More Than Basic Training
10 Innovative Ways to Reach Teachers
1. USE THIRD-PARTY TRAINING
Bob Van Amburgh, instructional supervisor for the City School District of Albany, New York, says that in his 37 years with the district, he has never seen anything like the jump in professional development (PD) requirements his district now faces. To meet the new mandates, he uses outside groups such as technology vendors to train insiders who will then "spread the gospel" to other teachers. For instance, the district has two Texas Instruments Navigator systems in the high school and three in the middle schools. The TI-Navigator links all the graphing calculators in the classroom to the teacher's computer via a wireless hub, enabling students to collaborate, project their work onto a whiteboard, and even do online research. Despite the calculator's reputation as a math and science tool, Navigator is primarily used in social studies in his district, Van Amburgh says. That's because he chose to train staff members who would use the technology the most effectively, and one of those teachers was a middle school social studies instructor. Once the early adopters were trained by Texas Instruments, they created PD and lesson plans for the district, expanding Van Amburgh's PD offerings in the process. "I'm a firm believer in having a practitioner preach the product," Van Amburgh says.
2. LET STUDENTS BE TEACHERS
If you get a sense of déjà vu visiting Indian Valley Middle School in Reedsville, Pennsylvania, don't be surprised. After requesting permission, computer teacher Edna L. Snook took inspiration from the federal PT3 (Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology) program and created S-PT3 by adding students to the equation. In the first year, teams of seventh graders were trained how to use projectors. The teams then wrote letters persuading teachers to use their learning strategies. Teachers chose a plan, learned the technology, and then faced off in a Technology Idol contest, which had them run through the process outlined by their team while being timed! In the second year of S-PT3, the students covered digital cameras. "We train [teachers] in real time, before, during, and after school time," says Snook, "at no cost to the district."
3. USE THE WEB
After an on-site conference didn't attract a big crowd, administrators in the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) in Pennsylvania decided on a new, high-tech approach to professional development. "We tried to get board members to come to two on-site conferences on a weekend," laughs Gail Kennedy, supervisor of educational technology for CCIU. "We did not get good attendance." Kennedy says that was the impetus for CCIU to find Elluminate, a "webinar" product that features whiteboard technology, multimedia, breakout rooms, application sharing, and archiving capacity. Kennedy especially likes the fact that end users can connect via Mac or PC, on broadband or dial-up. (Users can also connect using Solaris, Java Desktop Systems, or Linux.) That flexibility is critical when offering programs throughout the county in 501 schools, serving 12 school districts and 66 nonpublic schools with more than 81,000 students and 7,000 teachers. With hundreds of attendees in many online sessions, CCIU saves a great deal of money because Elluminate uses VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) as its conduit. Kennedy warns that using the system as a presenter is disconcerting at first because there are so many features to keep track of. But, she says, "it's been a tremendous tool for us."
4. KEEP TRAINING CONSISTENT
Barbara Mathews and Mollie Robinson work in Clark County in Las Vegas, Nevada, one of the fastest growing school systems in the country. The two are constantly training new teachers, who then move over to new school assignments. To build consistency in the teaching staff, Mathews and Robinson use a professional development program called Scholastic Red. "It has spread through the district like wildfire," says Robinson, project facilitator for student support services. "The faculty has embraced the combination of online [coursework] and meeting with a cadre from their school." Scholastic Red's resources include professional articles, lesson plans, and web links-all of which can be taken from an online or face-to-face meeting and used in the classroom the next day. Because teachers meet with a core group from their own schools, they can rely on one another for mentoring and support, while facilitators like Robinson pop into classrooms to model strategies and check up on implementation. The lessons are created with differentiated learning in mind, so even ESL and special education teachers are using the program. "It creates a common language for all our teachers," says Mathews.
5. GO BACK TO BASICS
Judy Edge, a technology resource specialist at the School District of Osceola County, Florida, came up with the perfect way to provide teachers with necessary tech skills. She gets teachers proficient in the basics by working them through programs designed for kindergarten students! Edge created eight modules from the K-8 lessons contained in Learning.com's Easy Tech. She distributed an e-mail to teachers before they began, explaining the concept to make sure savvy instructors would not be insulted by the seemingly juvenile approach. "I'm giving them all of it," Edge says, "starting with kindergarten skills and using the repetition built into the program." Teachers learn how to use databases, word processing, e-mail, and the like, and then complete an assignment to show they have mastered the skills. And the teachers bought in readily, especially as they earn professional development points for the amount of time they spend practicing. What's more, the program will help these teachers meet Florida's requirement that they must demonstrate basic technology skills, which kicks in next year.
