Poquoson City Schools
Time and money. They are two challenges for teacher professional development programs across America. Poquoson City Schools, located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, addresses them as they prepare their teachers to satisfy eight state technology standards.
Judy McDowell, Director of Instructional Support Systems for Poquoson City Schools, created the Teacher Technology Competency Project to help school personnel acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to satisfy the standards. The program is offered during the summer and throughout the school year as one-, two-, and three-credit college courses and short minicourses ranging from 30 to 180 minutes each. A local community college offered a series of one-credit courses in the summer. The following are courses developed for that series:
Minicourses, offered within the district and throughout the school year, covered beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels in topics ranging from learning software to troubleshooting and maintenance of equipment, from mastering technology vocabulary to operating peripheral equipment.
Though the nature of the training varies according to topic and level, some things are consistent: modeling, demonstrations, and coaching are primary modes of instruction. A mentoring approach assists teachers as they organize a performance-based portfolio representing mastery of the eight technology standards. Upon completion, teachers are awarded a certificate that recognizes their accomplishments.
Teachers participate at no cost and are not compensated for the time they spend in the programs. Teachers are motivated to attend, because the activities satisfy state requirements governing renewal of teaching certification every five years. They also enjoy a full-day, in-school respite from teaching duties as they improve technology competencies through participation in a "Technology Integration, Instructional Strategies Training" day. This day allows the teachers time to evaluate, select, and develop the best technology classroom practices under the guidance of a technology specialist or the director of technology.
Poquoson school system employees, who have demonstrated expertise in a particular area of technology, serve as trainers or Technology Mentors. A committee works with Andrea Turner, who has taken over as the director of technology from the program's creator Judy McDowel, to identify potential workshop instructors and topics.
Under Turner's guidance, the program has been extended. This year's technology initiative will focus on technology integration througout the entire curriculum, along with empowering the community with after-school technology training courses so that parents may better help their children with their technology homework! Andrea Turner will be directing and teaching classes, along with other Poquoson teachers, for the Community Computing Center, which will be held in the high school's computer lab.
Matching the level of instruction to the readiness of participants to learn the content is challenging. Teachers enter the program at varying skill levels. Additionally, administrators' needs are vastly different from those of classroom teachers. Adapting the activities for administrators takes some work.
Funding is always a concern for educators. Although huge expenditures often target infrastructure, relatively little is categorized specifically for teacher preparation and training with regard to technology.
Poquoson pieced together funding from several sources. The total cost of the program is estimated at $65,000. A large portion is obtained through a Technology Literacy Challenge Grant through the Virginia Department of Education. Other funds are obtained from the local office, a Goals 2000 grant, state funds for teacher training, and fundraising.
The lack of time is another test. It is not only difficult for teachers to find the time to participate, but it is also taxing to designate time for lesson development and curriculum integration. Says Turner, "We are lucky that many of our teachers don't mind giving a little extra time at home or on a rainy weekend day to research the best practices in technology and write child-motivating plans, so that they can then incorporate them into their classrooms to help improve student achievement."
It is not easy to evaluate the actual success of any professional development program. Participation is one thing; competence is quite another. Participant feedback is used to evaluate the program. Poquoson requires teachers to submit performance-based portfolios that are evaluated with a rubric that provides specific standards. The rubric makes identifying teacher competence fairly clear-cut, but assessing the degree of application in the classroom requires observation by administrators.
The Teacher Technology Competency Project demonstrates one school system's commitment to helping teachers and other school personnel increase their technology know-how.