from Educators' eZine
Developing a Comprehensive Professional Development Plan – the Biggest Piece to the Puzzle.
“My classroom is more advanced and diversified. The use of the blog in the classroom was a creative idea that included all students on all levels. The use of videoing and editing commercials to learn about metaphors was highly effective. The students thoroughly enjoyed the project and learned more by actually editing their own work”.
-Allison, seventh-grade language arts teacher
Five years ago we wanted to design a professional development environment that broke down common barriers of time while offering support and collegiality. We gathered all stakeholders, developed vision and goals, and surveyed all teachers, who told us they wanted a diversity of training opportunities and a diversity of times for training. We developed workshops using a combination of training of opportunities and times. We used large group, small group, online, onsite, and offsite training.
We wanted to create as many onsite trainers as possible, and we wanted to make teachers feel comfortable to utilize their colleagues as trainers. We knew in the long run that this could create a collegial environment where everyone felt compelled to take creative risks supported by administration. We also realized that the more trainers we had, the more cost effective the training would be in the long run.
As I mentioned in the first article of this series, when I looked around our school, only a handful of teachers were properly integrating technology. When I further investigated, there were a number of reasons why. One reason was that a lot of teachers did not understand what technology integration was. Another reason was that there was no professional development process in place that allowed teachers to overcome fears and barriers. Some teachers felt isolated. Other teachers felt that their ignorance would be misconceived for a lack of aptitude.
A common mistake that many schools made was to purchase digital equipment that only an elite group could use. In Larry Cuban’s book, Overbought and Underused 2004, he examines the broken promises of new technology. Mainly, these promises were broken because teachers were never properly trained or they did not allow digital technology to be driven by curriculum.
Likewise, prior to the No Child Left Behind Act, (NCLB), many state and federal grants addressed the connectivity problem in schools but never promoted professional development. In my home state of New Jersey, I witnessed many of the poorer districts receiving state aid to buy digital equipment. Unfortunately, the computers were never even unboxed, nor did these districts have a way to effectively train teachers.
An essential component of our Linwood Integration of Technology Training for Teachers (LIT 3) professional development model is a five-stage self-check list. This enabled all teachers to be benchmarked so we could assess their skill level to determine what training they needed. We could also track progress and efficiency. In our first year of this plan we noticed that although all teachers were progressing along a continuum, we saw a need to accelerate the training of some teachers to allow them to more effectively integrate technology into the classroom.
We calculated an average increase in technology integration skills above 25%, but the data indicated that some teachers still felt isolated or afraid to seek help on their own. Likewise, when a barrier occurred, they became more reluctant. We knew one of the most important components was to have the curriculum drive the technology and allow teachers to see the relevance. We knew we had to make the connection for the teachers.
Part of our review of the literature illuminated the benefits of peer mentoring for acquisition of technology integration skills. Several research projects have proven that peer mentoring is a successful form of technology professional development for teachers. The Computer Mentor Program (MacArthur & Pilato, 1995), Slobojan’s (1997) case study, and the University of Texas El-Paso (Descamps, 1999) determined that peer mentoring can offer advantages over other forms of technology training by breaking down barriers, offering support, and transforming the classroom. Because research indicated that mentoring can be successful for teachers integrating technology, Belhaven Middle School in the Linwood Public Schools District examined the possibilities that peer mentoring brings to the teachers using several ten-month case studies.
Peer mentoring naturally evolved as a component of our LIT 3 professional development process. We looked at other models but unlike a lot of other technology mentoring connections, ours offered a one-to-one relationship, one mentor to one mentee. We anticipated this exclusive relationship would break down barriers quicker and be more effective, especially since other models offered one to three, one to fifteen, etc.
Our initial ten-month research project concluded that using peer mentoring accelerated the training, broke down barriers, promoted collegiality, and motivated teachers to use technology more (Rudnesky 2004). It was the most effective way to bridge the gap between the least proficient and the most proficient technology integrating teachers (Rudnesky 2004). Our triangulated data indicated that students were more eager to learn, they were engaged during technology integrated lessons, and they retained more information.
In our second year of peer mentoring, Elizabeth, our sixth grade social studies teacher, was a natural choice as a mentee. She had the desire, she was entering the third stage of the self-check list, and she wanted to learn more. Although she was progressing along the professional development continuum, we saw an opportunity to accelerate her training. Her progress was impressive enough for her to go full-circle and become a mentor the following year.
Steps to a successful Peer Mentoring relationship for the Integration of Technology
Through our peer mentoring research over the last three years, we have found these steps to be most useful. Remember, you are trying to create as many technology facilitators as possible. This year’s mentees become next year’s mentors and facilitators.
