Denise DeCoste, MA)


Adult Learners Need Multiple Means of Engagement and Representation Too

I have been very surprised at the response to training that I have gotten over the past several years as I have tried to introduce AT tools in our school district. I have found a few teachers who have described themselves as computer illiterate be the teachers who have dived head first into the game while other tech savvy teachers have been reluctant. I have found that some teachers just need an online resource or two and a point in the right direction while others need face to face interaction a number of times before they will try it. I have found that providing training on our Read and Write for Google tools straight to classrooms of students themselves has been fairly effective. Actually, one of the best motivators for teachers jumping into AT has been the demand from the students. I had a group of 6th grade teachers that kept requesting my assistance and I kept providing them with face-to face-instruction, but I didn’t see implementation until they got their new class of rising 5th graders that had been using the tools with their previous teachers. Those students wanted access to the tools in 6th grade and the teachers had to hop on the bus. I have also noticed that I can encourage and provide resources and offer suggestions, but sometimes it just takes awhile before a teacher can envision how it will all work in their world. Sometimes this can happen in a moment, like flicking a switch and then that teacher wants and needs to know how it all works in that very moment. On demand resources are essential in those moments.

 Probably the best face-to face-training that I ever did was a Make and Take session where I created a long list of short quick assignments such as: sign a student up for Bookshare, download a book, create a vocabulary list with the vocabulary tool etc. I provided step by step guides and other resources. Teachers earned points for completing each task and I had a stack of silly prizes for the teachers earning the most points. I also had a handful of staff available to circulate the room and help teachers as they frantically worked through the exercises to earn those prizes. I did not stand and deliver a presentation at all. I just created the tasks and provided the support in a Problem Based Learning sort of scenario. This training received the best reviews out of any training that the SPED department had put on all year. That course required significantly more prep than I had ever prepped before, but now I have the resources available when a teacher has a “quick question” or needs a guide. Every teacher seems to need something different to flip that switch. A variety of resources are important.

 I only have one day a week to provide AT services in our district so I rely heavily on other staff such as our Help Desk, School Librarians and am trying to make some inroads with our curriculum coaches. I also rely on free videos and webinars as much as possible. I love the videos that are less than 3 minutes long that address very specific questions. I have seen teachers give up on a tool if they hit a hurdle and so I think it is empowering when I can get them a quick answer or resource right when they need it and more and more those teachers are learning to look and find those resources themselves. (Contributed by Theresa McGeary, MT)




Allocating Time to Professional Learning

One-to-one staff training is one strategy for professional learning, but there are lots of others that are less direct (e.g., webinars, remote training, small group training, easy access to on-demand resources, etc.). Increasing the amount of 1:1 training actually puts an additional burden on your team. If this takes up a sizeable portion of the professional development on your  “Allocation Pie Chart” (See the section on Re-visioning AT Services) then it’s time to focus on alternative ways to make the best use of this time. (Contributed by Gayl Bowser)


Multiple Formats for Professional Learning

In addition to face-to-face (f2f) training,  AT services can be delivered through video conferencing.  It is an effective, time-efficient way to provide support on specific AT topics. Workshops on targeted topics can be f2f or be presented via a live webinar.  The advantage of webinars is that they can be recorded and posted on the AT team’s website as a way to build on-demand resources, along with links to resources on AT topics.  Screen capture software can also be very useful to create short videos on frequently requested topics. Professional learning communities can use synchronous and asynchronous webinars to dive deeper into complex topics (e.g., AAC, visual impairment, behavioral supports.) Quarterly online newsletters can be targeted to low and high incidence educators and related services staff.  Because release time, funding, traffic and after-school activities often prevent staff from attending f2f workshops. Professional development topics should be available in multiple formats to ensure just-in-time support. (Contributed by Denise DeCoste)


