A creative and innovative use of physical and human resources for staff development at the local level is going to make the real difference in determining whether technology will be successful in schools. In the end, it is the development of a vision, the formation of a sound plan, and implementation of that plan that will determine the success or failure of any program. Here’s a partial list of keys to staff development that have proven to be successful with limited resources:
- Project-based approach
A cadre of five or six individuals is selected from the staff to meet periodically with the principal in what is called a “project-based meeting.” In addition to the cadre, any staff member can participate in the group at any time. The principal figuratively lays several thousand dollars on the table and asks the group to come up with a project that uses technology to heighten the teaching and learning process. The money is primarily targeted for in-service training or staff development associated with the project. With money up front, the group cannot use dollars as an excuse for not taking a risk and trying something innovative. The only requirement before the money is allotted is that the group place in writing predetermined indicators of success (measurable assessment indicators).
- Flexible scheduling
Align preparation periods so teachers who need assistance with technology can receive help. Art, music, library, or physical education prep periods can be scheduled in a manner that matches a successful technology teacher with a staff member having difficulty incorporating technology. This provides quality time either in the lounge or in the classroom for specific staff members to get together and share ideas about technology. A bonding often occurs between mentor teacher and staff member needing encouragement. This newly found relationship helps solve technology problems and misunderstandings, while opening the way for future in-service opportunities.
- The “Rule of Traveling Pairs”
A minimum of two individuals should attend all workshops, seminars, and conferences. Teachers feel more comfortable working and training in a cooperative and supportive environment. Having at least two teachers (preferably from the same grade level) get the same in-service background is a tremendous way to increase the success of technology programs. Many programs have failed because only one teacher received the training and did not have the time or energy to carry the program through all the implementation stages.
- Professional schedule time for teachers
Numerous schools are finding ways to adjust schedules and provide one hour of planning and/or in-service time for teachers by creating an “early out” for students one day per week. The key for administrators is to maintain state requirements for student contact time. Teachers agree to start earlier and end later each day, as well as give some recess time in order to develop a one-hour block of time per week for planning and in-service training. Another key is to make sure that at least one “early out” per month is devoted to technology in-service training.
- Presenter stipends
The school district pays a nominal fee to local teachers to teach in-service programs after school, on weekends, or during the summer. Again, this is a small nominal fee for planning the in-service training. The purpose is not to extend salary but to reward local teachers. An emphasis should be placed on having a local teacher who has credibility with the staff be the presenter. A good rule of thumb for quality staff development is to have “teachers teach teachers.”
- Extended contracts
The school district pays teachers a nominal fee per day to attend in-service training on weekends or during the summer.
- Adult education
Adult education funds can be used to provide courses on technology. Staff can be reimbursed and take the adult education courses along with parents and community members.
- Substitute rotation
Savvy schools leaders have developed blocks of time by having a set of substitutes rotate through the schedule. For example, a set of five substitutes could release five teachers in the morning, while the same five substitutes could release another set of teachers in the afternoon. Because this procedure diminishes regular teacher-student contact time, it is recommended that this strategy be used sparingly. It is particularly effective when scheduling a special consultant for a certain time.
- Free consulting services
Innovative school districts have collaborated to obtain the services of free national consultants during a textbook adoption process. Textbook companies are often happy to provide consultants without obligation in the hope that their book series and technology materials will be selected. Naturally, some publishers provide such services, others do not. It’s up to the creative administrator to contact publishing companies for possible free consulting services. A key here is to work with company representatives and collaborate with several adjoining school districts to justify the costs for a company to bring consultants into a certain area.
As an example, several Montana principals whose schools were in close proximity to each other decided that they needed more staff development in the area of language arts. The schools were using the same language-arts textbooks and materials. One of the principals contacted the company representative and asked if the publisher would be willing to provide staff development in the area of language arts, with a specific emphasis on teaching grammar. The representative suggested that the principal draft a letter to the company indicating the need for a consultant and noting that administrators and teachers from at least five area schools would be invited to attend the program. The principal also noted in the letter that at least two of the schools were considering a new language-arts adoption. The company graciously agreed to send several consultants who provided a very informative and excellent in-service program fulfilling the staff development needs for all five schools.
- Staff development cooperatives and consortiums
More school districts are now realizing the benefits of developing technology cooperatives and/or consortiums. This is especially true for small, rural school districts. What cannot be achieved by a single school district often can be achieved in a collaboration of resources with other districts. For example, school districts can band together in a cooperative and hire technology coordinators who can provide training and staff development needed at the local level. Other school districts have joined via a consortium with colleges and universities to provide credit to experienced teachers acting as instructors, as well as credit for participants. Cooperatives and consortiums not only provide an opportunity to bring in technology specialists from other states; they also provide teachers with an opportunity to get technology training and university credits inexpensively.
- School-university partnerships
College and university faculty members are always looking for ways to integrate their students into local schools, whether they are small or large. Successful schools are using college and university students to train their faculty on technological innovations and/or model teaching strategies in classrooms. Local school faculty members learn new ideas, and university students receive grades and credit for their experience. A number of universities and colleges are using school districts as a basis for ongoing research studies involving the educational use of technology.
Other innovative programs now being used by a number of universities include the use of eMail to create mentor lines among student teachers, first-year teachers, and university professors, and the use of interactive video between school districts and universities.
- Community resources
Both small and large districts across the country have found valuable resources in the people of their communities. Individual community members who have a great deal of technical experience can provide both equipment and knowledge to school districts. Many individuals in the private sector are especially good at providing in-service training in word processing, electronic mail, modems, satellite, cable, and other technical applications. The key is for school leaders to seek out and involve community members who can make these types of contributions to the district.
Dr. Bruce Whitehead is a principal at Hellgate Intermediate School and an associate professor at the University of Montana. His model for classroom technology centers has earned him the Milken National Outstanding Educator Award, among others.