Chapter 6

Final Reflections and Future Actions
     

Final Reflections

This year’s journey through action research started with a look at how I structured professional development programs at Greenhill School. With a critical eye turned toward training, I found myself a year later looking at induction. The year started with a review of technology training and has ended with a vision of teacher induction involving far more than just technology. This year was a journey from training to induction

So how did I get here? What have I learned along the way? Where am I going in the future?

I started the journey with the idea that I needed to know the current state of the school with regards to technology proficiency. I had this belief that highly proficient faculty would equate to greater implementation and integration of technology in their teaching. I also started with a sense of frustration at the current faculty with regards to their efforts to remain current in technology. This lead me to focus my vision on new faculty. Realizing that I wanted a picture of the technical abilities of the new faculty prior to the start of the year as well as the ability to understand the current faculties technical abilities, the survey was a logical place to start. While I believe the survey was successful, several big ides emerged.

The release of the survey had some interesting and unexpected results. One employee reported that he considered him self to be quite computer literate. However, after completing the survey, he realized just how much he didn’t know. He wrote:

“It took me twelve minutes. It’s very easy to go through. But it is a bit intimidating. I feel like I’m relatively savvy and willing, but I still felt as if the survey pointed out how little I really know.”

This employee would be considered an advanced user at the school and has been a leader in integrating technology effectively into the curriculum. Other employees commented that “theirs was the survey that reflected very little experience.” The survey was designed to be comprehensive and cover many different aspects of technology at the school but I never considered that it might be intimidating. I am not sure what this means in the big picture. However, I suspect that I might want to review the survey for future use as I did not intend to have employees feel intimidated.

There were certainly questions on the survey where only a handful of people would have had any working knowledge. This was by design. This helped me to assess the level of honesty in self reporting as well as capture some of the more obscure areas of technology use on the campus.

One idea is to begin to develop a community of learning related to technology in the education with the current employees. I am looking for real change in the classroom as it relates to teaching and technology. However, I believe that my focus may have been too heavily focused on the technology skills. My belief that raising the overall technology skills would naturally lead to increased integration may not be the best model. While I still believe that these skills are important, I also feel that in order to affect real change in the classroom, I must engage the faculty in stimulating dialogue and readings related to learning theory and pedagogy. By starting this dialogue this year with current employees, the culture of professional dialogue will be introduced allowing for integration of the new faculty with the existing. Since time has been identified as a major issue by the school, this might be an opportunity for me to explore the use of technology to address the issue of time by implementing asynchronous discussion groups.

Another observation from this survey is the way current faculty and staff has developed their knowledge in technology. It seems that some employees have developed their skills to competencies necessary to minimally perform their job functions. There seems to be heavy reliance on others to do work that could be done by them if they had the knowledge and skill. This is supported by calls logged at the helpdesk. The survey showed rudimentary knowledge of several of the core applications. Since these applications have gone through several upgrades since the introduction of the network, the methods of working with some of these tools is out of date. There is a need for additional on-going training.

The applications which the faculty and staff seem to be most fluent in are the “back office” applications. These are the applications that are needed to perform the daily tasks of communication, document production and record keeping. Many of the skills and knowledge of applications that have direct impact on education scored very low. While more study needs to be done in this area to normalize the data, it appears that integration is primarily at the student level and because the students demonstrate a generally greater fluency in technology- digital natives. While this is not unusual, the effective use of technology for the construction of knowledge in class would be greatly enhanced if teachers were more familiar with techniques of integrating technology while keeping current learning models in mind. One possible way of addressing this would be to re-implement summer technology integration workshops. The summer workshops have received considerable interest in the past and the survey points to continued support. The following is a new model that I have developed that would change the focus from the technology training to technology experience. This model also draws upon student’s natural propensity toward technology.

Imagine a group of teachers gathering for a week to work as a group to solve real-world problems. These would be problems that have no single answer and really can’t be solved in the time that is given. Teachers would produce a series of artifacts that chronicle their journey as a group toward understanding. Now what if the problems are situated in their practice? What if the questions revolved around the craft of teaching and learning? What if the challenge was designed to deepen their personal understandings of how people learn, how knowledge is constructed?

What types of artifacts might be left behind? How would the teachers be engaged? What would be the methods of learning? What resources would be used? How would they use the technology? How would they gain the technology skills?

Now enter the mentors- students. During this week, teachers and students would be engaged in a common learning experience. Together, they would explore the world of learning and knowledge construction. Teachers would find themselves situated in their profession as well as personal learners. Students would work from the perspective of learners and mentors. Together they would work as a team, breaking down the traditional barriers that often exist between teacher and learner- barriers often arbitrarily defined by age.

