Leadership and Professional Development in One-to-One Computing

from Educators' eZine

"Change can either challenge or threaten us...Your beliefs pave your way to success or block you."—Marsha Sinetar

If you have not yet heard about your district contemplating a one-to-one initiative, just wait. One-to-one student and teacher computing (a computer for every student and teacher) is a trend that is quickly gaining momentum in the education world, and many districts across the country—whether large or small, poor or wealthy—are already implementing, or considering, a one-to-one program. In fact, many education, government, and business leaders see the one-to-one movement as a way to fundamentally change public schools and pull them into the technology-rich 21st century.

But talk of a one-to-one initiative in any district is premature unless schools and districts institute effective leadership practices and provide teachers and administrators with high-quality professional development. As illustrated by school districts such as Clarksville Independent School District (ISD) in Texas and Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) in Virginia, addressing school leadership and professional development within the context of a one-to-one program is essential if the program hopes to transform teaching and learning, and measurably improve student achievement.

The Role of Leadership

No district should consider a one-to-one program until it has first thought through larger educational goals.

  • What should teaching and learning look like across a district?
  • What should communication look like within schools, between schools, and with outside stakeholders?
  • How should teachers, administrators, and central office personnel collect and use student and school data to inform decision-making?

Only after school and district leaders have set clear educational goals are they ready to move on to the final question:

  • How might one-to-one computing enable steady progress toward those goals?

Throughout the process of goal-setting, it is incumbent upon school and district leaders to initiate and maintain substantive conversations around the questions listed above. According to James Burns (1978), "Leaders induc[e] followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivation—the wants and the needs, the aspirations and expectations—of both leaders and followers. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see and act on their own and their followers' values and motivations." (p.19)

In short, successful one-to-one initiatives require leaders who create an atmosphere in which change becomes possible because stakeholders see how the larger school and district goals of teaching and learning connect to the advantages and possibilities offered by one-to-one computing.

Leadership Strategies and Practices

What specific leadership strategies and practices are necessary to facilitate a successful one-to-one program? With most technology enhanced learning initiatives, especially one-to-one, schools will embark on significant change that involves dramatic departures from the expected, both in defining a given problem and in finding a solution.

In a recent meta-analysis conducted by Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005), the authors define seven responsibilities of a leader during significant organizational change. According to the authors, leaders must:

  1. Be knowledgeable about current curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices.
  2. Inspire and lead new and challenging innovations.
  3. Ensure that faculty and staff are aware of current theories and practices and make the discussion of these a regular aspect of the school's culture.
  4. Be willing to actively challenge the status quo.
  5. Monitor the effectiveness of school practices and their impact on student learning.
  6. Adapt leadership behavior to the needs of the current situation and be comfortable with dissent.
  7. Communicate and operate from strong ideals and beliefs about schooling.

The leadership strategies above are important no matter the situation, and they become even more critical in the context of a one-to-one initiative. But while leaders steer the boat, there is an additional element of one-to-one initiatives that helps to calm the seas: professional development.

An effective and comprehensive professional development program is the make-or-break element of a one-to-one initiative that cannot be ignored. Through high-quality professional development, a district creates the capacity for teachers to turn a technology initiative into teaching and learning results.

The Role of Professional Development

When describing Maine's one-to-one learning initiative, Angus King, the ex-governor of the state and the man responsible for Maine's innovative one-to-one program, said, "[Y]ou can't spend too much time or money on professional development. The best thing we did was focus on professional development from the very beginning." (Carvin, 2006)

As schools and districts begin planning and developing a one-to-one solution, they must ensure that professional development offerings are customized to meet the needs of teachers, administrators, and students.

Perhaps the most important aspect of any professional development plan is its core focus, which must be on teaching and learning—rather than the technology itself. This means that conversations around curriculum, assessment, and instruction should be at the heart of everything that teachers do in professional development opportunities.

With this in mind, school leaders must pay attention to larger teaching and learning issues as they plan professional development opportunities. For example:

  • Is the district's curriculum aligned to state standards?
  • Do assessments, instructional practices, and educational resources align to state standards?

Computers will provide new tools and resources to which teachers had not previously had access. Thus, it is important to help teachers understand how these new tools fit into the larger curriculum context and how these tools can be used to create digital content in their new learning environment.

To be successful, teacher professional development needs to be ongoing and should be a blended approach with both face-to-face and online learning. The goals are to have the teachers:

  • Receive an introduction to the new information;
  • Plan to use the information in the classroom;
  • Implement the information in the classroom; and then
  • Return to discuss and reflect with their colleagues on the impact of the new information and practices.

In addition, it is important to provide teachers with training in basic laptop skills, program specific training, integration training, and classroom coaching. An approach that addresses training at multiple levels of teacher need ensures that training will transfer back into classroom practices.

When developing a one-to-one professional development program, there are a number of questions that should guide the development process:

  • What type(s) of professional development will be offered (e.g., face-to-face, online, study group)?
  • Which educators will need which types of professional development (i.e., how to differentiate the professional development offerings)?
  • What training capacity is available at the district and school levels to support professional development programs?
  • How will the program address teachers' technical and integration needs?
  • How will the one-to-one initiative be assessed? How will the professional development program be assessed?
  • How will follow-up be built into the professional development process?
  • How will coaching and modeling be incorporated into the plan?
  • Will professional development be provided to parents and students? If so, what will it look like and who will oversee it?

Ultimately, the goal of a one-to-one initiative is to support improvements in teaching and learning, which means practical changes in school and teaching behaviors. Correspondingly, the goal of an accompanying professional development program is to help teachers and administrators develop the skills necessary to facilitate those behavioral changes.

Therefore, the most important question to be answered in any one-to-one program is: Are substantive changes happening on a daily basis in the quality of teaching and learning in district classrooms? In Clarksville ISD and Henrico County Public Schools, the answer is a resounding "Yes."

