Systemic School Reform :: Maine



The MLTI prides itself on securing funding for ed tech, providing teacher training that meets specific schools’ needs, and building learning communities.

In 1999, the Maine Learning Technology Endowment created a learning technology plan to elevate student and teacher learning, expand aspirations, and prepare students for the 21st-century workforce. The plan hinges on equity: All teachers and students in grades seven to 12 should have personal, 1-to-1 access to portable computing and the internet, supporting and requiring an approach to teaching and learning that helps all students collaborate, become independent learners, and work on projects that require complex thinking and problem solving. Under the leadership of Gov. Angus S. King Jr., the Maine Legislature directed the state’s Department of Education to implement the first phase of the plan, reaching all seventh- and eighth-grade students in 2002 and 2003.

The statewide nature of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) offers qualitatively different opportunities for development from what can be achieved on a small scale. In addition to broad deployment in a system of small, widely dispersed, mostly rural schools, Maine has some special advantages, including:

  • supportive governors and commissioners
  • public phone fees that fund a high-speed internet backbone for schools, libraries, universities, and research centers
  • a rich network of informal partnerships and alliances that support serious reform initiatives
  • state standards designed with a genuine commitment to local academic freedom, personalized learning, and effective assessment practices

The project fosters an empowered learning community of committed and supported educators who feel responsible for the development of learning in the context of the new technologies.

Teachers as Leaders

Some approaches to staff development see the sole task as training teachers to use technologies in teaching content. Although this is necessary, two other matters are equally essential: the development of teachers for leadership roles in schools, and the development of the school and the larger community of stakeholders as “learning organizations”—organizations that are themselves capable of learning, in addition to facilitating learning in their students.

We have chosen to address both of these challenges at once. Each of the 243 middle schools in the state has nominated a lead classroom teacher who has the respect and confidence of his colleagues to participate in professional development and leadership activities. These activities include:

  • participating in a four-day immersion workshop as well as online activities
  • developing an inventory of strengths, weaknesses, and potential problems in their schools
  • supporting colleagues with information, examples, mentoring, and modeling
  • serving as a resource to staff on all aspects of the project
  • working with administrators and technology coordinators on deployment with sensibility to the needs of the teachers
  • developing a culture of discussion in and around the school •developing a network of teachers, parents, and community members willing to serve as friends of the project

We additionally support the lead teachers with regional integration mentors and a website featuring a growing collection of resources.

Creating Teacher Ownership of the Project

A substantial challenge for the technology team as a whole, and in particular, the principal of each school, is to ensure that teachers who engage less easily in learning with and about technology feel comfortable with the project, and a develop a sense of ownership. Principals, using a tool that we have called “Roadmap to the 21st-Century Classroom,” set expectations that must engage every educator in the community. The project must focus as much on diversity among teachers as it does on giving students the opportunity to learn in individual ways. We want everyone who is sincerely trying to make use of technology to value the project, just as the program’s creators value the educators’ role.

Creating Curriculum Resources

We have been creating digital learning materials based on an evolutionary approach to staff development, a multi-year process in which teachers can evolve at their own rates from variable starting levels. This is possible because the content material is structured so that:

  • It can be used at more than one level of teacher sophistication.
  • Its use at each level will bring the teacher to the next level in three dimensions: greater technology fluency, new knowledge of the content area, and greater comfort with new methodologies of teaching and learning.
  • There is room for teachers to modify the materials at each level.

The process of including all teachers and stakeholders in the learning process—creating learning opportunities for both students and themselves—is what has made this a successful project, preparing students for their futures.

-Bette Manchester is director of special projects at SETDA

-Jeff Mao is coordinator of educational technology at SETDA

-Rubén R. Puentedura has been working with the Maine Learning Technology Initiative since 2003.

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