6. LEAVE NO ADMINISTRATOR BEHIND
Supervisors need to shore up their skills, too. The Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) helps school leaders keep their administrative certificates current by using STI. Its applications provide members with an online system to track their required and elective professional development activities. Users can manage and amend their personal transcripts simply by logging on, even if they're on sabbatical or working in another state. IASA does not monitor the individual transcripts, but, says Jake Broncato, director of professional development for IASA, the system allows him to see the number of administrators signed up for specific courses, and user surveys give feedback on what's being offered. "We can analyze how many superintendents are looking for assistance with basic financial skills, for example," he says, "and then plan professional development to build on those skills."
7. ASSESS TEACHERS ON THE FLY
Joe Scott, assistant superintendent of the Malden (MO) R-1 School District, lives by the saying, "In God we trust-all others bring data." He used to gather teacher assessment data the slow and painful way-with a pen and paper. Enter TESA (Teacher Evaluation Software Assistant), an interface from Austin Sky Technology that enables principals and administrators to conduct teacher evaluations on a mobile device. TESA has a customizable drop-down list of comments that can be correlated with state mandated language. The software eliminates the need to write evaluations by hand and then type the information into a PC. Scott says it has been a great investment (about $5,000), especially because his district created the drop-down menu. Six administrators in the district assess approximately 100 teachers. With PDAs in hand, they observe classes and go through a checklist of items related to instruction. The evaluations are automatically downloaded to Scott's database. "We can compare what all six people are seeing [in the classroom]," Scott notes. What's more, the teachers helped create the categories in which they're assessed, so they know what evaluators are looking for. "If nothing else, it has forced some people to do things they wouldn't normally do," Scott says, such as changing from the traditional lecture format. "I can pull a report and see if there's enough varied instruction going on." If not, he knows exactly what kind of professional training to bring into the district.
8. GO TO THE VIDEOTAPE
Greg Marten, coordinator of distance learning at Lenawee (MI) Intermediate School District has been hard at work preparing teachers to use two-way video in Michigan schools. Marten and Professor Richard Lovett are training preservice teachers at Adrian College to modify a traditional, face-to-face lesson for videoconferencing, design effective interactive videoconferencing lessons, research best practices, and, finally, deliver their lesson to their classroom peers via videoconference. The two-way video setup even allowed one health and physical education team to teach CPR online for one class. Students were given training mannequins for practice, and the off-site instructors scanned the room with a video camera to see how well the individual Resusci-Annies were faring! Marten says he's beginning to work with the 12 Lenawee area school districts to get current teachers using the videoconferencing as well, and he recently used it for a videoconference on technology with a state department education official.
9. KEEP IT SIMPLE
Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey, has got tech ideas percolating all over the place. He's most excited about a pilot program using tablet PCs. Thirty-three teachers received Toshiba Portégé M200s with one requirement: Use it. Pilot participants had two days of training. On the first day they learned how to use the tablets, and on the second day they learned the pedagogy. "We hammered home that there was no bar to get over," Richardson says. "We said use it in whatever way you want to as long as you make it your personal computer for the length of the pilot. We were looking for honest results about what it would do for teachers." What it did, he says, is change everything. Hunterdon is a wireless environment, and each pilot classroom is equipped with a mounted LCD monitor. Teachers can move around the room with their tablet and continue the lesson. They can also hand the device to a student, changing the whole classroom order. "It is really transformative for many of them."
10. SAY IT WITH PODCASTS
Melissa Lim is an instructional technology curriculum specialist for Portland (OR) Public Schools. She's been experimenting with podcasting-creating audio broadcasts that can be downloaded via the web-this year as an additional form of professional development and communication to district teachers and staff. "I like podcasting because it's a portable method of communication for professionals and staff that are constantly on the go," Lim explains. "Podcasts are also easily accessible and fairly simple and affordable to create." Recently she made an enhanced podcast that included links and images that work through iTunes. Lim used PodcastEnhancer, and she says the final product came out great. But, she warns, "you have to be completely prepared with all of the images you want to use and run times from the video for your chapters. One problem to be aware of is in naming audio files. I was unknowingly naming the enhanced podcast the same as the regular podcast file, thinking it would overwrite the regular file. Instead, I kept getting error messages!" Despite the glitches, Lim plans to try to offer more math and science content via podcast. "I think it's extremely beneficial to our district staff if we can offer training materials in as many formats as possible," she says.
Pamela Wheaton Shorr is editor of The Heller Reports' Educational Sales and Marketing Insider, and is a frequent contributor to Scholastic Administr@tor.