OK, your district has just approved the purchase of new technology that will greatly enhance the classroom-learning environment. Now, the big question is: How do you make sure your teachers are actually going to use the equipment?
I faced just this quandary when my district outfitted each elementary classroom with a document camera, a ceiling-mounted video projection unit, a voice enhancement system and a DVD/VCR, all of which are interconnected with Internet access.
Our administration made it clear teachers would have to use the new equipment, and, of course, offered ample professional development to show them how to do so. But we went one step further to get compliance. We eliminated their outdated equipment.
That's right, we cleared these newly outfitted classrooms of overhead projectors, pull-down maps and outdated computers. After the first few days of the new school year, teachers requested the return of wall-mounted maps. The principal responded by demonstrating to teachers the ability to use the video projection unit to display Internet map sites on the large presentation screen in the classroom. Teachers could easily see the advantages of quick accessibility of real-time information; the large, clear depiction through the ceiling-mounted projection unit; and the ability to zoom in on specific details.
We didn't stop there. To enhance the effectiveness of our new technology, administrators and teachers worked together to implement a new professional development schedule. Two mornings each month, teachers meet in each other's classrooms to share effective uses of the new technology. This has proven to be a great way for teachers to become comfortable with the new equipment.
Rethinking Teacher Evaluations
We also reconsidered our traditional mode of teacher evaluation. The principal offered teams of teachers the opportunity to work together on a year-long action research project of their choosing. One group of teachers studied the feasibility of using virtual fieldtrips through the local Regional Educational Media Center. These teachers visited different accessible sites, studied costs and analyzed "trips" that would enhance the school's curriculum. At the end of the year, the teachers demonstrated the use of virtual fieldtrips to the entire staff.
The results of this study will save the district travel money and allow classrooms of children to exchange ideas with Australian pen pals, explore hands-on science, visit Mt. Everest, converse with United Nations representatives, or connect with virtually any videoconferencing host in the world.
Another group of teachers investigated relevant Web sites. They discovered handwriting support, math tutorials, assessment sites, fully developed lesson plans, holiday sites, and list-serves that highlighted other resources. Some teachers explored software that enhanced the pursuit of our school's improvement goals, while others sought information on brain-based teaching and multiple intelligences. We took time at each staff meeting to share new sites and posted many links on our Web site. These explorations truly engaged teachers and promoted the sharing of resources.
Finally, our district's technology team implemented a tech support system for teachers. A single e-mail address is used to submit questions and repair requests directly to technicians, which is accessible from any workstation in the district. And, a local college supplied tech interns, who provide needed support for the additional equipment. In total, our district of just under 900 students has daily access to four highly skilled technicians. As an added bonus, these experts develop classroom Web pages with teachers, providing an extra means of communicating with parents. As we learn to count on the availability of classroom technology, these technicians will prove invaluable.
You see we learned that an efficient, well-supported technology scheme could ensure that teachers realize the full potential of new technology, and actually use it.
Rod Rock is the principal of Unionville-Sebewaing Area Elementary School in the Unionville-Sebewaing Area School (Mich.) district.