Selecting, Managing and Marketing Technology

Chapter Two - Staff Development for New Technologies

Adequate support for staff learning of new technologies is critical to the achievement of successful program integration across curriculum areas. Once a district has passed through the planning process outlined in the previous chapter, establishing clear instructional and technology program goals, it becomes feasible to define teacher competencies necessary to deliver the program. The next step is to develop a delivery system capable of establishing technological literacy and skill across the district's instructional and administrative staff.

Step One - Clarification of Expectations

If a district expects widespread, broad-based but penetrating application of new technologies, literacy and competence can no longer be viewed as a personal teacher option. A teacher for this Age of Information must be literate with regard to both technology and information systems . States and districts should begin to clarify that expectation in the form of licensing, certification and employment requirements tied to reasonable time lines.

Within a single district which has set the goal of 100 per cent literacy within a five year time frame, the staff may be divided into three categories, each of which might well deserve a different approach regarding literacy and skill.

1. New Hires. Clearly defined teacher competencies should be established as criteria for selection and hiring of staff. The more that institutions of teacher training see such criteria being applied to their graduates, the better job they will do of equipping their students with such skills prior to graduation. A wise district will save itself considerable training expense and gain program momentum by requiring all new hires to arrive literate and skilled. These new hires should then be asked to commit to a program of maintenance and skill updating much like that required of doctors who must contend with rapidly advancing technologies and treatments.

2. Senior Staff. If staff members are within 3-5 years of retirement, they should be given the option of signing an agreement to forego training in exchange for a commitment to retire before the end of the five year period. There is no sense devoting major resources to such training if the individual is not interested and will not remain in the district long enough to justify the investment. On the other hand, those with commitment and interest will repay the investment in a short time because their high motivation will fuel transfer to classroom practice.

3. Regular Staff. All staff members who are likely to remain for five or more years should be required to attain literacy within that time period in order to maintain employment, but the district must provide the learning resources these staff members require to gain such literacy. Each teacher should make a formal commitment to a learning program personally designed from the district's offerings. Once literate and skilled, the teacher should proceed to maintain and extend those levels of proficiency in coming years as the technologies grow and develop. The creation of a strong staff development program as outlined in the next section will be a costly venture, but the costs of inaction will otherwise show up in program obsolescence and teacher ineffectiveness.

Step Two - Creation of Staff Development Planning Committee

The most effective programs will emerge from a planning committee with strong staff participation combined with staff development expertise based upon research on effective practices. The goal is to create a five year adult learning plan with many different options and opportunities to match the diversity of styles and needs which exists within the ranks of any school district.

When this committee has completed its planning and program invention, staff members should be able to page through a booklet outlining a five year progression of learning opportunities and make selections customized to fit individual preferences and needs. The committee will then continue to meet and adjust the program over the succeeding years as data is collected to assess the effectiveness of the offerings.

Step Three - Design of Program Offerings

Findings from research on effective staff development programs from Joyce, Showers and others should be blended with research on adult learning to design offerings which maximize success and progress while developing an appreciative and enthusiastic response to the new technologies. [1]

Guideline #1 - Programs should provide options suited to the different learning styles of participants.

Not all teachers should pass through the same courses or same types of courses. Some may prefer to learn various software packages in some version of independent study with an advisor or tutor or help-line available to assist when problems are encountered. Others may prefer small study groups. Still others may desire formally structured classroom instruction with a linear progression through carefully defined objectives with plenty of guided practice and support. It makes no sense to force adults to participate in a learning experience which conflicts with the way they learn best.

Guideline #2 - In order to maximize successful transfer and integration, programs should provide substantial opportunities for staff members to practice the new technologies as they will actually be used within their own classroom learning situations, stressing strategies which are supportive of the district's mission statement.

Many existing staff training models introduce technologies to teachers in generic terms. Math, social studies, English and science teachers often find themselves mixed together. While this strategy may serve well enough to introduce the fundamentals, it is essential to move on to subject specific situations and opportunities so that participants can see, touch and feel the applications as they relate to their own assignments. Because a lack of transfer to regular classrooms has been the major failure of new technology programs during the first decade, strategies to support such successful transfer must be a high priority in the creation of staff development programs.

Guideline #3 - Time for staff learning of new technologies should be provided on a paid basis by the school district.

Unlike many corporations which typically dedicate substantial budgets to pay for employees to learn new skills and new technologies, schools have all too often relied upon the individual teacher's good will and dedication to support training programs. Teachers are often expected to attend sessions on their own time after school, during the evenings and on weekends. If teacher pay were on a high professional level, that might be a reasonable expectation, but it is time we showed commitment to training by paying for it. Without such payment, reliance upon volunteers makes it difficult to ever reach the 100 per cent literacy goal.

