Forum: Just-in-Time Tech Training
A fresh solution for professional development
It's curious that in today's school systems, only adults refer to computers, handhelds, networks, and such as "technology." To the students, these things are a natural part of their educational landscape.
The mindset of how adults and kids view technology also transfers to how they approach it. Adults are more fearful of making mistakes, while kids tend to dive right in, exploring and learning as they go.
It's common knowledge that we administrators must help propel teachers to the level where they are as comfortable working with technology as they are with the subject they teach. The task for school districts is to devise training processes that facilitate this end.
Here in Beaufort County schools, we realized that the traditional professional development approaches—after-school, daylong, or weekend workshops, college classes, and conferences—were often ineffective. We wanted teachers to be face to face with the technology—to explore, make mistakes, and ultimately embrace technology with newfound enthusiasm. So we had to create a new, fresh solution to the antiquated teacher-training model.
Our answer is "Training Wheels," an on-site program that takes technology training to the teacher in his or her classroom, and according to the teacher's schedule. The program's goals are three-fold: to ensure that teachers are familiar with the hardware and software; that they know how to integrate technology tools into their lesson plans; and that they can transform the instructional process so that technology becomes a seamless part of teaching and learning. Succeeding in this effort ensures a comfort level for the teacher and fosters the idea of a learning partnership with the trainer.
Teachers and administrators are active partners in the training process. We show teachers how to change the physical environment to facilitate student activity, how to alter the delivery of instruction, and how to efficiently assess student work. Technology is then no longer an "add on." It becomes transparent to the learning process.
It is our responsibility to train teachers in how to use computers, handhelds, projectors, digital cameras, and other tools. We must provide training on basic software packages. And we must show teachers how to set up web sites, communicate with staff and students, and do minor troubleshooting.
This kind of just-in-time training allows teachers to see the relevance of technology, and it dramatically extends their existing skills. It gives teachers a resource that is readily available and is consistent in application and content.
In our county, we evaluate the success of our training model by revisiting classrooms and encouraging continuous dialogue between trainers and teachers. We hold regular meetings with teachers to share best practices and identify areas of need. We monitor the use of technology tools and the extent that other innovative practices are defined in classrooms. We encourage teachers to participate in web site reporting, classroom assessments using technology, and paper-reducing activities.
The school of the future is still being defined. I believe that the way of delivering education in the future will be very different from today. For one thing, technology will be more integrated throughout the instructional system.
For our teachers to succeed in this brave new world, administrators need to act more decisively. Our Training Wheels approach is making great headway in accomplishing this goal.
Herman Gaither has been superintendent of Beaufort County Schools in Beaufort, South Carolina for seven years.