Establish A Relationship
Choosing a mentor from a viable pool allowed a high level of comfort from the beginning. This validated what we found in the original case study, and it has been confirmed in case studies thereafter. The collegiality and one-to-one relationship eradicated the barrier of fear and prompted mentees to contact mentors any time through Email, by telephone, or in person. Since most were in the same building, it was easy to have face-to-face meetings when they were needed.
By periodically setting short-term goals, this relationship allows mentees to accomplish early success and gain confidence. By observing their mentors, they have the opportunity to see technology integrated lesson modeling, and they can see the positive reactions of students. Mentees and mentors are able to brainstorm before any attempts are made in the classroom. This gives the mentees confidence to take a creative risk in the classroom.
Document your Progress
There were a number of ways that we triangulated progress and the events of the peer mentoring relationships. We used reflective journals, meeting logs, observation, meetings, student projects, teacher web pages, and interviews. It iwas easy to gather information when all are in the same building.
Take Baby Steps
Last January, at a state-wide technology conference, Elizabeth and her mentor, John presented to an audience of educators from the state of New Jersey. They used an analogy from the movie, What About Bob. In the movie, Richard Dreyfuss’ character, Dr. Marvin, is trying to cure a compulsive, Bob, played by Bill Murray. The premise is to take “baby steps” to overcome your fears. Small successes lead to larger accomplishments.
That is exactly how mentors approach their mentoring relationships with their mentees. They take “baby steps” to overcome the barriers to technology integration professional development and technology integration in the classroom. Mentees start by doing a little bit well rather than a lot poorly. By building up their confidence, they overcome apprehensions and become proficient. Proficiency translates into higher learning gains for students in their desire to learn and an increase in performance in authentic, project-based, technology-infused lessons (WOW!).
Administration Must Be Involved
For a number of reasons, an administrator must be involved with the peer mentoring process. One reason that the data was so easy to gather in our studies was that the researcher was onsite. It was simple to physically observe and interview the participants. Another important reason was that the building administrator wants the relationship to succeed. He (myself) became an extra resource for brainstorming and support.
Fine-Tune the Process
Just like every part of the educational process, peer mentoring successes and failures need to be considered. Our biggest successes allowed teachers to bridge the proficiency gap quicker than would any other professional development. This immediately translated into better teaching and learning opportunities.
Although our successes were numerous, one drawback we found encompassed the summer months. We originally anticipated this time as beneficial to development. We found that the busy schedules of the participants in our school during these months prohibited collaboration and training. Also, lessons could not be modeled with students present.
Small group instruction during the summer months has been beneficial in some areas. Some teachers have met in small groups during the summer to develop their Web pages or to increase their knowledge of administrative software. However, we consider this more of a tech skill rather than a technology integration skill, which takes a longer period of time to master.
Example of Success
One example that I observed was our sixth-grade social studies transformation of a Caribbean Islands unit. Previously, when the researcher observed this unit, he noticed more direct instruction and passive listening. Although the teacher and the students did a fine job, the information had parameters and did not allow the students to travel beyond the classroom.
This past school year when I visited the classroom, all the students were engaged. As I entered room 403, I noticed students working in small groups with laptop computers. Students were facilitators as well as the teacher. One sixth-grade boy asked the girl next to him about the proper method of inserting a picture into his multimedia presentation as his teacher was helping another group search the Internet for an appropriate flag of Jamaica.
Instead of passive listeners, the students were active participants in their learning. They were able to build on their interests as well as their past knowledge to form a constructivist environment. Students that wanted to move ahead or move to the right of a grading rubric were allowed to do so. So this lesson, through the Internet, took the students to places they would not normally go.
The end product of the students’ research was an authentic project that included a travel itinerary using a spreadsheet, a multimedia presentation to the class, and a digital postcard. This lesson integrated technology while satisfying curriculum standards in the areas of social studies, language arts, math, and art. This lesson has been used by the New Jersey Department of Education as an example of an exemplary lesson while properly integrating technology.
These types of lessons are also a character builder for our students. We must always remain cognizant of copyright infringements as well as plagiarism. These are two areas that we reinforce as a prelude to our project-based technology integrated units. Another offspring to these units allows us to hold parent workshops. Unfortunately, most parents are not yet aware of the serious consequences that can occur with unguided use of the Internet by their school-aged children.
Onsite Masters of Art in Instructional Technology
Now, instead of equipment preceding our professional development, we have teachers asking for new types of professional development for the integration of technology. We are confident that we have given teachers the opportunity to progress along a continuum with curriculum driving the process. Lesson modeling has allowed teachers to develop student-centered, engaged classrooms.
When we started the process of technology integration professional development, a few of our early adopters had recently received their Masters in Instructional Technology degrees from a local college. This allowed for relationships to develop between their faculty and ours. After the progression of our technology integration, this college used our school as a site for undergraduate students to visit classrooms where technology is properly integrated.