Teachers and students would be selected and encouraged to volunteer. The desire would be to include teachers from all disciplines and levels. Students could include grades 5 and up. Students would have to be recommended for the program as the level of engagement would be intense and require long hours from all. Ability to work as a team would be very important. I envision a maximum of 20 people in the first program with students and teachers being equal in number. This would then allow us to create 2 larger groups of 10 as well as break down into groups of 5 for some activities.

At times, the groups would be able to interact as one large group. However, there would also be the opportunity to physically isolate the groups and allow them to use appropriate technologies to communicate and collaborate.

The emphasis of this program would be authentic learning situated in a social construct. Participants would be asked to do things that they might not normally do. However, reflecting on these experiences will help them to develop a better understanding of the process of learning and knowledge acquisition. Each learning adventure will provide a chance to teach as well as learn.

This type of workshop would be unique and has never been done at this school in prior years. I see the benefits of such a program as being immense as it would allow a core of teachers to experience the social construction of knowledge as pedagogy to developing technology integration skills. At the same time it would, draw on the strength of students in the area of technology as guides to help foster an environment of shared expertise- faculty and student strength supporting each other in the shared endeavor to learn.

The study also looked at the preferred training schedules and methodologies. While it was no surprise that the preferred method was one-on-one at their convenience, the relatively high score for the self-service tips and clips as well as CBT opens the door to additional training models. I feel that the higher interest in this type of training may also be related to the issue of time. I have done minimal exploration in this area at the school. This looks like a great area to start another research cycle. Why did self-service and CBT score so high? What attracts employees to this type of training? How can this type of training be authentic? How effective would this type of training be at the school? What structure can be developed that would engage the faculty and staff as learners and what type of accountability can be associated with this type of training? Can this training draw on the more advanced skills of others in the community as the start of a community of learning ( CoL)? While not all training should be done in this method, there are areas identified by the survey that could be addressed through this type of training. Exploration in this area could have potential for an on-going training program that becomes a shared part of a community of learning.

The second cycle was a shift of focus from skill assessment to engagement. Engaging the community in dialogue focused on learning theories and pedagogy, I found myself drawn into new relationships and functional shifts in my existing relationships. The big idea here was relationships leading to community; specifically the role my relationship would play.

This past year, I was able to practice many of the principles of learning theories related to construction of knowledge with my science class. Modeling online methodologies employed by professors of the Online Masters of Educational Technology program at Pepperdine, I experienced teaching in a blended format based on constructivist theories. Through these experiences, I noticed a shift in my relationship with my students. While I was the teacher, they began to also view me as another learner in the class. This new role in the relationship of teacher to student was exciting for all and helped me to see the value of this approach to teaching.

This experience helped to bridge a gap between myself and the faculty I train. In the past, most of my discussion with the faculty had been grounded in the mechanics of using specific software. While I would attempt to discuss the use of technology in the classroom, all discussions would eventually circle back to the mechanics. I believe that my new role in the classroom gave me new credibility with the faculty as I was also scene as a practitioner of the techniques that I was presenting.

When I started my attempt to engage faculty in discussion of pedagogy and learning theory, my role in relationships with faculty began to shift from technology to include being a resource in learning theories. This is not to say that everyone embraced these ideas or even welcomed the dialogue. However, I found myself now working with faculty in new says as well as forging relationships with faculty where I had little prior contact.

This experience helped to shape my vision for the third cycle. I saw the opportunity to model the practice of teaching with technology in a constructivist approach. In my training sessions with the teachers, I moved the emphasis off specific skills and replaced it with pedagogy. This was done by situating the training sessions in the context of learning theories. While these were clearly technology training sessions, they were also sessions on learning theories. The technology became the means by which we participated in the training.

Future Cycles

  1. Development of an online professional development program in technology
  2. Development and implementation of social construction of knowledge workshop centered on development of technology integration
  3. Development and implementation of formal teacher induction program

The first of these cycles centers on the development of an online training center for the school. This action cycle will play a very important role in the development and implementation of the teacher induction program and will be implemented throughout the development and execution phase of the induction program. This cycle is

The second follow-up cycle introduces a new concept in professional development for the school. Here students and teachers will learn side by side, each serving in the roles of teacher and student and working as a community of learners situated so that traditional barriers between student and teacher are removed allowing each to draw on the expertise of the other.

