Why Students Should Run Professional Development For Teachers

classroom pdToday’s students are surrounded by technology. From laptops to smartphones to tablets, students use devices and apps for personal entertainment, communicating with friends and family, and even for education.

Not only is technology easy for them to use, giving them a central place where everything important is located, they also enjoy using these devices. That’s why when it comes to education, teachers need to listen to students.

In my technology class, students are creating video tutorials that explain how their teachers can use various technologies and platforms (currently we’re making tutorials for Google Apps). The videos are simple for students to make, and we use Snagit to create a video recording of the computer screen, so teachers can see exactly how to use a product with audio narration from the student.  Screencasts also allow for anytime, anyplace, any pace learning on any device, which is ideal for a teacher’s busy lifestyle?” These student-created videos are important for two key reasons:

  1. Students are given a voice in deciding what technologies and apps they want to use in school. Students are going to be more engaged in class and at home if they’re using devices and apps that they already like, such as Google Apps. Since they’re already familiar with this technology there is no learning curve, and tapping into student’s existing tech profiles allows teachers to reach them more effectively. Just consider, if the majority of a class already has a Gmail account, why not use the technology they’re already on to communicate – like Google Drive and Google+.
  1. Teachers can learn directly from their students. Rather than having teachers attend workshops to learn how to use basic technology and applications, we have students lead this teaching. This enables students to explain exactly how certain technologies can be used, and the learning process is much more efficient then if it was done at a large conference or workshop. Additionally, teachers know which students they should speak with when they have questions or want additional information on a technology or app.

While professional develop courses are still valuable for teachers to attend, our student-produced videos allow teachers to get the majority of their technology training without having to miss classes. These videos are short and to the point, so they can be viewed during free periods, and easily re-watched in case a teacher needs a refresher on the platform. Teacher’s ability to watch these videos in their office or at home is critical, because another benefit of these videos is that with less professional development days, students will have their teachers in class more often, resulting in fewer days with substitute teachers.

Students also love having input on their education. Asking them to help train teachers on technology and platforms they like and use empowers them, and captures their interest, so that when class begins, students are already prepared and engaged. That’s why my class – and hopefully many schools around the country – is making use of the technology and experts that we already have on site to enhance the learning experiences for students and teachers.

Rob Zdrojewski is a technology teacher and director at Amherst Central Schools in New York. Rob can be contacted via his blog at RobZtraining.com or @MrZtechTV on twitter.  View his students screencasting projects at MrZclassBlog.org


  1. Anthony

    December 2, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Couldn’t be farther from the truth. Professional Development can never be led by students – but they surely are the cause and reason for it. To suggest that professionals take lessons from students is a touch insulting and unpro in the end – needlessly retaliatory for a profession already being to asked change drastically. There are thousands of champions among teaching ranks – the real push should be to support those champions and foster more.

    • Jim Keefe

      December 3, 2012 at 9:56 am

      Agreed. This article assumes all teachers are inept old geezers and students are the tech-savvy informed ones. As a college instructor who also works in my field I find this article insulting.

      • Bruce

        December 4, 2012 at 12:38 am

        There is nothing in this article that is negative toward teachers, Jim.

        Did you read the article Anthony? These videos are being developed to help teachers learn, which is indeed support. True professionals learn from anyone with knowledge, regardless of age or social status.

        • Old Tech Sifu

          December 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm

          Right on.

    • Teresa Bunner

      December 4, 2012 at 7:51 am

      Actually, the National Urban League has a wonderful model in which students help facilitate PD about learning practices which help them. I’m working on a project right now which invites HS students to help facilitate conversations with teachers about culturally proficient teaching strategies. To say PD ” can never be led” by students means we are not open to the meeting the needs of our students by actually listening to them. A narrow view I disagree with wholeheartedly.