A Real-World Case Study: Clarksville ISD

Clarksville ISD is located in Red River County, Texas. The rural county has a population of more than 13,800 people. Approximately one-third of the county's residents, ages 25-plus, did not graduate from high school. More than 17 percent of the county's population lives below the poverty line.

Clarksville ISD, which consists of one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school, was awarded a grant in 2004 from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to implement a district-wide one-to-one initiative. The district put a heavy emphasis on professional development at all three schools and early results indicate that the program is changing how students learn.

As Clarksville prepared to roll out the initiative in fall 2004, district and school administrators met for two days of professional development to redefine their vision and core beliefs. They also began to utilize a classroom walkthrough tool to create a shared language and understanding for a curriculum infused with technology. This equipped them with the tools and resources to monitor and evaluate high quality instruction and they continued the professional development the school year.

The district also formed an instructional leadership team to prepare for their technology immersion and make decisions regarding their technology implementation. The team included the superintendent, technology director, instructional technology coordinator, director of state/federal funds, the three school principals, high school assistant principal, high school student services administrator, one middle school teacher, and two elementary school teachers.

On each campus, Clarksville ISD provided ongoing professional development workshops and coaching to gradually build teachers' skills and comfort levels with their new technologies, which included notebook computers, productivity software, email, online instructional resources, an academic search engine, and additional software programs. The district found that creating a plan to help teachers build from one skill to the next, rather than providing all the training at once, helped to reduce frustration and anxiety, particularly among teachers who were initially intimidated by technology.

As teachers integrate the new technologies into their curriculum, it has begun to make an impact. There has been a rise in community participation in school events, attendance is up, and discipline referrals are down. The middle school coupled the money from the TEA grant with a Comprehensive School Reform grant to target math instruction at the middle school and math scores went up in all three grade levels. In seventh grade alone, there was a 43 percent increase in test scores.

Moving forward, the district continues to provide intensive professional development for teachers as they work to align their curriculum with their new resources and create new lesson plans integrating technology across the curriculum.

A Real-World Case Study: Henrico County Public Schools

Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia is a pioneer in one-to-one computing. When the district launched a one-to-one initiative in 2001, however, it found that its approach to professional development was driven more by the new technology products than by instruction. As a result, it did not achieve all the results it wanted for teachers or students. In 2004-05, when HCPS decided to switch to a new computer platform in all its high schools, it initiated a new professional development program—one that would not only help teachers to learn the new hardware and software, but utilize technology as a catalyst for change in instructional delivery.

While preparing to roll out the new computers in 2005, HCPS's educational leaders worked to create a clear vision for their program to ensure the technology implementation would meet their goals and expectations. They also used data, such as technology usage data and survey responses from teachers, students and parents, to plan for professional development.

Upon reviewing the data, the district discovered that the on-campus technology trainer it had assigned to each school was vital to helping teachers integrate technology into their daily instruction. Thus, it provided an intensive professional development program for the trainers before introducing the new computers to all teachers. A big piece of the program for the trainers was understanding the process for professional development. The district wanted to move away from one-shot professional development that provided good content, but nothing for follow-up. As a result, the process was modeled for trainers by the district's professional development provider throughout the school year and the trainers began to implement this in their schools.

With the improved "train the trainer" model, HCPS found that it was better able to carry forth its vision for technology to each high school, while creating an instructional expert on each campus to train teachers and provide follow-up and support.

Over the summer and throughout the school year, teachers were instructed in the basics of how to operate their new computers and technologies such as email, productivity tools, curriculum software, and presentation tools. However, instead of simply learning how to use a particular tool by following a tutorial, they learned how to use it in an actual class lesson. ALL the training was conducted from an instructional standpoint, which made it more effective and relevant.

In addition, study groups were employed at each high school to allow small groups of teachers to explore technology, curriculum, instruction and professional development issues in depth. To further increase collaboration, HCPS created an online reference library to allow curriculum specialists and teachers to easily share exemplary lessons.

To ensure accountability, HCPS also developed instructional supervision procedures and classroom observation forms related to technology integration and the effective use of technology in classroom instruction.

To date, HCPS' efforts have had a positive impact on teachers and their instruction, as well as student learning. The district has seen that the increased use of technology has helped to ignite excitement in teaching and learning, while building students' critical thinking and problem solving skills.

While HCPS cannot assert a causal relationship between the initiative and increased test scores, its high schools have made measurable gains in the years that it has had a one-to-one environment. On the Virginia Standards of Learning, Henrico County high schools have seen a 7.7 point increase in Reading, 17.01 point increase in Algebra I, 49.65 point increase in United States and Virginia History, and 13.25 point increase in Geometry.

In addition HCPS has conducted large scale surveys of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. In each, all groups have shown overwhelming support for the initiative. Specifically, close to 90 percent of teachers found professional development activities related to E-learning worthwhile. Also, in a survey of all high school teachers last spring, teachers reported that they integrated the technology into their instruction more than in previous years and that the professional development was so valuable that they needed more of it to keep current with the rapidly changing world of technology.

The Next Step

Some early adopters have already jumped into the one-to-one environment and are proving that access to technology can lead to changes in teaching and learning. Chances are your district may not be too far behind. As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous in our public schools, the conversation must shift from questions of how to give students access to technology to discussions of how to best lead and support technology initiatives that transform teaching and learning. Through effective leadership and attention to the professional development needs inherent in district-wide change, we can ensure that technology plays a key role in advancing the effectiveness of children's education.


Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper and Row.

Carvin, A. (2006). Angus King: A brief history of Maine's laptop program. Retrieved November 26, 2006.

Marzano, R.J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B.A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Email:Adam Garry, Dr. Parry Graham