The Sioux City Community School District in northwest Iowa serves nearly 14,000 students in 23 schools. Its mission is to educate students to believe in their talents and skills, achieve academic excellence, and succeed in reaching their potential. When new technology was purchased from eInstruction to standardize use across buildings, administrators recognized they would need to be strategic in their training and deployment. The district-wide technology deployment included eInstruction® DualBoard™ interactive whiteboards, CPS ™ software, Pulse student response pads (clickers), MobiView ™mobile interactive whiteboards, the Mobi Student-Centered Learning Pack™, and ExamView®Assessment Suite and Exam View Learning Series software.
“At the time, we were beginning a fundamental transition from technology simply supporting education on the periphery to becoming an integral component necessary to deliver engaging, high-caliber 21stcentury instruction,” said Neil Schroeder, Director of Technology at Sioux City Community School District. “Parents, teachers, and students were using technology consistently in their daily lives, but our classrooms hadn’t quite caught up, and getting there would require some help.”
The proposed solution was to identify and interview technology-savvy teachers who were already proficient at using some or all of the eInstruction products. These top teachers would then be hired as instructional technology coaches to help their peers take the steps needed to integrate technology successfully into their instruction.
An open recruitment was held for two positions and the best and brightest teachers were encouraged to apply. Fifth-grade teacher Jamie Lang and middle school technology teacher Jo Dee Weltz saw this as an opportunity to share how they had used technology successfully to enhance instruction in their own classrooms and to be a part of a district-wide change. In the early stages, some teachers needed help overcoming the fear of technology or simply accepting the idea of change. The team also recognized that technology by itself was not a substitute for good teachers and sound instructional methods, but coupled together it could be a “force multiplier” with measurable impacts. As teachers saw the value of the tools and the desire to learn among students, use increased rapidly. Starting at the elementary school level, classrooms were built out and teachers trained based on their building. In the higher grades, the team worked with different department heads (i.e., Art, Music, and Foreign Language) to refine their unique requirements. Administrators also were involved in the process. For example, at the elementary school level, training was held with all of the principals before putting technology into the hands of teachers. They found principal support of the new educational tools was related directly to teacher and student use.
The deployment took approximately 2 ½ years and was done in a deliberate way. “We wanted to provide enough support to get teachers up and running so it didn’t feel like we were throwing technology in a classroom, then running to the next building,” said Lang. The first year the team also started with a small pilot of about 15 teachers to learn the ins and outs before delivering district-wide training and support to more than 600 teachers.
ENHANCING INSTRUCTION WITH PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Sioux City Community School District believes that technology must augment sound instruction—and sound instruction may not always follow a traditional model. A standard suite of equipment is available for all teachers across the district but professional development (PD) offerings are individualized because teachers use the same equipment in different ways. For example, training may be tailored to a particular grade, subject, teaching style, or group of students.
The district’s overall PD plan includes integrating the instructional technology coaches into weekly professional development time and providing targeted one-on-one training. The coaches also have provided intensive summer boot camps for nearly 1,000 staff members. The one-week sessions cover device operations but also dive into pedagogy and instructional integration with technology for best results.
USING TECHNOLOGY TO MAKE INSTRUCTIONAL CHOICES
Technology use in itself does not necessarily improve instruction but can be extremely valuable in the classroom. The district found that technology in the hands of good teachers, employing sound instructional practices on a regular basis, helped engage students in new and different ways. It also allowed teachers to obtain and use data at levels not otherwise available for more comprehensive differentiation of instruction.
Weltz also discovered that “non-techie” teachers must first see a benefit to themselves in their jobs before they will actually incorporate it into their lessons and ultimately put it in the hands of their students.
The district also has found ways to use the technology to save time and effort logistically. The Pulse clickers are integrated with Skills Iowa, a benchmark and formative assessment program that helps teachers identify and track student performance/progress over time on Math and Language Arts standards. The middle schools also use the CPS software to give district-wide common assessments.
As technology continues to evolve, Sioux City Community School District is working to maintain consistency, stability, and supportability with innovation. Change takes time and patience, but with the right support and guidance, teachers' instructional creativity will blossom.