Howard Pitler must really like turning teachers into techno-teachers. After all, just when this Kansas principal was leading a technologically savvy staff at a highly acclaimed technology magnet school, he changed schoolsand started all over again.
“It’s real important, as the building leader, to tell your teachers it’s not going to be easy” to put technology front and center, Pitler says.
As principal until last year of L’Ouverture Computer Technology Magnet Elementary School in Wichita, Kan., Pitler found integrating technology into the classroom changed the teachers’ focus and required new models of teaching and learning. In fact, his teachers went through a grieving process, feeling they were “not the teachers anymore.” Pitler even brought in a grief counselor to help his staff cope with their sense of isolation and depression.
What also helped his teachers handle their “grief” was to keep up with rapidly changing technology through staff development efforts and share their ideas with other teachers.
At L’Ouverture, Pitler used both whole-group training and on-demand training. “When something new came into the program, like when Netscape 1.0 rolled out, we all needed to learn at once,” he says. Most often, however, on-demand staff development was used: “As people were ready to learn and had the requisite skills, we met in voluntary sessions to provide what they needed.” Pitler visited every classroom every day to help out and model new applications.
With no need to reinvent the wheel, Pitler is using the same staff-development strategies at his new school, Brooks Middle Magnet School, also in Wichita. “So far, so good,” he says. “We are seeing a peer pressure to move ahead.”
A group of teachers wanted to learn PowerPoint, so he arranged with Wichita State University to sponsor a 16-hour PowerPoint-in-the-classroom course, for which the teachers will get college credit.
Overall, he says, one-to-one, just-in-time training works best, but is the “hardest to deliver.”
The only canned programs he would use, and has used, are Apple Staff Development programs, he says, because they are individualized, self-paced, and based on the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) model. The ACOT model calls for five stages for teachers in integrating technology into their classroom practices:
• Entry: Learning the basics of using new technology.
• Adoption: Using new technology to support traditional instruction.
• Adaptation: Integrating new technology into classroom activities. “This is where you want most teachers to be,” Pitler says.
• Appropriation: Developing new approaches to teaching and learning that take advantage of technology.
• Invention: Discovering entirely new uses for technology tools.
Reaction from his new staff has been positive. He says: “I started by telling them that computers will never replace teachers, but teachers who use computers as an effective tool to improve student achievement will replace those who don’t. My role was to provide the scaffolding to allow them to grow.”
His staff runs the gamut in technology knowledge. “If there is a common gap, it is that almost all don’t see how technology is only a tool and is not a separate subject to be taught.”
Staff development has to be sequential, he says. “A teacher must begin at the entry level and proceed upward. Each teacher will follow a slightly different path, but the general direction is the same.” He adds: “If you’re not a technology giant, that’s fine. But take something with you, even if you’re just playing solitaire. Wean off of paper and use eMail.”
When Pitler interviews prospective teachers, he says, he never even asks a technology question. “I want someone who has a burning desire to teach, who doesn’t underestimate what these kids can do, who doesn’t set limits,” he says. The technology will come.
“Technology, in order to be effective, needs to be pervasive,” he adds. “Too often, the computer sits in the corner and when kids are finished with their work, they go and play on the computer.” Instead, he says, computers need to be accessible to teachers and children at all times. That doesn’t mean they need to be used all the time, any more than science kits or calculators need to be used all the time, but they all need to be accessible.