Oct 31 2006

Earning Credits By The Sea Is Just Icing On The Technological Cake

An offsite training conference gives teachers a weekend retreat—ocean views included—to discuss current tech trends and classroom integration in a relaxed environment. See how the Archdiocese of Philadelphia makes it happen.

If you build it, they will come. Although arguably one of the most famous lines in recent movie history, the Field of Dreams maxim wasn’t true for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office of Catholic Education concerning the use of technology within its schools.

When it comes to implementing today’s ever-evolving and diverse technologies into the K-12 curriculum, it's not enough to simply “build it,” says Paul Sanfrancesco, the office’s director of technology. More importantly, he says, administrators must ensure that teachers are armed with the tools and training that will enable them to effectively incorporate technology into their classrooms and, ultimately, enhance the students’ learning experience.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you pour into technology or how amazing the technology is,” Sanfrancesco explains. “If you don’t train the teachers, it’s never going to work.”

As a result, three years ago, the Office of Catholic Education (which oversees nearly 6,700 teachers and administrators at 260 Catholic schools spanning five counties) initiated the “Technology Inservice Weekend at the Shore.” The annual February conference, designed to both teach and inspire, is held at a New Jersey seaside hotel and brings together about 180 teachers for a weekend of technological exchange.

Nominated by principals at the archdiocese’s schools, which collectively educate more than 100,000 K-12 students each year, teachers are selected to attend a conference based on a variety of factors, including current lesson plans and evaluations. In some cases, teachers are chosen from schools that recently received technology grants or opened new technology centers.

“The kind of atmosphere at this conference lends itself to attracting people who really want to be there and will glean as much as possible from the presenters,” notes Lucille Hillerman, vice principal of Philadelphia’s Resurrection of Our Lord School and an attendee at the past two years’ events.

“They need to hear things from their own people,” adds Sanfrancesco. “Other teachers are able to say, ‘Look what we’re doing’ and ‘This is really easy to do.’ ”

Nancy Caramanico, who works in staff development at Saint Pius X School in Broomall, Pa., found this year’s conference to be an excellent opportunity for growth.

“It’s great to be with other teachers and see the types of things they are doing on a daily basis,” Caramanico says. “With technology constantly changing, we have to be able to adapt, listen to new ideas and learn from each other.”

Focused Events

The archdiocese structures each year’s weekend around a theme, such as Internet security. Participants are exposed to a variety of hands-on learning experiences, networking opportunities, professional speakers and examples of model schools that are successfully implementing technology.

During the Internet-focused event, for instance, teachers learned how to recognize potential classroom problems, such as cyber bullying among students. Also shared were definitions of popular instant messaging terms and how to complete effective online research.

An added benefit is the college credit the event provides staff. Teachers earn eight to 10 hours of credit during the professional education weekend, says Louis De Angelo, director of K-12 curriculum and instruction for the Office of Catholic Education.

But earning credits is just icing on the technological cake, says Caramanico. “It sharpened my focus on the need—and the methods available—to use technology in lesson plans,” she explains. “It’s not enough to use technology in your curriculum. You need to learn how to use it effectively so critical thinking and enhanced learning take place.”

Nominating a Star

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office of Catholic Education is the current winner of CDW•G’s Tinfoil Star Award, which honors educators who use technology to enhance learning. To submit a nomination, visit edtechmag.com and click on the “feedback” button to send an e-mail.

Planning a Weekend Away?

Now tenured in the curricula of planning effective teacher training sessions, Paul Sanfrancesco, director of technology for the Office of Catholic Education of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, offers these tips for weekend tech retreats.

1. Make staff development the top priority. Relaxation and rapport aside, the goal of the weekend is to educate participants. Not only should staff leave the event with greater knowledge and technology insight, but the time should be validated as professional learning credit time.

2. Invite teachers with varied technical backgrounds. Rather than assembling only a group of teaching techies, invite teachers with different levels of technical expertise. The mix of knowledge will improve discussions and knowledge sharing.

3. Facilitate open discussion. Allow teachers to meet in small groups and share their experiences and ask questions at different points during the event. Make sure participants have time to interact post-session and include roundtables where participants can share their ideas. “Don’t just provide lectures,” advises Sanfrancesco. “Give the teachers time to interact. This type of exchange and sharing goes a long way.”

4. Gather feedback for further improvement. Before the attendees leave, make sure you provide a written evaluation form and a suggestion sheet for the next year’s event. Getting this type of feedback while it’s fresh can go a long way toward making sure the effort grows in value every year and meets the attendees’ changing needs.

5. If a getaway is not in your budget, a Web-based seminar is another method of providing teachers with valuable knowledge.

Melissa B. Tamberg owns a marketing firm that focuses on the IT and power industries.