They say it pays to train your teachers, but the truth is you pay to train your trainers. As a district technology trainer for several Texas districts, and, now as an education technology specialist for a regional education service center, I have discovered five ways to cut the price of providing training for your district technology trainers. Build on these activities, and you can maximize the impact of in-house training and minimize trips to expensive conferences.
1) Find talent within your city. New ideas are old ideas in other districts. As a district technology coordinator, talk to your counterpart in other districts (talk to your regional Education Service Center technology services liason for ideas). Put aside your ego and ask, “How do your trainers approach teaching technology integration?” Dig past their first answer, and ask the hard questions, “Ok, I know you’re tool-based, but what are you doing with all those obsolete PCs? How do your trainers handle training authoring tools while teachers go back to obsolete equipment?” Develop a program in which you share your trainers�with their distinctive talents with other districts, and provide opportunities for cross-training. Avoid the pitfall of “We’re just too busy to talk:” electronic mail, video conferencing, and conference telephone calls can help you organize short, weekend collaborative meetings.
2) Find materials on the World Wide Web. You can find materials on the Internet. As more school districts put up home pages on the Internet, you can download a variety of staff development guides, ranging from software evaluation to PowerPoint presentations on cutting edge topics. Internet newbies often ask, “Where can I find an Internet acceptable use policy (AUP)?” The answer is painfully easy. Go to your favorite search engine (mine is www.lycos.com), type in “acceptable use policy.” You can also visit my web site (http://lonestar.texas.net/~jmg) for a listing of technology resources.
Harlandale ISD, a district I worked for, didn’t waste time writing a district technology plan from scratch. Their district technology committee knew where it wanted to go. From start to finish, what they wanted to accomplish guided the search for a model technology plan. Several months later, the district technology plan was completed and in a FileMaker Pro database to make it easily accessible. Having found a framework to work within, the job took less time. Though the plan was modified, the foundation didn’t have to be built from scratch.
Short, focused searches on topics such as lesson plans that integrate technology, technology plans, research on integrating technology, constructivism and technology will give you and your trainers a solid foundation to build on. Trust me, the act of creation won’t be as painful. Unless you believe in the axiom, “No pain, no gain,” learn to stand on the shoulders of your peers around the world.
3) Train each other. I laughed at the absurdity of a 20 year teacher veteran showing me how to use a computer (I’ve had a computer attached since I was thirteen years old). I stopped laughing when I saw how she organized the class, facilitated the discussion, and laid bare the scaffolding she had built to help me learn. How we teach each other goes beyond what we know to how we learn.
You can build on this knowledge by focusing less on content (How to…) to the technique used: Use a jigsaw cooperative group to analyze research on whales. After group sharing, organizing the data into a multimedia presentation and web page, ask them to consider which approach would have been more engaging? A lively discussion, where they worked together to solve a puzzle or reading alone then working independently to create a project? Make time to train each other, even if the content is obvious. As trainers, what we offer isn’t as important as how we offer it.
4) Share what you know. “Are you presenting at that conference in Dallas?” my wife asked. A previous conference, and my answer would have been “Yes.” While it was great going without a tie, I didn’t learn as much (no correlation between learning more with a tie on). Aside from learning your topic better, you come into contact with people that you wouldn’t have met walking the exhibition floor or sitting passively in a lecture hall. In sharing what you know, people naturally will choose to either agree, disagree, or share what they are doing that is similar or dis-similar. Present, and you have the opportunity to engage others in a dialogue that may help you rethink or reevaluate what you do.
If you’re a technologist, then this isn’t as frightening as it might be (or, maybe it is frightening, but, like on a roller coaster ride, you know what you’re getting into).
5) Tap into your technicians. School districts divide their technology support staff into two distinct groups�the instruction-oriented (usually software saavy) and the technicians (clearly, your hardware handy-men). Whether you call them hardware or network specialists, or technicians, these taciturn individuals know quite a bit. They are the lubricant in your technology machine. Spread them too thin, the grinding and whining start. Pour them on too thick, and they gum up the works.
While you can’t expect them to stand up in front of a class after-school, you can get them to walk your trainers through the steps they use to problem-solve hardware glitches. From network management to setting up a web server, technicians have valuable insights worth gathering. One-on-one, or even, two, sessions will help your staff build the rapport needed between the two hemispheres of the information services, or technology department, brain. Without the sessions, your program will work but not well.
An easy way to foster this rapport is to team technicians and instructional technologists together. Give them the same campuses to work at. Not only will this increase accountability, but give them the opportunity to listen to the same complaints from your clientele. Reliance on each other in the face of tribulation, as well as shared successes, will bring them together faster than anything else you might do.
It’s true. You pay for the training your trainers receive every day. An old saying goes like this, “He who would lead must be a bridge.” Build the bridges between your staff and local people, and you will save money. Invite your neighbors to talk about what they know, and you won’t pay for expensive trips to listen to someone else’s neighbors at a conference.
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