The Great Eight:
Tech Training for Teachers
From the perspective of someone who's taught numerous technology training sessions for teachers over seven years, here are some general observations and recommendations that can help ensure the success of your training. The suggestions are addressed to the trainer. If that's not you, consider sharing these tips with whomever will be conducting training for your teachers. While all training varies in scope, the challenges that face the teacher participants remain the same and need to be considered if staff development is going to be effective. With that in mind, here is my"Great Eight List of Truths for Training Teachers."
Link training to improving test scores.Until the preoccupation with standardized testing goes away, all technology training must be devoted to helping teachers improve their students’ test scores, either directly or indirectly. The 2000–2001 school year clearly showed avoidance of training that did not offer at least a plausible lead to improved student performance on key measures of achievement and content mastery. Encourage integration of tech into standards and beware of teaching tech skills in isolation. Make sure there is a clear link to how a each tech skill can be used to teach standards-based curriculum in the classroom. Addressing the "I've got to improve my test scores" issue does not mean that all tech training should be solely test-driven. On the contrary, this is a great opportunity to show in concrete ways how technology, used well, can help students reach California's content standards. Regardless of the current political climate, standards-based tech training is good tech training!
Meet the needs of your teachers where they live. The “one size fits all” training of old was largely irrelevant to many teachers. Many times the teachers' own equipment or software was not the same as that used during the training which was in the lab or off site; often teachers' classrooms did not have enough computers to use newly learned skills with students. Another frequently encountered problem is “geographic amnesia”; by that I mean the situation in which teachers learn new skills in a setting different from where they work. When they return to their own classrooms, the computer there looks and acts differently, and teachers' frustration mounts as they try to make the transition. The best solution to this problem is to provide training on site, ideally in the same setting in which teachers will be using the equipment. On site training builds confidence in working on familiar equipment. It also develops good will with the school community when the trainer cares enough to go to the school or classroom. School-wide or district training can be successful in avoiding geographic amnesia by sticking to familiar software and showing multiple methods of accessing the software.
Always provide a hard copy. Teachers are people. Some will be distracted or preoccupied during the training. Others will be following closely but may be shy or uncomfortable asking questions when confused. In addition, a three-hour training covers lots of information, and the human brain will not store it all, no matter how well presented. Providing a handout covering what has been taught allows everyone to look back at what was taught and provides memory cues when those using the information in class. Consider augmenting your handouts with web reference pages or even a custom CD. As it becomes easier and cheaper to make multiple copies, CD's are a viable medium for sharing a lot of information with your trainees in a little space. One caveat: be sure to confirm that your audience has CD drives and review how to use a CD for those who may not know.
Learn your audience's technology model and teach to it. By technology model, I mean the way technology is set up and accessed at a school. Schools currently tend to have three basic configurations. Most common is a lab with 20-25 computers, which the teacher gets to use on a request basis or for about 40 minutes a week on average. Recognize that with this model you need to focus on what teachers can accomplish with that schedule. Ongoing or on-demand research projects are very difficult using this set up. Training should focus on what the teacher can locate from the Internet and adapt and use in the classroom as the students get very little “face time” with the workstation. Downloading and printing material is the main way for a teacher to provide access to the resource in the classroom with this model. Time in lab must be used efficiently, which is very difficult with the common time constraints. Coming into more popular use is the “pod” approach: three to five computers in the back of most classrooms and a computer for the teacher. Assuming the teacher has large monitor connected to at least one computer, this model works well with most tech training. In the classroom after the training the teacher can use all media including video, web sites and side show presentations that do an excellent job of teaching and guiding students for in-class work or work on the pod computers in rotating shifts. In a standard class period 40-55 minutes, two shifts of students is the maximum to ensure adequate time to get work done. Shorter times don’t work. Plus, strategies that work with a lab set up work here too! The third model is the classroom with 10-20 computers. This is the dream come true for teachers and there is no limit to what can be done. These teachers are usually giggling with glee and are receptive to all ideas.
Emphasize what technology can do for teachers.Teachers have a lot on their plates. Many don’t believe that technology can do a better job then they are already doing. Many also believe that other than finding Internet sites on Thomas Jefferson or ancient Greece, there is not much value to the Internet or technology. This apathy has many causes and in some cases may be justified. For skeptical teachers, training needs to emphasize how technology can improve the already great work that they do.
Emphasize the safe and reliable. All teachers are experts in managing disasters. Time and schedule changes are the norm but take their toll. Teachers will not add to their personal stress level by returning to a product, site, or technology which lets them down. Emphasize the available software that has the best performance track record. The Microsoft Office set of tools is robust and reliable and can be used in classrooms beyond most teachers’ wildest expectations. Presentation applications such as PowerPoint® or HyperStudio® are dynamic in that they can showcase most other media available in an easy to use format for students. Teach strategies for storing Internet activities and reference sites in advance, thus reducing if not eliminating the random dangers of connection issues with web sites.
Establish your own credibility. If you are or were a teacher, let your participants know. Teachers respect other teachers, people who have been in the classroom and shared that experience. The best thing a trainer can do is to tell the teachers “Hello, my name is So-and-So and I have X years of classroom teaching experience.” There is really no substitute for this as far as credibility with the learners. The feeling that the instructor has been in the trenches and shared the challenge creates a bond, which allows the teachers to believe and trust the trainer rather than wonder if you are creating nothing more than smoke and mirrors. If you have training responsibilities and have not been a teacher yourself, find time to work in classrooms along side practicing teachers. Develop a firsthand understanding of what they do and what they have to contend with as they try to implement the technology skills they are learning from you.
Use different types of technology and allow time for interaction and sharing. Web sites, video, pictures, CD’s, and on line software are all useful and should be presented in training as complementary and not to be used in isolation. Beware of “one solution” products which claim to be the total answer. They are not. Always allow twenty to thirty minutes for teachers to share their classroom experiences about what works and what does not. The lack of this peer time is the most common complaint teachers have about training. And besides being good for the teachers, this teacher interaction time gives the trainer a chance to learn and to pick up some powerful tools as well.
So, there you have the Great Eight. Use them to plan training or choose trainers that will teach skills while integrating the technology into the curriculum as teachers learn. And recognize that no matter how well a trainer plans and executes a workshop, and no matter how enthusiastic and excited teachers are as they walk out of the room, they're going to need support after the workshop. When they try to practice what they've just learned, they're going to realize it's harder than it sounded. Things will go wrong. How to provide such support will be the focus of an upcoming article here at portical.org.
Rick Fitzpatrick is Technology Coordinator at Shasta County Office of Educatiion and a member of the TICAL Cadre.