The Media Center
Staff Development: Your Most Important Role
by Mary Alice Anderson
Media Specialist • Winona Middle School • Winona, Minnesota
MultiMedia Schools • January/February 2000

Staff development: Everyone talks about it, few schools provide enough of it, and few states mandate it. A U.S. Department of Education survey of 3,560 teachers showed that only 20 percent of the teachers surveyed felt “very well prepared” to use computers in their classroom. These teachers were more likely to have received staff development in district initiatives, special education, and bilingual or diversity education. Teaching, Learning, and Computing: 1998 reported that of 6,000 teachers and principals surveyed, only half had formal training, most of which emphasized “how to” rather than integration. Teachers who do participate in “how-to” workshops are most likely to be those whose subject areas frequently use technology. Unfortunately, “critical experiences for linking [technology] to concrete teaching have been missing.”

Many educators can relate these studies to their own experiences and observations; the need for more staff development is a frequent discussion topic whenever educators get together to discuss technology implementation. A teacher in an Eastern state said there was no training in her school, yet teachers were expected to make their own Web pages. My neighbor, a summer school teacher in Minnesota, said, “The stuff is here; none of us have a clue what to do with it.” Our district has continually offered training for years, yet numerous teachers are representative of The Minneapolis Star Tribune headline that screamed, “Schools Are Wired, Teachers Are Not.” We need to provide teachers with the opportunity to learn how to teach in a different kind of learning environment.

What is the implication for media specialists? With experience in curriculum, technology, and a “big-picture” view, media specialists are in a position to do something to fill the gaps. Continual proactive involvement in staff development is perhaps the most important part of our many-faceted jobs. Teachers are the doorkeepers to providing technology-rich learning experiences; by being involved in staff development and choosing to spend time working with teachers, media specialists will promote wise use of resources, which in turn will influence student learning. It’s a waste of resources not to take the time to be involved. An added bonus is that technology-using teachers tend to use other media center resources, including human resources, more. Everyone wins.
 

How can media specialists promote staff development?
Media specialists can begin by becoming familiar with the research such as that mentioned above; you never know when you will need it. For starters, the “CEO Forum Report” is a must read. The most recent report states that 24 percent of the schools are using technology effectively, and progress is still being made. There is a high correlation between student performance and teacher professional development. The report strongly recommends better preparation of new and veteran teachers, proficiency in integrating technology into the curriculum, and strong partnerships between local businesses and K-12 education to develop future workplace skills. The report includes highlights of successful staff development practices, assessment tools, and a wealth of research studies. The document is on the Web at www.ceoforum.org.

Familiar with needs and principles of effective staff development, media specialists can actively participate in building and district staff development committees, sharing their knowledge with others. They can also:

Like many other districts, we have offered numerous ongoing workshops and summer academies. The workshops are popular, successful, inexpensive, relatively easy to schedule, and fill a need. They serve their purpose and help considerably to bring the skill level of teachers to respectable and expert levels. A district-wide assessment of staff skills shows a high correlation between class attendance and acquisition of skills and the level at which technology is integrated in the curriculum or used in instructional management. Teaching, Learning, and Computing: 1998 also reports that attendance at these types of classes does indeed make a difference. Media specialists who see the need for staff development should do what needs to be done to fill the gap, taking the initiative to provide training, even if it is not their specific responsibility. Many teachers are begging for training, and administrators will appreciate the initiative.
 

Provide focused workshops
Teachers often say they can do one thing or another, but they don’t know how to tie it all together. They can do, but cannot apply or integrate. To help alleviate this problem, we have offered half-day classes with a very specific integration focus. For example, I’ve worked several half-days with teams of teachers responsible for implementing technology-based Minnesota graduation standards. We focused just on the specifics of that learning experience. A few hours of focused and committed time provides huge benefits.

Another option with a similar goal is a partnership with the local state university. By combining funds intended for improving pre-service teacher education in technology with the skills of practicing teachers, participants will earn a university credit or receive a stipend. Classes focus on instructional design and integration, not the mechanics of hardware and software.

