Technology Lead Teachers
by Mike Ballard
Coordinator of Instructional Technology • Stafford County Public Schools
MultiMedia Schools • November/December 2000

Teaching Statistics
According to the most recent study of teacher demographics by the National Center for Educational Statistics (1996), the median age of our teaching population is 44 years old, and the median years of teaching experience is 15 years. This means that at the time of the study, more than half of our teachers had been in teaching since before the IBM Personal Computer’s introduction in 1983. Compare that to the skills and experiences of their students. The students in this year’s high school graduating class (Class of 2001) were born after the introduction of the IBM PC. Thus, none of our K-12 students have ever known a world without personal computers.
Background
So many stakeholders have such high expectations of the results from computers and other related technology in the schoolroom. These expectations are being translated directly into dollars spent on acquiring instructional technology—$5.4 billion 1 in 1999 on computers and related infrastructure (software, local and wide area networks, and training), while the federal government estimates that continuing costs of maintaining and improving those infrastructures could be as much as $5-10 billion per year. 2

However, as computers proliferate within the classrooms, the question is, “What do we do with this?” The fact is that the computer is nothing more than a tool—a relatively new and exciting one with a great deal of potential—but a tool nonetheless. As with any tool, the benefit is not intrinsic, but instead comes from how it is used. However, many teachers lack the skills or perhaps more correctly, lack confidence in their skills, with this new digital tool.
 

Virginia Technology Standards for Instructional Personnel
Recognizing that teachers need to develop the skills to use this tool, as well as their confidence in the skills, the Virginia Department of Education issued the “Technology Standards for Instructional Personnel” 3 in 1998 (see Figure 1 on page 30). These eight standards apply to all instructional personnel, defined as any person required by their position to hold a license issued by the State Board of Education. Interpretation, implementation, and enforcement is left to the individual school districts. The instructions simply state, “The goal is that all instructional personnel meet the standards prior to the 2002-2003 school year.”

In May 1999, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 2263 4 which requires that “. . .on and after July 1, 2003, persons seeking initial licensure or license renewal as teachers demonstrate proficiency in the use of educational technology for instruction.”
 

In My School District
The new law made developing and demonstrating proficiency with educational technology a condition of employment for teachers within the Commonwealth of Virginia. This caused a significant amount of concern within our school district in Northern Virginia. Stafford County employs nearly 1,500 licensed personnel, serving approximately 21,000 students. As with most school districts, we have undergone explosive growth in educational technology infrastructure in recent years. Before January 1997, most schools had limited, printer-driven networks and accessed the Internet via single-phone-line modem connections. Now, all 20 schools are networked, a divisional wide-area network with full Internet access has been developed, and more than 2,500 new computers have been purchased and installed. We had the tools, but no real way to measure if the tools were being used, or more importantly, how well they were being used.

At the same time, the instructional support for these new capabilities had not grown at the same rate. The school district did not have technology resource specialists in the schools, just two coordinators of Instructional Technology at Central Office. Getting 1,500 licensed personnel through a reasonable program of demonstration and certification within the state-mandated time frames was beyond our capability unless we did something innovative.
 

Possible Solutions
We needed the human infrastructure to work within and use effectively the hardware/software/network infrastructures already in place. We clearly needed more people to train our teachers, but where would we find these people? Several options were considered.

The first and most obvious was to contract with a local university. Another option was to hire a local business. The cost estimates for these two options were prohibitive, and we had compelling reasons for seeking another solution. The private sector trainers were very experienced at teaching productivity-related use of computers (word processing, spreadsheeting and database management), but lacked background in how to integrate such tools into classroom lessons. University courses had this instructional integration component, but too often were built around software and hardware not available in a teacher’s home school.

Our search finally led us to a “train-the-trainer” program. We would grow our own trainers from the teachers within our schools. We call them “Technology Lead Teachers,” or TLTs. This solution appeared to answer the key problems posed by the other two options. The TLTs would be trained with, and then conduct training using, the hardware and software available in their own school buildings. University instructors conduct the training, but in our labs using our equipment. Even after paying the university tuition for the TLT candidates, and paying the TLTs a stipend to train their colleagues, this option would still cost significantly less than either of the other two proposals. Additionally, the training would be offered to our teachers by their colleagues—people the faculty knew and respected, and who knew how students think and learn.

