The opportunity to have technology-infused classrooms at Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, a two-year career-technical high school, became a reality during the 2005-2006 school year with the introduction of a one-to-one notebook program. To kick things off, most members of the teaching staff were given a tablet PC before the start of last summer. Before leaving for summer vacation, the teachers also received one day of training to learn the basics of how to use the tablet PC, hook it up to an overhead projector and connect it to the wireless network.
When the teachers returned last fall, few had explored the tablets’ functionality. Most hadn’t even touched the computers, and some simply weren’t interested in learning new skills. It became evident that one day of training before summer vacation was not enough, and that a key component of the tablet PC program had been overlooked: adequate teacher training.
The technology department and administrative team worked to create a professional development program that would leave no teacher behind. Ohio Hi-Point decided to work with each staff member on a personal basis to develop an individualized technology plan (ITP) that addressed each staff member’s needs and to set goals.
To ensure that the same mistake wasn’t repeated, an online assessment tool is being developed, and staff members will take an entrance exam before starting the ITP program this year.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a well-defined list of professional development best practices. Each school must create a solution that works best for its environment. For those who want to create a professional development program, here are several tips to consider.
1. CREATE TRAINING TIME
Every school has staff members who never have enough time, whether that’s time for tech training or after-school meetings. Linda Hampton, technology coordinator for Meade School District in Sturgis, S.D., says Meade has had the most success by offering professional development during in-service hours before school begins in the fall. Meade also offers a Saturday program in which teachers can receive training and earn continuing education units.
2. MAKE IT RELEVANT
If schools make professional development sessions relevant to the jobs of faculty and staff, those individuals will be more willing to pay attention. Think about the blood-borne pathogen training classes teachers must attend. While it is relevant to the job, it probably isn’t interesting to most.
If your teachers are learning how to create pivot tables in a spreadsheet program, their eyes are probably going to glaze over. However, if you are teaching them how to create an impromptu quiz using Microsoft PowerPoint on a tablet PC connected to a projector, they will be much more engaged.
3. THINK FUN AND EXCITING
“Professional development must be relevant, but it also must be fun and rewarding,” says Michelle Knight, education consultant for Southwestern Ohio Instructional Technology Association (SOITA) in Franklin. “One of the schools I worked with randomly gave out gift cards for local stores as a surprise to teachers who attended after-school training sessions. However, administrators should be careful not to create the expectation that a reward will always be given.”
Sitting through two or three hours of training should be enjoyable. Create a high-energy environment by playing music, using games and keeping a relaxed environment. If the training sessions are fun, you may end up with more participants than expected, and hopefully they’ll also learn something.
4. EMPATHIZE WITH TEACHERS
Let’s face it. Teaching isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. With all the state mandates, No Child Left Behind, and other school and district initiatives, the teacher’s job has become more difficult each year. Try to empathize with teachers; explain that you understand that they have a lot to do and that you’re trying to make their jobs easier through professional development.
5. EASY-TO-USE TRAINING MATERIALS
Rick Stevens, head of the computer science and business department at Wheaton Academy in West Chicago, Ill., says he’s “never truly satisfied with the level of technology use in the classroom” and takes a practical approach to professional development. He implemented a series of short training sessions designed at a level that all staff could understand.
“We have put our instructions in a format similar to what you would give a student who has never used a computer, complete with screen shots,” Stevens says. “We have even put some common mistakes into the screen shots, as well as how to correct them. This has been very helpful to the faculty.”
6. BE PROACTIVE
Keep the teachers abreast of technology advances and upcoming changes to give the more timid instructors early warning and to give the more advanced teachers a heads-up. After Wheaton’s technology purchasing decisions for the upcoming school year are made in April or May, Stevens says, “We then try to prepare the faculty with a quick heads-up memo about the changes that will be taking place or the new technology that will be available to them, so they can begin to do some basic groundwork over the summer if they choose.”
The week before school starts at Wheaton Academy, a faculty technology in-service day is held to familiarize new faculty with the hardware and software available and to refresh veteran staff members who have not used the school network or resources over the summer.
7. SMALL IS BEST
Many people learn better in small groups. By individualizing your training sessions, or at least working in small groups, you can better tailor the training to each person’s needs. Teaching small groups of three or four teachers to create podcasts will be far more successful than teaching a large group. Some training topics just don’t lend themselves to working in large groups.
8. TEACHERS TEACHING TEACHERS
Invite teachers to conduct professional development for other teachers. The Whitfield School in St. Louis, Mo., is now using teachers for most of its professional development sessions and has noted much better success.
Alex Inman, Whitfield School’s director of technology, says, “Not only does [having] teachers teaching teachers ensure a higher degree of relevance, it also significantly increases the level of buy-in from teachers. Teachers take more ownership if they get the ability to input their thoughts and the power to deliver the content relevant to them. It really has been transformative.”
Whitfield started by training a few non-technical teachers on a topic and asking them to train other staff members. Teachers may be more willing to lead other staff if they receive something special in return.
Professional development is not a difficult concept, though it is often made harder than it needs to be. Step back, look at the problems and see if technology can be intelligently applied. Attend conferences and meetings with other districts to gain insight and new ideas to incorporate into your own professional development program. And remember, what works for one school may not work for another.
John Case is technology coordinator at the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center in Bellefontaine, Ohio.