      • Patrick Baker

        December 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm

        Well said. The idea that students can never lead PD seems to subscribe to a larger belief that the hierarchical model of education is the one and only and best. I’m no expert, but how has that model worked for us so far? Has it led to significant student achievement gains? The next step in this argument would be to say that teachers informing their administrators on PD would be unprofessional and insulting to the administrators. Could I get a resounding “amen” from every teacher on that one right now? Doubtful. When are we going to get past the idea that our students are empty buckets waiting to be filled by their teachers? Let’s stop looking at this in terms of “teachers” and “students” and start seeing it in terms of people helping each other learn and grow. This might not be the one and only way to do PD, but it is an enriching addition to what we already have.

        “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Ben Franklin

    • Kevin

      December 8, 2012 at 9:32 am

      It seems like you’ve missed the point. Who better to tell teachers what works in the classroom than the very students sitting in it?

    • Old Tech Sifu

      December 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Easy there, grasshopper. He who teaches learns the most. Give students that opportunity. I go back to vacuum tubes, and I learn from my students daily. Also, tech is the cup, teachers are the water. Students do well with tech, but teachers alone can coach the bigger questions: So what? Why? Who cares? How does this solve problems?
      This very reasonable strategy relieves many teachers from frustration, saves them time, reduces burnout, saves families and creates pride in students. Students get to do what they are good at (remembering 10,000 keystrokes in correct sequence), make a real contribution to the learning community, earn respect from everyone, help us all, and get skills they can use in school and work.
      Champions produce champions: students.

  2. Josh

    December 3, 2012 at 12:53 am

    Not a bad idea. My first reaction is that most of the students I have don’t really know how to fully utilize their devices for education. They’re just using them for fun still, so any sort of teacher-training they could do would be minimal. However, then I realized that I’m doing much more than my colleagues, and that while I may not benefit too much from their tutorials, my colleagues could. With some training by students about how to use Twitter, or Evernote, or Google Drive, or even Instagram, teachers could get the “training” necessary to feel that they’ve learned some basics in a safe, fun way. In addition, it gives the students training in how to lead a lesson/presentation, how to video edit (if necessary), how to summarize and explain information, etc. Good stuff. Nice idea! Thanks.

  3. Nick Jackson

    December 3, 2012 at 5:13 am

    You should take a look at mine and others work with Student Digital Leaders and you can see the amount of people practising this and more in empowering students.
    Please take a look at the website I listed; #DLChat on twitter; http://yorkteachmeet.wordpress.com/ – a conference I had digital leaders organise and run

    • Old Tech Sifu

      December 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm


      • Old Tech Sifu

        December 19, 2012 at 4:24 pm

        Most of my students have been able to certify Microsoft Office Specialist Word, Excel, or PowerPoint using your strategies and viewpoint. I run a system of student tech Trainers managed by Senior Trainers. Their results are outstanding. They get most of the credit. I am a Valedictorian and have no shortage of hubris. But, my pride is focused on my students’ capabilities. We call ourselves The Tech Warriors.
        I don’t think I could pull this off in other disciplines. But, it is working in tech. Microsoft approves as demonstrated by Certifications with Steven A. Ballmer’s signature. Whoa! Here comes another one right now.
        Check out IC3 certification through Certiport. This should be a major priority for all our students.
        Live long and prosper.

  4. mick conlan

    December 3, 2012 at 6:32 am

    yes kids know what they know, and it may be appropiate, sufficient or not or anyway inbetween, though its very cute to expose it. i find that students know how to play with/on technology and the rest is still up to us, which is okay as i still love to teach.

  5. Jan Simpson

    December 3, 2012 at 6:49 am

    Very nice article. However, isn’t it sad that Teachers are having to learn from their students?

    • Teresa Bunner

      December 4, 2012 at 7:52 am

      I learn from my students all the time.