Setting Expectations Around Professional Learning

How do you respond to requests for PL? I know I tend to want to jump in and help when I get a request for training. But, I really believe that if I have a recorded video or a tip sheet, I can say, “I have a video about that. Let me send you a link and then I’ll get back in touch with you after you watch it to see if it answered your question.”  At first, it’s a matter of checking to see if the person watched it. But once they have looked at the video or tip sheet, they may say, “Thanks, but I still have this question.” I believe that when we have our own expectation that it’s always best to jump in personally, we may be creating a pattern which keeps you in an expert model of service delivery. (Contributed by Gayl Bowser, OR)


Marketing Professional Learning

Marketing is really an interesting topic for us. I remembered a district that I have worked with over many years that set up an incredibly robust website. It had all the right parts and was very clear about the district processes they wanted to use. The issue was that they never actually marketed the site to the district staff and people didn’t use it. It had been a lot of work and they were discouraged. So for one full year, they stepped back, only made minor changes in the site and worked at getting people to know about it and the ways that it could help classroom educators. My son is the marketing director for an internet software design company. He says busy people have to have a reason to stop what they are doing and go to a website if it is going to be used at all. I think about that a lot these days. AND I just learned how to use Google Analytics. (It’s free.) It’s really interesting to discover who visits your site, when they do it and where they start from. When Denise says that we have to be experts in 20th century tools, this is the kind of thing she is talking about. (Contributed by Gayl Bowser, OR)


Marketing Tools

AT service providers need to keep up with new tools to promote AT.  Keeping school staff informed of available tools, useful AT strategies, and professional development opportunities require marketing strategies that are relevant and engaging.  Creating infographics, using tools such as Powtoon ( to engage interest, and using social media to share information are three ways to market AT.  (Contributed by Denise DeCoste)




The Evolution of Professional Learning Using a Capacity Building Model of AT 

The HIAT team has been keeping track of our training sessions for a long time. We have evolved from doing 10-12 pre-scheduled sessions per year (15 years ago) to presenting over 250 sessions either face to face or via webinar in a year.  We are a small team serving a very large district, but we have found ways to maximize professional learning. As we built capacity in our district (something we’ve been dedicated to for 15 years) and as teachers incorporated more technology into their classrooms, we found that professional learning (PL)  needs evolved. This is a summary of this evolution.

Ten years ago, we really ramped up our PL sessions. We leveraged the online registration system to find participants. We put the keyword “ E-TIPS” in the description of every session so that people could search for trainings that would compliment what they’ve already learned. Every session was presented from a UDL lens. Our following increased every year. We kept track of every single person from every single school who attended. At a certain point, we estimated that we had trained everyone who had the interest and wherewithal to show up after school on a voluntary basis for 1-3 hours. 

By this point, we knew that we had to leverage webinars as a format for training. We started converting every face-to-face (f2f) session into something we could present via webinar. This captured a whole new following of people, including a far greater number of general educators. The focus on UDL shifted the narrative from kids with disabilities to ALL learners and expanded the audience from special education staff to all staff.  

A few years ago, though, participation waned for both face-to-face and webinar formats. Participation in trainings on tools, or common topics like “text to speech” decreased to the point that it wasn’t worth scheduling them ahead of time anymore. We had saturated our market. That’s when we launched an “Everyday UDL Webinar Series,” in which we got people to share what was going on in their classrooms. This hooked people who had already been to all of our trainings on repeated topics. These webinars focused on different ways staff had implemented those ideas in their classrooms and therapy rooms.

So, we kept our Everyday UDL Webinars and scheduled a couple of trainings that we knew everyone would need (like AT Accommodations for PARCC – which we scheduled to happen right in time for PARCC planning.) For the rest, we told people that we’d be happy to schedule something for a group of staff at their request. This PL shift has proved to be very popular.  It allows school teams to customize training on topics that are of interest to them, and it serves as a way to discuss the application of AT in the classroom. It’s important to note, however, that we first had to build a foundation of AT skills in our district, which we accomplished over many years through a combination of traditional f2f AT trainings, webinars, videos and quick guides. Fifteen years ago, staff didn’t know what they didn’t know. Now the majority of our staff know what they don’t know and know where to find the support they want.  It is a higher level of AT training that can occur once there is a strong foundation of AT knowledge and a greater comfort level integrating technology into the curriculum.