Guideline #4 - Instruction should be designed with the comfort and the attitudes of learners in mind as well as cognitive and skill objectives.

Too much instruction in the use of technologies fails to address the substantial anxiety felt by many people as they first try driving a videodisc player with a computer or test out some other new piece of equipment. Learner comfort and user friendliness are key issues in instructional design which deserve formal attention. The coverage of too many skills or too much material in too short a time can come only at the expense of staff support for the introduction of these technologies to their own classrooms.

Guideline #5 - Staff development should be defined broadly to include any meaningful way that staff might acquire the literacy and skills identified by the district.

Visits to other schools, peer coaching, visits to the workplace, graduate courses, and many other experiences should fall under the staff development umbrella and receive due consideration by the planning committee. How well is the district utilizing each of these experiences? Can changes be made which will multiply the benefits of each? Can the district's tuition reimbursement program be modified to encourage attention to technologies, for example?

Guideline #6 - School district administrators should be expected to achieve literacy along with the rest of the staff.

If administrators hope to lay claim to the title of educational leader, they must establish a comfortable relationship with the technologies which are likely to shape much of the classroom learning which will be taking place during the next decade. As outlined in the next chapter, it will be their role to support the rest of the instructional staff in their journey toward full integration.

Guideline #7 - Instructors for the staff development program should be selected from a broad cross section of the teaching staff, not a narrow segment with special affinity for technology.

?In order to avoid over-reliance upon the technologically savvy or the math and science departments, districts should invest in the development of instructors from across the disciplines who may bring a variety of teaching styles, attitudes and approaches to the learning experience.

Guideline #8 - The program should provide support groups and ongoing help-lines to maintain continued growth.

The path to natural and automatic use of an innovation is often lined with obstacles, disappointments and frustrations. Joyce and others have documented the powerful effects of allying learners with partners who will provide the support necessary to keep the learner moving forward. Since schools and classrooms can be isolating, new communication systems can do a great deal to bolster the courage of novices, letting them know that help is just a phone call away and the phone is just a few feet away.

Guideline #9 - The program should be thoroughly integrated with the rest of the district's staff development program so that technologies are seen as delivery systems to complement other instructional systems.

One hypothesis for the low level of program integration during this first decade of micro technologies is the tendency to establish staff development programs which show staff how to use the machines (to type a paper, for example) but not how to employ them instructionally.

Guideline #10 - The program should provide opportunities for participants to demonstrate mastery, literacy and competence.

In order to comply with a district mandate for 100 per cent literacy, there must be provision for valid and reliable assessment of learner proficiencies. The program provides for multiple pathways, but learner outcomes should be clearly defined and measurable.

Guideline #11 - The program should require all staff members to develop some awareness of the change literature as well as a toolkit of innovative thinking skills and group decision-making skills.

Because innovative programs usually bring with them some degree of pain, loss and difficulty, teachers must become schooled in the realities of change, developing a tolerance for the frustrations accompanying the inevitable changes of this decade.

Unlike many school programs, most new technologies cannot be simply purchased and installed. In most cases, they are not the whole program in themselves, merely a set of tools to support development of a program. Teachers will be expected to develop classroom applications and guide students in the innovative use of such technologies. To achieve such levels of inventiveness, they will require the skills of a researcher and curriculum inventor. It is also highly likely that program invention will require a kind of collaborative, team effort for which many teachers are ill-prepared.

Early experiments with site-based decision-making demonstrate the need for extensive training in group process so that staff can work effectively together to define and solve problems. Most groups benefit from work on consensus-building, active listening and structured decision-making.

Step Four - Adaptation of the Program

Once the program is under way, the Staff Development Planning Committee gathers data on a frequent and continuous basis to evaluate progress and adapt the program. The committee also keeps an eye on the horizon so that fast-breaking new developments can be rapidly embraced and incorporated into the program. With the introduction of some new technology like Apple's Newton, for example, the committee is quick to consider its significance for the school district and begin planning for its arrival. The committee is responsible for making certain that the program remains dynamic, flexible and current.


Effective and widespread use of technologies in schools requires an immense investment in staff learning. We must do more than provide a series of courses. We must establish a culture within school districts which establishes continuing learning as a norm for all staff members. We must move toward the kinds of structures and learning teams envisioned by Senge, who sees members of the organization on a quest for change and improvement, continually asking how life can be made better.[2]

© 1993, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.