    • Bonnie T

      January 16, 2013 at 9:29 am

      I don’t think it’s sad at all. I improve my practise all the time by learning from my students. When I try a new activity and it doesn’t go as well as planned, I look to my student’s actions, reactions, comments, questions and direct feedback to determine what went wrong and how to improve it in the future. I also “learn” from my students as to what and how I should be teaching. They will “show and tell” me in lots of different ways what concepts they need more instruction in, how effective my lesson or activity was and what they need to be more successful. Also, I know there are things outside of education I can learn from my students such as the difficulties of low-income families, the struggles of someone with a physical or learning disability or the ability to overcome life’s obstacles to reach success. I came from a very stable, happy family where I received a lot of encouragement. I’ve learned over the years from my students what life would be like without that and understanding this has helped me become a better teacher and person. Wise people will learn from whoever and whatever is available. Don’t pass up the opportunity to learn whatever lesson is out there, no matter who it may come form.

  6. Amine

    December 3, 2012 at 9:47 am

    The whole article assumes that teachers are old-fashioned individuals who exclusively use ancient chalkboards and no technology. This has first to be established as a fact before writing all this.

  7. Wendy Tardif

    December 3, 2012 at 10:02 am

    I teach in a French high school and we have been doing this with our students for 3 years (grade 7 students). In fact, our students must prepare a presentation were they are asked to explain an application or software throughout a project they did in class. Our audience are grade 4 and 5 students from our school board and each elementary teacher leaves with the tutorials the students prepared for them…Sharing our knowledge with our community is really important.

    • James Gonzales

      December 4, 2012 at 1:57 am

      This is what we need at edutech-kit.com stories like this being told to all the teachers so we can finally start tuning the best techniques technology has to offer? Please come and make post on the site Wendy.

  8. Rob Zdrojewski

    December 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks everybody for your comments, I highly suggest you read my associated articles on the topic of student-produced screencasts (and other media) to be used by teachers for staff development supplementary material.

    I’ve recently been published in T.H.E. Journal:

    and the Hechinger Report:

    on similar topics that may help clarify the points mentioned above. Begin at my blog http://RobZtraining.com to view these and other articles.

    I appreciate all the feedback, please do keep the conversations going!

  9. tm3tt

    December 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    #ed50591UWA students running professional development….that’s interesting. Although I cant really see this happening, I feel that teachers could really learn alot from their students when it comes to technology.

  10. Kevin Cordeiro

    December 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Excellent article and thank you for writing it! Why pigeon hole this into the realm of technology only? This can and does work just as well for the academic fields as well. As was said previously by Patrick Baker this is a matter of hierarchical thinking and organization. the entirety of the school system requires a democratization process that moves towards a lateral form of organization which incorporates students and the community at an equal footing with teachers and school workers. An academic PD with students not leading but equally involved can help department gear curriculum and lesson plans towards student interest and student relevant information.

    • Old Tech Sifu

      December 19, 2012 at 4:32 pm


  11. Julie

    December 6, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Great article. I am 52 years old and I have been teaching for 28 years. I am not naive enough to believe that I hold all of the knowledge and that students should need to depend on me to dispense it. To want to keep the “teaching” power in my hands is a disservice to my students. There is no way I could keep up on current research, changing pedagogy, political influences, changing socio-economic conditions, and the myriad stresses that try to push, pull, stretch, bend and touch classrooms. I have always depended on “experts in their field” to help me grow, so why not experts in technology? And those experts are our students. As an adult who wants to facilitate the process of learning there’s nothing like the feeling you get watching a student explain and demonstrate how to do something they know well. Leaverage that in a thousand ways for the teacher and the student!

    • Old Tech Sifu

      December 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      Very cogent, wise, and reasonable!

  12. sean tm (@seantm)

    December 7, 2012 at 3:33 am

    Thanks for this post Rob,

    Just the measure of response shows that it’s a notion worth considering for the sake of self-examination -even if one is not in agreement.

    Personally though -I like the model. To sand down the corners of those whose professional egos may be easily bruised I might re-title it to something like “Why Students Should Be Partners in Professional Development”. But, I agree and I think in order to be truly in touch and relevant as educators we need to look to our students as offering ample opportunities for us to learn from them. Even though they not have the finely honed skill sets some here refer to, it is they who are defining the future in respect to how they perceive, process, and acquire information and construct knowledge. This is of course a complex and dynamic development continuum but anyone who is of the mind set that how students presently learn hasn’t changed and that we can’t learn from them needs to go back to school themselves.