Our next goal is to get those common topics that have surfaced as part of customized school team trainings into a format that can be consumed in an online, self-paced, just-in-time sort of way. It really takes a concerted effort to reserve time for the development of new training materials, but it’s essential.  Also, the platforms and tools keep changing in our district so we constantly have to adapt our online materials. Nonetheless, we need to leverage what teachers are using with students everyday. Without the development of online materials that are easily accessible and on-demand, teachers waste time searching for what they need or spend too much time “playing around” on their computers trying to discover what they want to know to support learning. Teachers don’t have time to waste.  Our job is to help teachers help students access learning. The development of online materials is an ongoing process, and professional development evolves over time. (Contributed by Linda Bastiani Wilson, Maryland) 

AT Training Does Not Guarantee Capacity Building

Professional development (PD)  is always an important component of capacity building, but I want to caution against thinking that PD is THE solution. In order for educators to take that knowledge that they got during your PD activities, they need coaching and mentoring to figure out how to apply it. Which does not have to mean that you spend more one- to-one time with them, but that when they need help, you have on-demand resources available for them. It also means that you make sure that your role is not portrayed as the expert, but as a person who provides support to them when they have questions or concerns. (Contributed by Gayl Bowser)




Suggested Professional Learning Topics

We asked AT leaders about today’s AT training topics.  Here’s a long list in no particular order:

  •     Read and Write for Google
  •     Bookshare
  •     Accessibility features in Google
  •     Boardmaker on-line
  •     Proloquo2go
  •     Creating accessible digital materials
  •     Website accessibility
  •     Dragon Naturally Speaking
  •     Note taking Tools
  •     Text to Speech
  •     Communication Apps
  •     Chromebook Training
  •     Using Zoom video conferencing
  •     New procedures for AT in our district
  •     Parent Night for AAC 101
  •     Individual parent training for specific communication apps
  •     Para training on AAC
  •     Modeling core vocabulary
  •     AAC Implementation plans
  •     Para training on Chromebook extensions
  •     Administration training on Chromebook extensions
  •     Teacher Institute day on Chromebook extensions
  •     Assistive Technology Legislation
  •     How to document AT supports
  •     What you might already be using in your classroom that is considered AT
  •     Integrating Google Tools/Extensions into your classrooms
  •     Clicker Connects.
  •     UDL-incorporated into STEM with the Ed Tech Dept
  •     PRC Device Trainings
  •     Writing Tools (co:Writer, Clicker, iPad tools, speech to text)
  •     Reading Tools
  •     Bookshare
  •     AT Consideration
  •     AT Acquisition to Implementation
  •     Webinar-AT 101
  •      IOS Accessibility features
  •     Accessing the iPad with VoiceOver
  •     Digital Text apps (Adobe, Good Reader, Voice Dream Reader, iBooks, Overdrive, etc.)
  •     Digital annotation apps including Snap type Pro, Adobe Fill and Sign
  •     Switch access
  •     Making PowerPoint, Word Documents and Google Docs accessible (UDL)
  •     Accessibility features of Windows (UDL)
  •     Chromebox Accessibility Features (UDL)
  •     AT Consideration
  •     AT in the IEP
  •     AT Assessment process
  •     AEM
  •     PAR and uPAR
  •     Strategies for Reading and Writing Supports
  •     Strategies for Supporting Organization
  •     Visual supports
  •     Accessibility system for the State Tests
  •     Math supports
  •     Connecting AAC and Literacy
  •     Web Accessibility
  •     Teaching the Swipe Generation in Early Childhood
  •     Duties and Tasks of Providing AT in Schools
  •     Meet Alexa, Your New Classroom Assistant
  •     Implementation of AAC
  •     Teaching Students with Cortical Vision Impairment
  •     Blending Technology to Enhance Movement (PE)
  •     Video Games: The Common Thread Among Students
  •     Necessary Components of AAC Consideration



