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QUESTION OF THE MONTH: The Value of Professional Development

This month I asked the Tech Tools panel of school IT gurus about how important professional development is for improving teachers' technical skills and abilities and what their district offers in terms of continuing education for their staff. Here’s what they had to say.

Laws thumb John Laws
Executive Director for Technology
Lakota School District
West Chester, Ohio

Professional development (PD) is absolutely, without a doubt, the single most important activity we can provide our teachers. We can supply the fastest Internet connection, have an uptime of 99.9 percent, use the latest chip set on the latest operating system, but if they don’t understand the “possibilities” of how the technology can improve instruction we’ve missed the boat.

The most difficult thing about providing the necessary PD is the justification of the cost. Hardware and software are tangible – they can be held in your hand or instantly appear on a screen. PD is that magical activity with the “ah-ha” moments that only happen when the teachers have time to observe, consider, participate and incorporate the technology into their daily lives.
 
I think one of the largest national issues we face is our “assumption” that teachers can and will assimilate each wonderful new piece of technology we provide with little or no effort. The reality is with NCLB, AYP, State testing and RTI the teachers minds are focused on other issues. Our PD needs to be more often, more engaging and more directed – if not it won’t have the impact necessary to truly change instruction.
 
The State of Ohio is having a difficult time funding its operation and education is losing ground on all fronts. This said, at Lakota we provide two half day “work days” on technology during the year, incorporate an Instructional Technology Position in each building equal to one hour per week for technology training and deliver a variety of class over the summer or before/after the school day begins/ends.
 
Several years ago we developed over a dozen online courses and these are available on our Intranet for teachers to view. There is a portion of our staff that takes advantage of these, but more prefer to be in a lab setting where collaboration is face-to-face.
 
Over the past three years we’ve deployed more than 700 interactive white boards each requiring a one hour introductory training session with several follow-on sessions. The introductory session was provided in each building multiple times and many teachers participated in more than one session. If we had not provided the intensive training for three weeks prior to the start of the school year the District’s investment would not have met our expectation that all teacher’s would begin the year with interactive classrooms. The technology investment only pays off when the products are used to the fullest; and PD is the only way to get there.

Madden thumb Kurt Madden
Chief Technology Officer
Fresno Unified School District
Fresno, California

For us, the question is not about the importance of professional development, which has been well established. It’s about “how” that professional development will be accomplished. 

Too often in the past, we’ve had a teacher of teachers stand in front of a room of teachers with a mind-numbing, multi-bulleted, tiny-font PowerPoint presentation for 6 hours. Teachers often would respond the same way our students do. 

As we all know, content is just one component of learning. How the content is delivered is actually more important if real learning is to occur. As a result, our professional development is transforming with teachers bringing their laptops to the classes, Webquests, much higher levels of interaction, group work, and posting of class work to a central location so others can view it.

We have classroom-based classes utilizing technology integrated into the instruction throughout every month on Smart board training, how to create student websites, integrating technology in instruction, and other technology related topics. We also offer much of this information online through Webinars, online tutorials, downloaded video tutorials, blogs, and Weblinks.


Orbaugh thumb John Orbaugh
Director of Technology Services
Tyler Independent School District
Tyler, Texas

A few months ago I was at a major PC manufacturer’s K-12 advisory council meeting.  Also in the meeting were representatives from various districts around the U.S. as well as a number of countries around the globe. In the opening session we were going around the room introducing ourselves and speaking about issues we face in our districts. Across the room a gentleman from Jamaica introduced himself and then began to speak about how he struggled to get his teachers trained to use technology and then other representatives repeated the same theme.  Over and over the same issue was raised. I, with some relief, realized this is not just a problem in my district, but one all of us face around the world.

As a district we have about a dozen staff members dedicated to task of helping teachers integrate technology into instruction. We offer one-on-one training, small and large group training, video-based training and Internet-based training all in an effort to make sure the dollars we have invested in technology are not wasted. 

We offer demonstration lessons taught by our trainers so teachers can see what instruction should look like with technology as an integral component. Without constant training that reaches our staff from a variety of avenues and targeted at a variety of ability levels we will have wasted tens of thousands of dollars and done a great disservice to our students and community.

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