    Thanks again for the contribution.

  13. Dr. A.

    December 7, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    What a great opportunity to allow students to express their technological self-efficacy! If we educators continue not to be open-minded to our students’ creative ideas, we will find ourselves continuously discussing how students are not motivated to learn in the classrooms. Thanks for sharing.

    • Old Tech Sifu

      December 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      Spot on!

  14. Anthony Carabache

    December 8, 2012 at 6:03 am

    There is no doubt that we can all learn from students. It’s the implications that come when we speak about PD. If, by PD, you mean Personal Discovery – as Will Richardson describes – then I agree! If, however, PD refers to Professional Development – I continue to urge everyone to think about promoting our champions that also know curriculum. In the end, students are not limited by politics – they have much freedom that professionals often cannot enjoy – not entirely fair to say they should lead until our teachers, our professionals have been given a fair shake.

    For example – a student can only show those exceptional skills if the teacher helps promote them correct? Couldn’t that very question be asked of a teacher and their principal? A principal and their superintendent?

    We just hired 400 new teachers at our board – and they’re gunning for 21C – they are ready to lead, facilitate and foster growth of the class of 2030 – it is simply infectious! How can I – as a developer of PD – deflate the enthusiasm that the profession has finally acquired and so sorely needed?

  15. William Stites

    December 10, 2012 at 9:05 am

    We have been involving students in our professional development for a few years now. We have student leaders that participate in mid-year and summer offerings. They take roles a facilitator, guides and even mentors.

    I’ve written about it and have a video posted here: inService to unService and the addition of the Student Voice -http://www.williamstites.net/2011/01/12/inservice-to-unservice-and-the-addition-of-the-student-voice/

    • Old Tech Sifu

      December 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Wow! Cool.

  16. Pär-Ola Zander

    December 13, 2012 at 6:27 am

    This discussion presupposes that students are all the same. A collegue of mine has done some research into students’ capabilities. The data shows that although students are often generally technologically proficient, they are often not very knowledgable regarding technologies FOR LEARNING. Thus, it is not possible to claim that they are fit for the task. With final year students the results may be different, though.

    See the research at:

    That said, I am all in for student empowerment and breaking down the barriers between faculty and students.

    • Old Tech Sifu

      December 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm

      You have a good point. It is about variations and patterns and spectrums rather than binary outlooks.
      However, “they are often not very knowledgable regarding technologies FOR LEARNING” can apply in various situations for high powered high paid ed consultants, industry experts, and ME on a regular basis. Every day, “it is what it is.” Quality of knowledge and learning varies enormously. That is the norm.
      And, that is what the teacher should be spending most of her effort and energy, yes energy that is limited, doing – increasing the quantity and quality of learning in our communities small and large in a very fast paced environment ((Common Core adoption, teacher evaluations, mega data (it is mostly coming from texting by my students), exploding world population, etc, etc.))
      Would this be aptly named tech learning meta analysis?
      Live long and prosper.

  17. Old Tech Sifu

    December 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm


  18. sylvia martinez

    January 3, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Generation YES (http://www.genyes.org) has a lot of free resources and research about students collaborating with educators to improve education doing everything from tech support, to tech mentoring and PD. Research over 15 years shows that teachers who partner with a student who is knowledgable about educational technology are overwhelmingly positive about the experience and say that it changes the way they use technology to teach.

    However, our experience also shows that these students need practice and mentoring to understand their role. They need to be taught about the technology tools the school has to offer and what teachers use them for. Otherwise you risk replacing one type of “us vs them” mentality with another. The power is in the collaboration, where both teachers and students are working together on common goals.

    This can and does work in thousands of schools across the US and around the world. The model has been validated by multiple independent evaluations, and best of all, is immensely practical. Most traditional tech PD results in 80% of teachers saying they still don’t feel like they know how to implement technology effectively. So why not add (not replace) some student power to the PD toolkit? It’s a win-win for everyone.