AT in  20

Monthly video chats (hosted by myself) scheduled immediately after school-lasting no longer than 20 minutes for educators across the district via Google Meet. Teachers request topics via a Google Form and in 20 minutes the feature/software/strategy is reviewed and a short discussion is held regarding implementation, Q/A, troubleshooting.  (Contributed by Aaron Marsters, DODEA-Germany)


Professional Learning Alternatives

I’ve found people are more willing to engage with the virtual options if they can watch/rewatch on their own and if the content is broken up into short modules of direct instruction. Using the flipped model of instruction, we are now trying to design learning activities that go beyond direct instruction. We are providing safe practice opportunities, then asking participants to apply the skill/strategy/tool with students then offering a reflection/assessment of success. We’ve had the most success when we are offering college credit to reward people for their time and effort.

 One of our general education content specialists developed an instructional coaching template that is being used in general education classrooms with school and district based reading and math coaches. A few of us decided to try with AT and SPED. Link to form:

We’ve been playing around with meeting virtually 1-3 times a month and are trying to use the results based coaching tool with a group of educators from across the district. Instead of conversing with one teacher, we are exploring the questions with a group of similar educators across the district via remote video meetings. We might take 1-2 months to get through the entire plan. AT is rarely the initial focus, but AT devices and training and UDL practices are often embedded into the instructional practice section as a means to improve student access and outcomes. The instructional practice section also opens up the conversation to quality implementation pedagogy and practices (with and without AT). I appreciate how the form prompts what the student will be doing along with what the teacher will be doing and the focus on student outcome data. While we have had growing pains, I love the rich discussions and collaboration occurring between educators. I am seeing the broader practice, application and reflection component that is often missing when we provide the virtual training videos without the college credit carrot. Because the agency has mandated that these focused collaboration meetings will happen, we are also getting a better attendance.

 We have virtual focused collaboration groups for our high incidence educators, low incidence educators, preschool educators, vision specialists, hearing specialists and emotional specialists. Each virtual group might have 4-12 educators online at one time. We use Google Meet and a Google Form (virtual copy of the collaboration form) and shared folder to take minutes, notes and share resources. Right now we have district AT or autism specialists leading the meetings, but we are gradually releasing so that the participants will take more ownership. Some groups meet weekly, while others meet 1-3 times a month. The team decides. If an educator is not part of the virtual meeting, they must participate in a school focused collaboration meeting. The current setup provides the few AT POCS in the district to virtually meet with at least 1/3 the district SPED educators without any use of sub days or special mandates on a weekly basis. While not perfect for everyone, I like the proactive/reflective nature of this process and hope we can continue to refine. (Contributed by Aaron Marsters, DODEA-Germany)


Flipped Instruction Option

The teacher requested my support for some professional development the district has in place, in which they do a series of 1.25 hour after-school sessions. I was thinking about trying Flipped Instruction. The teachers will be asked to view a product link or a YouTube video, which could count as one 1.25 sessions. Then, I will meet either face to face or via ZOOM with a group to practice the tool, discuss implementation options, possible barriers etc. (Contributed by Erin McManamon, PA)


Professional Learning Communities

In an earlier module, we talked about administrative support and how important it is to really changing the AT culture. I think this is one of those cases. The successful AT PLCs that I am aware of were primarily built in educational systems that somehow required participation. In one of my favorite PLC stories, the district special education director had mandated that, as part of the annual goal setting and professional development plan, each licensed professional participated in a PLC and a regular after school meeting day was set each month for PLC participation. Educators could choose their PLC but were required to participate in one, so the AT specialist set up a PLC on the use of interactive whiteboards and tablets for communication. The group did basic PD on operational skills but then moved on to developing classroom activities and ideas about how to use the technology throughout the day. Each teacher contributed ideas and they talked about the strategic issues they ran into for integrating the technology­­––so a really specific topic that people could delve into completely, but also administrative support for participation. This specific example might not work for you, but there are a couple of essential elements that I think must be present. First, it’s somehow integrated into something your agency is already doing and second, there is someone checking to see if it happens. (Contributed by Gayl Bowser, OR)