Professional Development :: From Technophobes to Tech Believers

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High-quality professional development can turn the most reluctant teachers into enthusiastic users of classroom technology. It’s key to any effort to reform the way students are taught and data is collected.

Professional Development : From Technophobes to Tech Believers

OVERSIZED THREE-RING BINDERS, overheadprojector sheets, die-cut bulletin-board displays, and otherdated teaching supplies packed my spare bedroom closet untilthis April’s spring cleaning. Though not a traditional pack rat,I still had mounds of material from my classroom teachingdays. As I rummaged through the closet’s contents, I realizedmost of it was going to be recycled or thrown out because thedigital age had made these supplies obsolete—the notion ofsorting through piles of papers is antiquated when high-qualityresources are available online. Most of my binders werefrom random, standalone workshops. When each workshopended, the binder went on the shelf and collected dust. Ithought about my former coworkers still in the classroom andtheir overflowing classroom closets and wondered: Had theyparted with their binders yet? Have they embraced the digitalage? Are they receiving the ongoing support needed to bestincorporate technology, or are they still stuck with those Saturdaystandalone workshops?

High-quality professional development is not only a mandate of the No Child Left Behind Act, but also a necessity if there is going to be real change in how teachers conduct lessons and collect data. Quality professional development is more than a training, workshop, or listserv; teachers need continual support as they work with their students to maximize the available tools. As reported in his 2004 white paper, "Meeting the Need for High Quality Teachers: e-Learning Solutions," the Education Development Center’s Glenn Kleiman calls out five key features of effective professional development, as derived from various researchers:

  • Fosters a deeper knowledge of subject matter, a greater understanding of learning, and a greater appreciation of students’ needs.
  • Centers around the critical activities of teaching and learning— planning lessons, evaluating student work, developing curriculum, improving classroom practices, and increasing student learning—rather than on abstractions and generalities.
  • Builds on investigations of practice through cases that involve specific problems of practice, questions, analysis, reflection, and substantial professional discourse.
  • Values and cultivates a culture of collegiality, involving knowledge and experience-sharing among educators.
  • Is sustained, intensive, and continuously woven into the everyday fabric of the teaching profession, through modeling, coaching, and collaborations.

According to research by Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers in their book, Student Achievement Through Staff Development (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002), "Teachers who are provided with professional development in addition to ongoing training and support are more likely to integrate technology as part of their daily curriculum." Meanwhile, teachers who participate in the traditional professional development workshops are less than 10 percent likely to apply the shared knowledge in the classroom.

States, districts, and schools across the country are working to provide sustainable professional development to help integrate technology into classrooms. Take what’s happening in Massachusetts, where teachers can access the Massachusetts Online Network for Education, an online portal to applications and resources that support teaching and learning. The site includes working groups, curriculum tools, and discussion groups. In addition, the state’s school districts provide trainings, support meetings, and in-class support. Springfield Public Schools lends help through monthly district instructional technology meetings, biweekly school-based trainings, school-based technology specialists, and online curriculum modules. The district has seen "an increase of technology use across the curriculum and grade levels," says Deb Gendreau, Springfield’s director of technology.

One example of the impact of technology integration in the district is found in Ann Marie Corrieri’s special needs classroom at Springfield Central High School. Corrieri recently received a Smart Board from Smart Technologies for her class. Asked about the impact it’s had, she says, "Incredible, incredible, incredible! I have nonverbal students who have had difficulty communicating for the last four years, and now they write their names and interact regularly during class because of the integration of the Smart Board." Corrieri adds, "The sustained professional development has helped me form relationships with colleagues so that we can work together and support each other. I learned about the Smart Board from a colleague at a meeting. With the district’s support, I was able to request the board, attend trainings, and receive ongoing support as I incorporated the Smart Board into my daily lessons. Now regular ed teachers and students observe my room to see how I integrate the technology into my lessons."

Another practice of sustainable professional development is the use of school- and district-based technology coaches. In Virginia, instructional technology resource teachers are mandatory support positions for all school districts. For every 1,000 students in Virginia, an ITRT or peer technology coach is now required to help teachers and administrators with technology integration. Jill Solek-Giles, one of Orange County Public Schools’ ITRTs, says, "I have been amazed at the change in attitude toward technology in many of our teachers."

In Meridian, ID, the school district supports technology coaches through both state and local funding. According to Jerry Reininger, director of information systems for Idaho’s Joint School District No. 2, technology coaches are viewed as "integral staff members in the district." Meridian tech coaches model and observe lessons, and conduct workshops, mini-sessions, and one-on-one trainings. Additionally, teachers have access to an online community, newsletters, and both telephone and e-mail support from the tech coaches.

In Nebraska, The Learning Web provides another continuous professional development model. Initiated 12 years ago by Nebraska’s Educational Service Unit 3, The Learning Web offers small groups of the state’s teachers with the opportunity to develop technology-integrated curriculum projects over the course of a school year. The program provides teachers with trainings and continued technical and content support both online and via face-to-face meetings. At the end of each school year, each workgroup presents its curriculum project at the Nebraska Educational Technology Association Conference.

The Learning Web also collects all of the projects via its website, creating a repository of resources for teachers. "The best compliment to a teacher is when someone steals your lesson," says Project Director Bill Menousek, "and we have teachers across the nation using the published Learning Web lessons." Menousek says that the program’s greatest impact is its transforming effect on previously skittish teachers. "The Learning Web has turned technophobes into tech believers."

-Christine Fox is the director of professional development and research for SETDA.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.

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