A great deal of thought was given to defining the qualifications for the ideal TLT. The person had to be a volunteer and appointed by the building principal. We knew that this program would require a good deal of extra effort and commitment on the part of each TLT. We needed people who wanted to take on this task and we needed them to have the support of their building administrators. However, easily the most unexpected, and to some extent controversial, request we made was to ask the principals to appoint the “excellent teacher” over their faculty’s acknowledged technology guru. In fact, we sought out and solicited “good teacher/non-technology user” volunteers. There were several reasons for this strategy. First, our goals and objectives were not really about technology, but about effective teaching and using technology as an integral facet of that teaching. Second, we were after “opinion-setters” and evangelists—individuals whose change in outlook might well influence others to take a more open-minded look at instructional technology. We felt that someone who had always been known for using technology would not have that same impact on the views of the other faculty members. Lastly, we sought a fresh approach with regard to how the technology might be used to help students. Our thinking was that teachers who did not currently do a great deal with technology in their classrooms might be more likely to “think out of the box” and find new and better ways to use these tools to help their students learn.
 

The TLT Training Program
The TLT candidates training was based on a program developed by a local university to meet the state mandated technology standards. The program consists of six one-credit hour graduate level courses that not only meet the TLTs’ own technology competency demonstration requirements, but also satisfy periodic license renewal regulations.

Each class meets over one weekend, from 4:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Friday, and from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturday. The six courses cover basic skills, applying standards to instructional design, Internet for educators, desktop publishing and hypermedia, assistive and adaptive technology, and finally, technology integration. The TLT candidates are broken up into cohorts by grade level so that differences in hardware and software are accommodated (for example, our elementary schools use AppleWorks, while the secondary schools use Microsoft Office), and so that the program of studies can focus on the learning needs and cognitive development of the students their schools serve 5 . The cohorts have approximately one course per month.

Once the initial cadre of TLTs had been trained, two key questions remained unanswered.

In the belief that they would know the needs of their colleagues best, the TLTs were asked to answer both questions. Committees of TLTs were paid to design both a curriculum and a certification process, based on the state technology standards, that could be delivered and administered at their home schools without becoming burdensome to them or to their principals/assistant principals.

The curriculum and certification process the TLTs designed are portfolio-based. Each teacher is required to complete a portfolio of 11 exhibits that demonstrate seven of the eight standards established by the Virginia State Board of Education. A Portfolio Verification Sheet (see Figure 2) is used to keep track of each individual teacher’s progress. Each completed exhibit is subjected to a pass/fail assessment by a TLT against a list of required elements noted on the back of the Portfolio Verification Sheet.

The eighth standard (Standard G of Figure 1) and final signature on the Portfolio Verification Sheet require that the teacher is able to effectively integrate technology into everyday instruction. This final competency is assessed by the individual teacher’s building principal or assistant principal, during a formal observation of the teacher delivering a technology-infused lesson.

The curriculum and the certification process are integral. For each portfolio exhibit, there is an associated TLT-taught course that walks the teachers through the creation of that product. Teachers are not required to take the courses in order to develop an exhibit. Those who already have the skills to create all or some of the exhibits are able to “fast-track” the certification process (see Figure 3).

The certification process starts with the teachers assessing their own skills against what is necessary to develop each exhibit. If they feel they need training in that area, they go to the TLT-taught class on that area and get step-by-step instruction. However, if they feel they already possess the skills, they can go to a TLT class or a TLT-open lab and create the exhibit in the presence of a TLT. Once completed, the TLT signs off on the Verification Sheet and the exhibit is placed in the teacher’s professional development file. If the exhibit is in some way lacking, the teacher may try again, either by attending the course again, or by practicing and then going back to the fast-track process. If a teacher has continued difficulty with an exhibit, other training options are available , including one-on-one mentoring or commercial training. However, the portfolio exhibit must always be created under the supervision of a TLT.

Another question arose. How do the administrators know “good integration of technology” when they see it? After a great deal of discussion, our superintendent of schools directed that all administrators complete the same basic training as the TLTs, but focus on recognition and evaluation of effective technology-infused instruction. This training was conducted during the summer months over a period of two school years.
 

How Long and How Much?
The time required to start something this complicated is always surprising. In our case, it was almost exactly one year from when we began thinking about how to address the problem until there were TLTs in the school buildings working with their colleagues. Designing the program of instruction for the TLTs, including contracting with the university, required approximately four months. We began with four cohorts (two elementary, one middle school, and one high school), balancing a need to keep the class sizes manageable (13 to 17 per class seemed to be optimal) and our initial goal of having at least one TLT for every 20 faculty members. The six courses taught to four cohorts required almost 30 weeks to complete. Finally, the TLT committees took approximately two months to complete and present their proposed curricula and process.

