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Professional Opinion

Rethinking professional learning in the digital age

Creating a system of training and support for instructional technology
Gary Shattuck is the director of technology and media services for the Newton County School System in Covington, Ga.
Gary Shattuck is the director of technology and media services for the Newton County School System in Covington, Ga.

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 success was rethinking how we deliver professional learning.

My experience with the traditional professional learning model of training-the-trainer has not been pleasant or successful. The problems I experienced were three-fold.

First, the training was always delivered in pieces of information over long periods of time—either half days or full days. Second, the training was delivered by one person who had previously been trained, but who had not fully learned the material.

Third, after training is complete the teacher-trainer should be able to support all the teachers in the building while teaching all day. This is the fatal flaw of the traditional model, especially when it comes to technology.

Teaching and supporting

Newton County Schools developed a new approach to these problems. Our first step was identifying each’s school “technology teacher leader, who would be paid a small stipend to oversee all the instructional technology in the building. Knowing this would be too big a job for one person, the tech teacher leaders and their principals created a team of exemplary technology-using teachers to assist in training and supporting all the teachers in the building.

Key to the success of this technology support team was ensuring that every organization unit in the building was represented on the team. For example, there had to be a team member from each grade-level in the elementary schools so when grade-level teachers have common planning, the team member can do training and provide support.

In the middle schools and high schools, there is a team member from each content area and each grade level. With this approach, there will always be a technology support team member within five or six classrooms of any one teacher in order to provide support quickly.

Three principles

Once the teams were created, we honed our training philosophy, which is built on three principles. First, we train for short periods of time and then—crucially—we give the teacher-trainers plenty of practice time to master the new skills. Our formal training period and the practice period last one hour each. By presenting new material in this manner, the teacher-trainers leave our trainings with a complete grasp of the material.

Next, rather than train only the technology teacher leaders, we also train every technology support team member. Each school’s technology support team includes eight to 12 members. Regular and timely support, especially when it comes to technology, is essential in getting all teachers to buy into any new technology initiative.

Finally, what makes this approach so successful is having a technology teacher leader in every building. Note that the technology teacher leader’s job is not to be the technology expert in the building, but to be the leader of the technology experts in the building.

Generally, the technology teacher leaders have very good instructional technology skills, but it is their job to make sure there is someone on the team who is an expert on each 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 improve the program’s success, we visit each school regularly to track how their training and support strategies are working. Additionally, the technology teacher leaders conduct monthly meetings with the technology support team members and provide agendas and sign-in sheets as verification of these activities.

We survey all the teachers in each building to determine their level of satisfaction with the instructional technology training and support. When these accountability elements are met, the technology teacher leaders receive their stipends. This program is working for us and I believe it could work for you.

Gary Shattuck is the director of technology and media services for the Newton County School System in Covington, Ga.