Keene School Administrative Unit (S.A.U.) #29
The practice: Professional development should be connected to a comprehensive change process focused on improving student learning.
Folks in School Administrative Unit (S.A.U.) #29 in Keene, New Hampshire pride themselves on being ahead of many districts in terms of the technology in its schools. However, like other districts, when confronted with the challenge of how to prepare teachers to use technology, the S.A.U. faced some serious obstacles, namely: money to pay for training, time to fit professional development into teachers1 schedules, and commitment from the teachers to participate. S.A.U. personnel recognized that a successful training model depended on addressing these issues, and Deb Couture, the Director of Technology and of Continuing Education for the S.A.U., understood that such challenges make designing a successful teacher professional development program a formidable task.
But, over the past three years, the S.A.U. has designed and has been running a very successful technology training program-successful, in large part, because their model dealt with the three aforementioned issues head on. The S.A.U. addressed the issue of money by identifying creative approaches to funding their staff development model. It found ways to schedule training so as to fit the busy schedule of teachers, thus minimizing problems associated with teachers' lack of free time. Lastly, the S.A.U. developed an adequate reward structure for teachers and for trainers, ensuring the kind of commitment necessary for a successful professional development program. The success of this staff development program has been unquestioned-in three years, over 4,500 enrollment slots have been filled by the 600-plus teachers and staff who work for the S.A.U. Furthermore, as they have implemented their program, those who designed it have identified new issues and concerns and, for example, are now turning their attention to the plaguing problems of how best to ensure the integration of technology in classrooms and how to measure its impact of classroom-based technology on student outcomes.
Part of the success of this staff training program can be traced to the fact that it was designed and is run by district staff who are aware of the needs of others in the S.A.U. The planning and design of this professional development program was completed by a K-12 technology team made up of teachers, administrators, parents, and board members. The technology team created a technology needs assessment survey-completed by 85% of the S.A.U. personnel; and the results of this survey made it clear that, in terms of addressing their technology training needs, faculty and staff desired ongoing professional development, conducted by qualified trainers, with follow-up support provided on-site. A "train-the-trainers" model was subsequently proposed in which staff developers would be identified and trained. These "trainers" would teach at least two classes per year, and they would work as resources in their school for teachers needing their assistance. Trainers were to be paid $75 per day for their own training and $37.50 per hour for teaching courses. The teachers being trained, on the other hand, received no monetary remuneration, but they could use their technology-related courses to fulfill S.A.U.-required contract days for professional development or state-mandated clock hours (New Hampshire law requires that teachers obtain 50 clock hours of staff development every three years to recertified).
The teacher-trainers design the curriculum, and most training takes place in the summer (although this year the S.A.U. will experiment with courses offered during the school year at night and on weekends). Workshops range from 4 to 15 hours each, and they are offered in a wide range of subject areas. The program is limited to 30 trainers (although trainers are replaced when one leaves), and the curriculum is consistently updated. This staff development model has worked to keep teacher training and the accountability for that training in the district, it has helped to motivate teachers (and trainers) to learn more, and it has cut professional development costs since the S.A.U. no longer pays as much for out-of-district professional development.
In terms of funding this new program, little of the money has been drawn directly from district funds. Instead, it has predominantly been funded through Federal monies (such as Title II funds). To supplement these funds, however, classes have been offered to community members through the S.A.U.'s Community Education division on a fee-for-service basis. Since Community Education operates as a nonprofit, it cannot charge high fees, and businesses have found that it is more cost effective to send their people to these training sessions than to provide such training themselves. At times, businesses have even provided the S.A.U. with software or with technology-related services in lieu of cash for training provided to their employees. A small amount of district money also goes toward funding this program.
It should be noted, though that the success of this program has depended on the presence of certain resources and capacities within the S.A.U. For example, the program took advantage of the considerable technology-related expertise in its schools. Moreover, faculty and staff were willing to serve as trainers. Also, and possibly most importantly, top S.A.U administrators-in particular the Superintendent and an Assistant Superintendent-provided support and guidance in making this program a reality.
But this School Administrative Unit, set in a rural section of New
Hampshire, has truly put in place a remarkable program to help teachers
learn to use technology. And, although certain capacities were in place
which facilitated the growth of this program, it was only through the
commitment and effort of many in the S.A.U. that this program became a
reality. That commitment cannot be underestimated, and it would seem to
be one of the single best predictors of the success of any such program.