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Professional Development | Feature

How To Bring Teachers Up to Speed with Technology

Here are five professional development strategies that work in the smart K-12 classroom.

It's not enough to fill K-12 classrooms with technology and hope that teachers will embrace the new tools and integrate them into their daily lessons. In fact, if there's one thing that districts have learned during this information age it's this: Without adequate support and motivation educators will retreat to their old ways of teaching.

The good news is that technology-oriented professional development tools and processes have emerged almost as quickly as the equipment, software, and applications themselves have. Whether the programs are created and managed in-house, supplied by product vendors, or handled by third parties, professional development is both accessible and affordable.

Here are five strategies that schools and districts can use to ramp up their own smart classroom professional development programs:

Develop a multifaceted training model for teachers. Kimberly Race has seen more than one dust bunny form under dormant IT equipment at Western Heights School District in Oklahoma City.

"We were installing equipment and training the teachers ourselves, but the teachers weren't using the tools in their classrooms," said Race, director of instruction. "We spent a lot of money on machines that sat and gathered dust."

Historically the district conducted a one-day session where teachers were trained on how to use the technology. To beef up that program Race and her team worked together with the school's IT department to develop a district-wide training model. It was broken up into four sessions that were two to three hours long and centered on a specific piece of technology (such as a smart board or class responder system). The sessions comprised live lectures, Q&A sessions, online videos, homework assignments, and even tests that teachers had to take before proceeding to the next segment.

"We hit it from all angles," said Race, who said she's seen improved technology adoption by teachers since implementing the program. "The combination approach is working very well."

Make the technology the incentive. Before Western Heights School District handed out Mobi mobile interactive whiteboards to teachers the latter had to sign up for and attend at least one related training session. During the training teachers learned how to use the technology, which allows them to operate their screens while moving around their classrooms. The training was handled by a technology coordinator who used live video streaming and other tools to demonstrate the whiteboards' usefulness in the classroom.

"If the teachers didn't attend, they didn't get their Mobis," said Race. "We had a 99.9 percent turnout for that session."

Take teachers out of their comfort zones. Sometimes you have to treat teachers like students to get them to use technology effectively.

At Westville Community District II in Westville, IL, new technology initiatives always include ample professional development. That training typically finds teachers pushing outside of their comfort zones to learn how to maximize the tools.

"We assign technology projects that ensure that our teachers know how to use the equipment for instruction," said Jim Owens, superintendent.

Recently the district equipped teachers with flip video cameras and asked them to show how the equipment could impact student achievement. It didn't take long for the open-ended project to cause frustration among the teachers.

"They didn't know what we were looking for or what the right answers were," recalled Owens. "But there was no right answer. We simply wanted them to use their creativity and find new ways to integrate the technology."

Owens said the professional development strategy helps to get educators "excited about using IT tools and applications and ensures that none of the technology we invest in goes to waste."

Don't Try to Force It. Understand that teachers are at different stages when it comes to technology and that not all of them will be quick to embrace and integrate the new tools that you're handing them. To break through that barrier, Race said, her district has cultivated a handful of "innovators"--tech-savvy educators who can spread the gospel of technology and its value in the classroom.

"Teachers can be very challenging to teach," said Race. "Don't force anything too fast on them; and rely on a few innovators to create the envy and interest necessary to get everybody else on board."

Let teachers decide if they want the technology or not. Before City Schools of Decatur in Decatur, GA, installed interactive whiteboards in its K-5 classrooms, the district took a step back and asked teachers whether they wanted the technology or not.

Heather Borowski, instructional technology coordinator, said the district learned that while some teachers were enamored by the technology, others thought that creating the associated materials would eat up too much of their time. To address the issue and get more teachers onboard, the district held day-long instructional sessions on how to use the equipment and build lessons around it. It also invested in a cloud-based software program that allows teachers to prepare lessons and collaborate with one another and formed mentoring groups lead by those instructors who have successfully adopted the technology in their classrooms.

"We figured out early exactly who did and didn't want the technology and the additional workload associated with the new equipment," said Borowski, "and then developed our professional development strategy around that foundation."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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