A report recently released by the Center on Education Policy (see News & Trends) reveals that the four-year-old No Child Left Behind Act has indeed served to shine a light on the importance of professional development for K-12 educators. Beyond that basic fact, though, any real broad-based impact on the training of educators remains inconclusive. While the majority of states reports that NCLB has served to ratchet up the quality of professional development, most districts say it's had "minimal" effect.
Whatever the truth, concerns about professional development are sure to remain front and center in the foreseeable future. The definition of highly qualified as it applies to educators will evolve with changing technology and the increasing emphasis on accountability and customized learning.
How should districts plan for successful and sustained technology-infused professional development? Here are eight crucial ingredients to a high-quality program.
1. Think Multiples.
Effective programs recognize that all educators are not equal when it comes to applying technology to the learning process. A truly effective professional development program may have multiple courses occurring simultaneously, while addressing the needs of multiple types of learners.
For example, Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, requires every teacher to have a core level of technology competency and demonstrate mastery on a formal assessment. To prepare teachers for this, technology training and integration manager Charlene Chausis offers a dozen 30-minute sessions a week in the school's staff development lab. "Knowing that our staff has achieved a core level of proficiency allows us to move ahead and focus on the topic of integration," Chausis says.
Teachers can also elect to take the "Power Rangers" program, in which they make a commitment to participate in eight hours of professional development each semester in exchange for a laptop computer. This group of teachers then meets with Chausis on a monthly basis to develop integration strategies that can be extended to the entire staff.
To prepare for professional development, the assessment of educator skill level and readiness is absolutely critical. eListen by Scantron provides a Web-based survey for collecting data that can be used to plan for professional development. Coupled with district goals and expectations for student achievement, survey results provide a data-driven foundation for moving forward with training.
2. Align with Goals.
It's key that schools or districts identify technology standards for students and teachers and frame those standards as learning outcomes for students. A sound procedure is for administrators to employ formal data collection strategies to evaluate teacher mastery of standards and their impact on actual instruction. These standards should drive further professional development planning.
District 99 in Downers Grove, Illinois, has developed the Learner Standards for Technological Understanding, which provides a set of expectations for student technology knowledge. The standards are composed of three domains, each with its own set of subordinate components. Domain one addresses functional literacy — what tools should students know how to use? Domain two is based on the application of those tools to the problem-solving process. For example, can students use those tools to answer an essential question that has meaning to them? Finally, domain three identifies how students should use technology tools ethically. To maintain a consistent and focused program, district technology professional development activities are based on the same standards.
The purpose of any professional growth activity should be to produce a change in educator behavior that ultimately results in increased student learning. Districts that offer high-quality professional development employ a thorough evaluation sequence that provides multiple types of data about the strengths and weaknesses of its programs and the link between professional development and changes in student performance.
In his book Evaluating Professional Development, University of Kentucky Professor of Education Thomas Guskey outlines a comprehensive five-step evaluation program. The components are:
- Participants' reactions. Evaluation at this level identifies the appropriateness of a program's content, process, and context. Was the content appropriate? Was the presenter knowledgeable? Was the coffee hot?
- Participants' learning. What are participants' beliefs toward the professional development topic, and has the event changed those attitudes and beliefs?
- Organizational support and change. Does the organization have the tools, services, and policies in place to support the training experience once teachers return to the classroom?
- Participants' use of new knowledge. Did participants implement what they learned? Did it change classroom practice?
- Student learning. Did the experience improve student learning? In most cases, that should be the most important question to ask.
4. Get Off-Site.
High-quality professional development programs support teacher as well as administrator attendance at technology conferences, seminars, and workshops. Getting out and about can be a healthy experience. Conference attendance can expose participants to cutting-edge ideas that can be brought back to the school district to stimulate discussion and growth.
Because not everyone can get away, districts should develop procedures and tools to extend the conference experience to those not attending the actual event. Most conferences now have wireless access, so a blog makes a handy tool for attendees to post notes, ideas, and resources for staff members not in attendance.
5. Dedicate Space.
A dedicated space for technology professional development sends a definite message: Staff training is mission critical.
Bill Burrall, coordinator of instructional technology for the Marshall County School System in West Virginia, has made this a priority. The district's two-year-old Digital Learning Center is used to deliver organization-wide professional development to enhance productivity and a wide range of workplace skills. Teachers can participate in a session on integrating Discovery's United Streaming content, administrative assistants can increase their spreadsheet skills, and maintenance staff can learn how to search for parts online. The Numonics system enables presenters in remote locations to deliver instruction, adding to the staff expertise. Training is available during the school day, after school, and summers.
Burrall stresses that though the center's tools may not all be cutting edge, they work well together, which is key. The center has 16 workstations; a presentation machine that's connected via a T-1 line to a 77-inch diagonal Numonics Interactive Presentation Manager; a digital projector; an Epson document camera; surround sound; and TV, DVD, and VCR feeds. The instructor/presenter has the advantage of controlling the workstations through AB Tutor Control for maximum presentation flexibility and efficiency.
6. Extend Training.
All too often, professional development consists of one-shot experiences that last from one to several days — mostly during the summer. But professional development doesn't necessarily have to be that way.
