DAILY INSIGHT: Rethinking professional learning in the digital age

By Gary Shattuck, CIO Advisor

When planning the implementation of a huge technology initiative where audio enhancement and camera technologies would be placed in 552 classrooms over the summer of 2013, I knew that the key to make this initiative successful was a rethinking of how we deliver professional learning. My experience with the traditional professional learning model of training-the-trainer has not been pleasant or successful. First, the training was always delivered in huge piles of information over long periods of time—either half-day or full-day. Second, the training was provided to one person whose responsibility it was to redeliver this training to their school even though these teacher-trainers did not fully learn the material in the first place. Third, in the traditional model the teacher-trainer who is responsible for redelivering this training is supposed to redeliver and then support all the teachers in her building while teaching all day. This is the fatal flaw of the traditional model, especially when it comes to technology.

In order to develop a new model, Newton County Schools took a different approach. Our plan was to create a contact person is each school who was responsible for all the Instructional Technology in that school. This person was designated the Technology Teacher Leader, and she is paid a small stipend to perform this role. Knowing that it was impossible for one person to provide the training and the support necessary for all the teachers in her building, we then directed these Technology Teacher Leaders to create in their buildings, in collaboration with the principal, a team of exemplary technology-using teachers to assist in training and in supporting all the teachers in her building.

When selecting these Technology Support Team members, the Technology Teacher Leader must make sure that every organization unit in the building has a member on this team. For example, there must be a team member from each grade level in the elementary schools so when grade-level teachers have common planning, there is a team member there who can do training and provide support. When it comes to middle schools and high schools, there must be a team member from each content area and each grade level. This way there will be a Technology Support Team member within five or six classrooms of any one teacher in order to provide the necessary just-in-time support.

Once the teams were created, we had to develop a training philosophy. Our training philosophy revolves around three basic principles. First, we only train for short periods of time; then, we give ample practice time to allow the teacher-trainers plenty of time to master the skills and knowledge that was presented. Our formal training period lasts only one hour and the practice time lasts one hour. By presenting new material in this manner, the teacher-trainers leave our trainings with a complete grasp of the material.

The second novel approach we are taking is that we train not only the Technology Teacher Leader from each school, but we also train all the Technology Support Team members in each school. Generally speaking, each school has a team of 8 to 12 teachers who serve on their school's Technology Support Team. By using this distributive model, we have a teacher-trainer in every department, on every grade level, and in every hallway. Regular and timely support, especially when it comes to technology, is essential in getting teachers to buy into any new technology initiative.

Finally, what makes this work so well is the existence of a Technology Teacher Leader in every building. Their job is not to be the technology expert in the building, but to be the leader of the technology experts in her building. Generally, the Technology Teacher Leaders have very good instructional technology skills but it is impossible for this Leader to be an expert on every technology application. Her job is to make sure there is someone on her team who is an expert on every application. Our goal is to make sure every school is self-sufficient when it comes to training and supporting its teachers in using technology-embedded lessons.

To make this system of technology-focused professional learning work, regular follow-up and a system of accountability has to be in place. What we do is regularly visit schools to find out how their training and support strategies are working. Additionally, the Technology Teacher Leaders must have monthly meetings with their Technology Support Team members and turn in agendas and sign-in sheets as verification of these activities. Lastly, we survey all the teachers in each building to determine their level of satisfaction with the instructional technology training and support they are receiving. When all these accountability elements are met, the Technology Teacher Leaders receive their stipend. This program is working for us. I feel confident that if you implement this program it will work for you.

Gary Shattuck is the director of technology and media services at Newton County Schools in Covington, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter as @EdTechLeader