Because our teachers were continually looking for different and better ways to enhance their professional development we came up with a novel idea. We approached the Dean of the college to form a partnership that would allow our teachers to complete their Masters degrees totally onsite.
The teachers would meet in our school and use our facilities. Since the response was overwhelming, the college agreed to pay for additional classes that were not included in their contracts. This created a win-win relationship, and it further bonded our educational institutions. This allowed our professional development process to continue to evolve, and it created expert trainers, researchers, presenters, and inventors. We have eleven teachers from our school and sixteen from our district working on their final projects.
Our teachers in the cohort created a technology-integrated showcase that modeled lessons for their colleagues and the community. The showcase created a lot of buzz among the other teachers and initiated professional development requests. By thinking outside the box, we created another box. After you create another box, you have to think outside that box, and so on and so on. This continually fine-tunes the process.
The Next Level of Technology Integration Professional Development
When we created our initial technology integration professional development plan, we used a five-stage model because we wanted teachers to experience success before moving ahead. By achieving early success, teachers felt confident to take creative risks and move forward seeking different professional development opportunities. We knew that the first two stages would eventually be a requirement to work in our school. We needed everyone to bring the students to higher levels of learning by effectively integrating technology. This would motivate some teachers to naturally move to stages four and five.
During the summer planning period for an upcoming school year, we examined the teachers’ self-check lists. We documented what we already knew: All teachers have achieved Stage Three status, which meant that they understood technology integration, and they were implementing it. It was time to take the teachers to the next level.
Part of our research every year is a review of the literature to spot the next productive trend in technology-infused education. To us, it is extremely important to research and test products before purchase. We need to know how we can use it and if we feel it will give our students better learning opportunities. Most vendors will allow you to test new software and hardware.
Last year some teachers discovered the effectiveness of the “Read and Write Internet”. For us this “new Internet” created an interactive opportunity using a share-point. But because of the dangers and openness of the Web, we needed a secure share-point that was accessible and interactive from home. What was great about this new concept was that we did not have to purchase anything but merely redesign a few components of our Web pages.
Our Webmaster was able to create a secure share-point that could be used like a blog, which gave teachers and students anytime access to the exchange of information. This also allowed students to continue to work at home effectively and to hand in an assignment from a remote location. This created teaching and learning opportunities that were previously unavailable in our school.
To make a long story longer, we needed to create the next level of professional development for our teachers. We designed customized professional development for everyone. We were guided by the concept of what do you need and when do you want it?
The first month of school we concentrated on tech skills: intermediate and advanced Web design, video editing, share-point, advanced interactive white board training. Since over fifty percent of our teachers can be trainers, we created a first response system.
If a teacher wants training they send out a group Email to our onsite trainers. They are guaranteed a response within 24 hours. This has given our teachers confidence and a whole new level of proficiency to move beyond Webquests and PowerPoint. This allows teachers to continually “raise the bar” for themselves so they can raise the bar for their colleagues and their students. In doing this, they are creating the same scenario for their professional development that they are creating in the classroom: critical thinking, problem solving, and communication.
Because professional development opportunities generated curiosity, commitment, and enthusiasm in and out of the classroom, we produced an overwhelming demand for equipment by our teachers. Unfortunately, our budget, like everyone else’s in the state of New Jersey, experienced constraints. This in turn created a need for teachers to look for their own grant money to support some of their new endeavors.
“There are no money problems just idea problems”.
We always keep our Board of Education abreast of our new developments in the classroom by demonstrating our breakthroughs at Board meetings. Frequently, we invite teachers and students to demonstrate mini technology-integrated lessons. This has garnered a lot of support and appreciation for what we have accomplished.
There are two areas that are very effective for us to supplement our regular budget. The first is a very active education foundation, which was instrumental in constructing our first computer laboratory over a decade ago. When budget constraints started seriously affecting how we could integrate technology, the foundation and administration got together to brainstorm more fundraising efforts. This has translated into over $40,000 per year.
Another successful area has been classroom-size grants. These grants, researched by classroom teachers, range from two to five thousand dollars. There are many available through local electronics retail outlets. They have allowed teachers to purchase digital cameras, camcorders, software, storage equipment, and laptop computers.
For more information on our process visit Linwood Public Schools and click on “Technology.”
- Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Descamps, J. (1999, Fall). Teachers helping teachers: the path to school improvement. Edutopia. Retrieved September 3, 2002.
- MacArthur, C. A., & Pilato, V. (1995). Mentoring: An approach to technology education for teachers. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 28(1), 46-63.
- Rudnesky, F. (2004). Bridging the technology proficiency gap through peer mentoring. Retrieved November 1, 2004.
- Slobojan, M. T. (1997). Integrating technology with instruction: A case study of mentors and protégés. Doctoral dissertation. Widener University of Chester, PA.