Two years into the program, and with six more cohorts of TLTs, the program has cost the school division approximately $200,000. Nearly two-thirds of this training has been paid with grants. Approximately half of that sum paid for TLT university program tuition, while the other half funded the TLT stipends for the courses they teach in their school buildings.

Each TLT commits to teaching a minimum of 10 hours per semester of competency classes for two years after completion of the university program, for which TLTs are reimbursed at approximately $20/hour of professional development training delivered.
 

Is the Program Working? How Do We Know?
So far, hard data is sketchy. According to the district’s Professional Development Coordinator records, the ‘average teacher’ has completed four of the required 11 exhibits on the Portfolio Verification Sheet.

We do have a strong indication that equipment usage is increasing significantly. Problem reports to the school division’s technology repair office have increased markedly since the in-school TLT training programs began. The school division’s Internet-filtering system suddenly became bottlenecked and had to be replaced as the demand for Internet bandwidth exceeded the capability of the old system. Principals report teachers have become more specific in their budget inputs for technology-related requests.
 

Challenges Remain
There are still many challenges, and we are trying to address these as we go. The first, and most limiting, is that our TLTs are also classroom teachers. They still have their full workload in addition to their responsibilities as TLTs. They cannot go into a classroom and assist a colleague with a lesson during regular school hours. Time—even time to prepare for the TLT classes they have committed to teach—is a major issue.

Another significant challenge is that thanks to their training as TLTs, these teachers become very attractive to other school districts. A significant number have left us to take promotions associated with instructional technology in other school districts.

Finally, the process is still evolving. Some initial ideas were found to be burdensome and unworkable. We have had to react to problems quickly, find solutions, and keep on moving towards our ultimate goal of having all of our teachers meet the state-mandated requirements.
 

What We’ve Learned
Administrator training has paid big dividends, both in terms of their support of the program and in terms of the perceived importance of the program among the faculty. The administrators gained a better insight into what was desired from the teachers, along with a better appreciation of what the TLTs would and could do for their teachers.

The cohort concept developed a sense of community and shared purpose among the TLTs that was vital—especially at 5 p.m. on a Saturday when trying to finish that last class activity. This has carried over into the second phase of the program. The TLTs regularly discuss problems and share solutions that have worked in their schools.

The non-technology-user “excellent” teacher wanted to learn how to use these tools effectively with their students. While many of them struggled with the basic skills course, all of them stuck out the program and became very enthusiastic technology evangelists in their schools and in the school division.
 

What We’d Change If We Started Over
Several of the university courses, particularly the basic skills class, the desktop publishing and hypermedia course, and the Internet for educators course, should be credit and a half courses instead of only a single credit. The amount of material to be covered and the number of skills to demonstrate are too much.

Ultimately, the hardest part of this program is how long it takes to get things done, but real change does take real time. In this case, the real change we are seeking is to answer the questions we started with. By the time all of our teachers have completed this program, we hope that all of us will be better able to find answers to, “What do we do with this?”
 
 

Communications to the author may be addressed to Mike Ballard, Coordinator of Instructional Technology, Stafford County Public Schools, Rowser Instructional Center, 1739 Jefferson Davis Highway, Stafford, VA 22554; phone: 540/658-6000 x3032; fax: 540/658-6042; e-mail: maballar@pen.k12.va.us.


Footnotes

1. Quality Education Data, Inc. as reported in USAToday, 2/28/2000, by Michelle Healy.
2. U. S. Department of Education, Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge, Available World Wide Web: http://www.ed.gov/Technology/Plan.
3. Virginia Superintendent of Public Schools (1998). “Superintendent’s Memo #2,” dated 17 April 1998 (reissued 2 May 1998), “Licensure Regulations for School Personnel” (8 VAC 20-21-10), and “Technology Standards for Instructional Personnel” (8 VAC 20-25-10), Richmond, VA. Available World Wide Web: http://www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/suptsmemos/1998/reg002.html.
4. Virginia General Assembly HB 2263. Available World Wide Web: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgibin/legp504.exe?991+sum+HB2263.
5. More information, including syllabi for the various courses, is available at http://www.pen.kl2.va.us/Div/Stafford/TLT.
 

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