An effective teacher understands their students and creates opportunities for them to learn based on each student’s needs. This is one way that we help each student learn based on their prior knowledge while creating opportunities for them to further their own learning. Often though, our school professional development plans are based on a “one-size fits all” mentality that is nothing of the sort. Now due to budget constraints that schools have, and a lack of time afforded to teachers, this is sometimes the only option that we have. If we can help it as administrators though, we should try to differentiate the learning to help move people along based on their own learning and needs.. This is ESPECIALLY true in the area of technology integration.
Learning from my experience
As a former Technology Integration Coordinator before my time in administration, I had the opportunity to do many workshops with many on different aspects of technology. One of the things that I learned immediately was that teachers were at such a varying level that it was hard to prepare sessions that would help the different levels. Some would be so far behind while others would be so far ahead. I learned quickly to always have tutorials written out for my audience, with activities that they could do if they were ahead, or read if they were behind. You definitely have to be patient with your audience and now I rarely get flustered when someone is ahead or behind; they are right on time for their own learning. At the end of each of my sessions, the goal was for each teacher to have something that they could implement in their classroom the following day. They would always come out with some “product” that they would be able to use immediately in the classroom. It was also SO important that teachers knew that they could contact me after the session and that I would support them after in their learning. Many took me up on that and emailed, called, or I would come out to their school. This follow up was so essential to ensure that they have furthered their learning in whatever area it was that I was teaching.
Implementing a plan for my school
With the knowledge that I had in my previous role, I decided to create a plan for our school that would benefit the different areas of learning within my new school. This also gave me the opportunity as principal to understand where staff would need more support and how I could provide this for them. At the beginning of the year, I put money aside to provide for one full sub day for each teacher in our school. The teachers would work in groups of 2-3 with myself and their grade level partner(s). They would split this one full day into two half-days so that no one was overwhelmed with content and I could do a follow up meeting. The goal of each lesson was to ensure that teachers learned how to effectively integrate SmartBoard technology into the classroom to improve learning (Note: ensure that you define what “effective” means as there is much debate on whether SmartBoard are effective or not). This was implemented since we installed SmartBoards in every classroom in our school and it was important that we gave teachers the opportunity to learn how to use this so it did not just sit and collect dust in the classroom.
Before each session, teachers were asked about what they wanted to learn in this initiative so that they could focus on something curriculum specific. I would put together resources for them ahead of time, but would also show them places that they could look up resources for the SmartBoard as well. This was to give them the opportunity to implement something in their classroom immediately and focused less on “using the tool” but using the tool effectively to engage learning.
Now if you had a student that already knew the objectives, what would you do as a teacher? Would you still make them go through all the content or would you try to move them forward? This was definitely the case with teachers that were already on my staff. Since the teachers were already using the SmartBoard very effectively in the classroom, I still wanted to give them the opportunity to further their learning on successful technology integration. Some of them chose to learn more about Web 2.0 applications and have now started on Twitter while others wanted to create their own blogs and use them in the classroom. There were many different initiatives in this project that were started and by differentiating the learning for each person, I know that we have moved our entire school a lot further ahead in this area.
Benefits to the school
Through this year, I have seen an exponential amount of growth and learning in the area of technology integration during my first year at our school. Although this was more about staff learning this year, it is imperative that we transfer these objectives next year to be more focused on improving student learning. Although it was indirectly beneficial to the students this year (obviously), we want to ensure that we are more focused on their learning during the 2010-2011 school year.
Here are some of the key benefits that I saw from this plan being implemented this year:
- Money saved by bringing in experts could be put into tools for the classroom and/or other professional development opportunities. Sub days in my division are the cheapest way to provide learning opportunities for staff as long as you have someone who has ability to differentiate the learning for staff.
- Opportunity to build leadership capacity and identify educators who are “tech savvy” in the school that can help others. This will ensure that learning is not dependent upon one person, but it is dependent upon a “system”.
- Support is embedded within the school. Emailing for help is beneficial, but not as strong as someone who works within the building. This will ensure just in time learning with staff and can support them on the spot. This helps to build confidence to take risks in the classroom because you know that help is so close.
- This plan ensured that there were several leaders in technology in our building that could focus on effective ways to embed technology into effective learning of curriculum objectives, as opposed to simply using technology.
- Working with small groups gave our school the opportunity to still be able to work one-on-one with teachers in these sessions. This ensured that they would be comfortable with what they were learning while also giving them the opportunity to implement something immediately in the classroom.
By using this plan, teachers were able to learn at a level they were comfortable with while also ensuring that we met the objective set out for the entire school. Effective SmartBoard use is evident within our school, but the other initiatives have also benefited. Next year, our goal is to use electronic portfolios with students. This initiative would have not been possible if we did not give time and support to my staff to learn this year. As my goal is to ensure that learning continues long after I am gone, we will also provide time to a coordinator for technology integration in our school next year. His focus will be to improve higher learning skills through the use of technology integration. I am really looking forward to seeing his work and supporting him throughout the year.
As this plan was very effective for building learning and capacity within our schools, I encourage you to share it with administrators and do not hesitate to ask me for clarification on any points.