Education is moving toward a student-centered, collaborative, creative learning environment, but without professional development in place — and the understanding of what the end results should look like — it’s difficult to ensure technology investments will succeed.
Many districts (unintentionally, of course) put hardware in place with the expectation that it will solve a particular problem, without understanding the proper way to implement and support the technology. That’s what we’re trying to focus on here in Alabama: meeting and supporting classroom needs. That’s what Alabama Leaders in Educational Technology is all about.
For nearly two decades, our organization has served 137 school districts in our state. Nearly all of these districts count on ALET as a key resource for professional development and education for IT staff, instructional technology coaches and network administrators, among others. We’re probably best known for our conferences: We hold three per year, where members can attend educational sessions, meet with technology vendors and network. However, that’s only a small part of what we do.
MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how schools can ensure investments will succeed over the long term.
Virtual Community and Peer-to-Peer Support Augment K–12 Training
ALET started as a small group of tech coordinators who wanted, in conjunction with the state department of education, to support the technology leaders in our school districts and create a community. This is especially important because technology evolves and changes constantly. We want to be right there as a resource for our membership, but we realized a long time ago that professional development doesn’t always have to be in person or face to face.
Today, we reach members on an almost daily basis. Our members are busy people, so one of the most valuable resources we offer is our cloud-based repository of content, which members can use as needed.
We have scripts, policies and other educational content there for the taking, and we encourage members to share any resources they’ve created. We tell our members that there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when we can all collaborate and share knowledge instead.
In 2018, we started an online webinar series. Once or twice a month, we post webinars that address specific technical concerns we know our members are asking about. Recent webinars explored the Google Admin console, how to prepare a technology plan for the Alabama State Department of Education, E-rate support, SQL Server database scripts and anti-virus support.
Webinars also focus on network and technical development, led by network administrators and other technical staff from throughout the state. This is a great example of our organization’s main strength: our willingness to support each other.
IT Staff and Educators Tap Email Listserver for Wide-Ranging Support
Another valuable resource that facilitates connections among our community is an email listserver. Members use it daily, with 10 to 50 conversations going on at any given time. Members discuss not only technical topics, but also professional development, leadership and policy programs.
Currently, the listserver includes questions about content filtering and security, some related to a new state funding initiative focused on classroom and building security and others related to an organization that develops online threat assessments and security protocols. Members with technology up for renewal seek opinions on competitive products. We see many questions about E-rate. I’ve also seen threads with hiring-related queries, such as “Anyone have a list of interview questions for potential network technician candidates?”
The benefits of this type of virtual professional development are exponential. Because we all know each other through the listserver and see each other a few times a year, members are on a first-name basis. Yes, we all come from diverse places and districts, but we share enough commonalities to work well together. The listserver is truly a one-stop shop, where members can always find someone to collaborate with.
MORE FROM EDTECH: Read more about some of the common questions K–12 educators have around E-rate.
CTO Certification Sets Consistent Skill Set for Alabama IT Leaders
Because our members come into their jobs from different avenues, formal training is extremely important. Many technology leaders come to their positions from technical roles, but others have a background in the classroom or in business.
That’s why we offer an Alabama Chief Technology Officer certification program as part of our conferences. It’s modeled after the Consortium for School Networking’s Certified Education Technology Leader program, adjusted for Alabama-specific needs. We use our own members, primarily those who are already CETL-certified, to deliver that content.
So far, three cohorts have completed the program, and 78 members have received the AL-CTO certification. Ultimately, we hope the state department of education will make completion of this program a requirement for newly hired technology directors, helping to ensure a high standard of competence for the individuals who run the technology departments in our schools.
Last year, we launched a certification program for technology integration coaches, with the intention of bringing more of these resources into our organization. During the training, coaches learn how to integrate technology effectively into the classroom. We strive to give them a better toolkit and skill set, and to connect them with other statewide integration coaches. With this peer-to-peer resource, they can ask for support, build on each other’s successes and learn from each other’s failures.
In the end, professional development is all about the students, teachers and administrators across the state of Alabama. We’re putting the right supports for education in the hands of our tech directors and our instructional coaches, so that when districts decide to invest in physical hardware and infrastructure, we can be sure those investments will result in meaningful change in the classroom. Educated IT professionals impact student learning and engagement and help teachers expand their approach to teaching and learning.