JCSD has relied on instructional coaches to provide one-on-one tech training to teachers as required. But starting with the 2018-2019 school year, the district began supplementing that approach with another solution: Teq’s web-based training platform, rebranded last year as OTIS (Online Technology and Instructional Sessions). The OTIS service offers live and recorded courses taught by state-certified educators on a range of topics, such as computer programming and instructing English learners.
Schools purchase a license to the platform, which their teachers can use to earn continuing education units or become certified in any of four tracks — Office 365, Google, SMART Learning Suite or Promethean interactive whiteboards. Administrators have access to reports and analytics detailing the progress their teachers have made, and they can use the platform to share additional content, including coursework they develop themselves. The platform also includes options for noncertified school staff.
The on-demand nature of the program, Westfaul says, reduces the stress that can come with professional development. Now, when a teacher has a particular need, such as learning Google Classroom, they just go online at home or at school and find the appropriate course in the platform’s database.
“The best thing about it is they get to choose,” Westfaul says. “It gives them the flexibility to learn what they want to learn and to do it at a time when it’s convenient for them.”
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Another training challenge administrators aim to address with technology is that while teachers have to comply with continuing education requirements, ideally they should do so without sacrificing days of instruction.
Ensuring that teachers have quality opportunities for ongoing learning is important. “A supportive and collaborative culture, training, and autonomy to try new things are key factors that help teachers bring more creativity to learning,” Gallup researchers noted in a 2019 report, “Creativity in Learning.” Thirty percent of teachers surveyed agreed that “lack of time and training are significant barriers to creativity in learning and technology use,” the report states.
As with Westfaul and her colleagues in Jackson County School District, many instructional leaders are looking for creative solutions that give teachers better control of what they learn and when. Also driving the trend are a lack of local professional development resources and the age-old issue of cost.
At Pinecrest Academy Horizon in Henderson, Nev., Principal Wendy Shirey and her team have adopted tech tools for professional training as part of an effort to recruit and retain the best teachers possible.
“There’s a teacher shortage in Nevada,” she says. “If you don’t want your teachers to leave for somewhere else, you have to give them what they need to be successful in the classroom.”
With that in mind, Shirey recently made a significant change to the way she conducts teacher observations.