Despite our success, it’s time to shift gears and seek out other opportunities. Attendance patterns are shifting. Substitute teachers, office staff, and parent volunteers are among the groups now eagerly attending classes. Teacher needs are changing along with the technology. Teachers who eagerly learn “how to” may not perceive a need to learn integration skills, but the need exists. Staff who are enthused about bells and whistles may not perceive a need to become information literate, but that need also exists. Enthusiastic new teachers are technically skilled, but often lack knowledge of developmentally or instructionally appropriate uses of technology. They lack integration skills and may not be familiar with software and databases specific to your school. Technology-reluctant or technology-phobic staff need more than classes to entice them. Like other districts, we are seeing the need to shift gears.
 

Promote peer mentoring
Our experiences, as well as examples cited in research, suggest that learning from other staff members may be the best way for many teachers to learn. Exemplary technology-using teachers tend to work in environments of collegial support. Teachers who take university or district classes should be encouraged to provide follow-up peer coaching in their buildings. This fall Don, a math teacher, invited technology-reluctant math teachers into his classroom during their prep hour so they could observe his instructional activities with video disc hardware and software; in turn he used his prep hour to work with them in their classrooms. Don is recognized as a valuable resource because of his willingness to help others. Ann, a moderate but enthusiastic technology user, said, “I enjoy working on my computer and am always learning something new thanks to people like Don and Teri who are willing to help and are patient.” Media specialists can help promote and schedule meaningful experiences such as these and work with administration to encourage coaching. My only role in the math teacher experience was to provide equipment and support.
 

Use online staff development resources
Another exciting possibility is online staff development such as that offered by the Apple Learning Interchange (http://ali.apple.com or http://www.apple.com/education/k12/staffdev). Districts can purchase blocks of classes or individuals can purchase a class on their own. The learners have the luxury of working at their own pace at their home or classroom computers. Schools are not bound by the limits of time and substitutes. Courses available now include several 101 courses such as AppleWorks, Internet, Webmaker, and HyperStudio. Advanced courses include HyperStudio and Microsoft Word. Other courses are Internet in the Classroom, Introduction to ALI, and Multimedia in the Classroom. Microsoft offers similar courses, planning tools, and online tutorials (http://www.Microsoft.com/education). Many universities also offer online classes to help fill the gap. Media specialists can apply their search skills to learn what’s out there and work with district administrators to encourage use of the Internet as a vehicle for delivering staff development.
 

Promote the use of technology in conversation
Technology staff development tied to other district initiatives and ongoing support will result in continual growth. Media specialists can actively participate in curriculum mapping and writing processes by observing, asking questions, and offering suggestions. Teachers generally appreciate ideas and information that they themselves have not had time to learn about. Small group discussions are invaluable and insightful. This more subtle approach can lead to valuable collegial interaction and hands-on time to try out what has been mentioned. Bring the technology to the users. Our district has monthly grade level meetings. At a fall session, all district media specialists worked with all K-5 staff to provide hands-on experiences with new online databases.

Don’t forget the administrators. Keep them informed and help them become skilled. Our district has offered workshops for administrators only, and my principal has helped teach some classes. Administrators who expect teachers to use technology need to be skilled role models.

Staff development is time consuming. It takes time to acquire skills, time to become acquainted with the research, and time to organize. This is time away from other media center administrative and instructional tasks. But, it is time well spent as you apply theory and a broad knowledge into successful practice. The gains will be in better use of resources, better instruction, and ultimately improved student achievement. Media specialists can’t afford not to be at the forefront as staff development leaders.
 
 
 

Mary Alice Anderson is a frequent contributor to professional journals, a conference presenter, a Minnesota Information Power trainer, and an adjunct instructor in the College of Education at Winona State University. The Winona Middle School Media/Technology Program has received both state and national recognition and awards. Communications to the author may be addressed to Mary Alice Anderson, Media Specialist, Winona Middle School, 166 West Broadway, Winona, MN 55987; phone: 507/454-9439; e-mail: maryalice@wms.luminet.net.
 
 

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