District 99 in Downers Grove, Illinois employs learning teams and learning clubs. Educators in learning teams receive five two-hour releases during school days following an initial training session. The purpose is to extend the conversation and the learning beyond the session. Participation is voluntary, and educators are required to pair up and make a presentation to the group. Learning clubs are structured similarly but occur after school.
Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington, New Jersey has just completed its first year of a tablet PC initiative, which was supported by three distinct professional development activities extended over the course of the school year. Teachers in the first cohort attended two days of professional development in the summer and then could attend drop-in days for one-on-one support with the school's information systems personnel. Additionally, participants attended monthly meetings focusing on classroom applications.
By moving beyond the "one-shot" experience, schools can take advantage of their in-house expertise while building leadership, internal capacity, and professional learning communities.
In Downer's Grove, Illinois, a three-tier Learner Standards scaffolding drives both students instruction and also professional development programs, such as the after-school learning clubs for educators.
7. Invest in Staff.
The development of internal capacity to lead professional development activities is absolutely crucial to the long-term success of a learning community. But this expertise takes time. District personnel must be given opportunities to lead professional growth activities and also the administrative, clerical, and financial support to get the job done. Most important, school districts must provide mentor relationships for beginning professional developers to help them plan and evaluate professional growth activities.
Professional development in Marshall County Schools is supported by a technology integration specialist, who is available for the planning and delivery of all training. "This year the district's technology integration specialist is based at our largest school, supporting 90-plus teachers," Burrall says. "We have seen an incredible increase in teacher comfort levels with technology integration and excitement about integrating it into instruction."
Chausis sums it up succinctly. "You can invest money in hardware and software, but technology that is not easily accessed and implemented will not be used," she says. "It is critical for schools to also provide the 'peopleware' — on-site support personnel who can provide 'just in time' assistance once the technology is in place."
8. Encourage Community.
Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs, and podcasting allow educators to define their own interactive learning spaces. RSS feeds like Bloglines.com and FeedPublish.com (top) deliver daily news and other resources specifically customized to an educator's interests.
Web tools like blogs, wikis, podcasting, and social bookmarking make it possible for educators to define their own personal learning environments. These tools enable professionals to connect with experts and peers and obtain valuable information and resources relating to technology best practices. More important, these tools enable conversation, dialogue, and reflection, which are critical to professional growth and development activities.
Educators can take advantage of RSS feeds to deliver high-quality resources directly to their online mailbox or aggregator. The aggregator (http://bloglines.com, for example) serves as a single collection point, enabling the user to view all resources without having to access multiple Web locations. (See "The ABCs of RSS" at www.techlearning.com/ABCs).
These resources can be the raw material for rapid personal growth, because they allow educators to see what others are writing, reading, and finding on the Web.
This type of customizable learning experience is attractive to Linda O'Connor, science and technology coordinator of School District 205 in Elmhurst, Illinois. "I get to decide what's important and how it will help me, and I get the opportunity to learn and be proactive among other supportive professionals," she says.
At Monadnock Community Connections School (MC2) in Keene, New Hampshire, coaching and feedback are critical to professional development. Each teacher maintains an online portfolio; weekly reflections are e-mailed to Principal Kim Carter, who responds to each educator. Dialogue and reflective practice is the key, as is the development of small professional learning communities.
"MC2 is based on the belief that all members of the educational community are continuously learning, that all practice is founded on research and best practices," Carter says. "The tenets of a professional learning community are intentionally integrated throughout our community...all staff write a weekly reflection for me, and I write weekly reflections for the staff as well as for the community (students, parents, and interested stakeholders). Operating in the context of a professional learning community provides all staff members with pervasive, shared support systems while simultaneously modeling the behaviors we seek to develop in our students."
David Jakes has spent 20 years in education as a teacher, staff developer, and technology coordinator.
Tech Forum TIE IN
21st Century Strategies for Professional Development
Increasing time demands on teachers, new and exciting technologies (blogs, wikis, podcasts), "digital native" students how — do these and other 21st-century realities affect professional development?
Visit www.techlearning.com/events and click on Tech Forum Chicago 2005 to access conference presentation materials on this topic.
High-quality professional development means high-quality tools. Here is a sampling of resources used by the districts included in the article.
District 99 in Downers Grove, Illinois uses Electronic Registrar Online to streamline the necessary but time-consuming administrative processes that are fundamentally important to successful programs. The system enables teachers to register for classes online, develop schedules for professional growth, manage growth plans, perform evaluations, and keep track of all the necessary documents required for state recertification. The district also employs Scantron's eListen to deliver surveys and manage data relative to district-wide operations, including professional development.
Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois uses a variety of technology tools to empower staff development. Moodle, an open source learning management system, is used to support professional development activities through the use of discussion boards, and a new blog, E^2 = Educating Educators, provides daily tips and insights into the effective application of technology.
Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington, New Jersey is in the process of expanding its Moodle tablet site and will add screencasts, podcasts, and video clips of instructional best practices as they apply to tablet technology. In addition to in-house professional development, other opportunities take advantage of technology to build community and deliver 24/7 professional development activities. Programs such as the Star Online program, the Apple Digital School Community, and the Discovery Educator Network feature online resources for building this kind of community of best practices.
Marshall County, West Virginia's Digital Learning Center features Numonics Interactive Presentation Manager, an Epson document camera, AB Tutor Control, and various software and service applications, such as Discovery's unitedstreaming.