The third and final follow-up action discussed in this section is an action representing the culminating reflections on the literature and previous completed cycles. This cycle explores the development, proposal and implementation of a new teacher induction program at the school.

Future Cycle 1:

Development of an online professional development program in technology

One of the findings from the survey conducted in cycle 1 was a desire for employees to have the ability to increase their technology skills remotely through online training programs. Such a program includes simple help information that they could access online as well as more in depth training on specific applications and skills.

Research Question

In what ways will a formal online professional development program tailored to the needs of the school community change the way employees use technology and approach training in the future?

Sub-questions

  1. By formalizing the online delivery of technology training, in what ways will teachers and staff use online training for the acquisition of technology skills?
  2. How will formalizing the development of online technology training change my relationships with employees and the way I work with them individually.
  3. What online methods and techniques will prove most effective for developing understanding and acquiring new skills with technology?
  4. Not all technology skills and types of technology can effectively be taught through an online training program. What technologies and skill sets will prove to be more easily and effectively taught through an online training program and which technologies and skill sets are still best taught using other methods?

Background

We have informally experimented with online distribution of training materials over the past three years with the introduction of Tech Tips- a short step by step instruction for how to perform a basic computer function. These instructions usually include screen shots and sequential directions. During the first year, we wrote a series of these instructions based on calls logged at the help desk and personal observations made when training individual teachers.

The next year we added video instructions for many of the Tech Tips. These we called Tech Clips. During this time, the tips and clips were emailed to the community. Clips were place in a shared drive on the network with a link included in the e-mail. At times however, we e-mailed out a clip without a written tip. While many found the clip to be more than sufficient for the learning process, there were still those that requested written instructions. We decided that we would write the tips first then include a clip as we could produce them. The combined tip and clip proved to be very effective with many members of the community.

In the case of tech tips and clips, the information was not centrally located and the primary way of accessing the information was through a link in e-mail. This made it difficult for employees to find this information as many did not save the e-mail links. In hindsight, this was not the most efficient way of distributing the tips and clips.

There were times that I found the tips and clips in the computers recycle bin. This was often discovered when working with a teacher or staff member. Several times, I had the experience of a faculty member asking for help on a topic where I knew that we had created a tip and clip. This usually lead to recovery of the information from their recycle bin and a request that they review the information prior to my solving their problem.

This was occurring during a time when our office performed many tasks for users where the users should have had the knowledge. The tips and clips were implemented at a time when we made a shift in our policy and started asking users to take responsibility for many of these basic skills. As long as we were there to perform these tasks, we enabled them to ignore the need for these skills. This rapidly became a time problem as many of our calls could be handled if only the users had those skills. Therefore, we changed our policy requiring these types of calls to be training calls. We would only respond to the call when we were able to schedule an appointment for training at their location. This allowed us to meet with them and teach them the skill that they were missing.

These tasks included but were not limited to: creating a shortcut on the desktop, finding one of their files on their drive, recovering an e-mail they had deleted, creating a folder in which to save files, renaming a folder or file, and mapping to a network drive.

Some of the resounding successes from these tips and clips training methods were related to training for applications newly introduced at the school. For many of the school-wide applications, we would schedule training sessions in the computer labs for groups of employees. Often, there were conflicts in schedules and there were always some that were not able to make these sessions. For several of these training sessions, the material was presented was also placed in the tech tip and clip format. This was available to employees prior to some of the sessions as well as after the sessions. The intent was that it could be used as refreshers. Some of the skills presented would be done by an employee 2 or 3 times a year so it was easily forgotten.

We learned from these training sessions, that many of the people that missed the sessions felt that when they went through the tip and clip lesson related to the training session, they had all the information they needed and did not feel they needed to make up the session. This proved to be true in many cases as the employee then proceeded to perform the new skill without any additional help.

The use of tech tips and clips has had an impact on the frequency and types of calls to the helpdesk. However, one of the issues is that the tips and clips are not centrally located making them hard to retrieve. With the annual shift in staffing, many do not know that these resources are available. Therefore there is a need to formalize this process. The survey demonstrated a desire on the part of the faculty and staff to have this type of training available.

Action

This cycle would have several different parts. During this cycle:

  1. I will create a location on our Intranet to centralize the distribution of online training materials.
  2. I will then introduce this new training center to the faculty and staff with a short list of training material that is underdevelopment based on results from the cycle 1 survey of skills.
  3. I will explore a new model for application training. This would involve soliciting a small volunteer group of employees to take a short online course with the purpose of learning basic skills with an application that they have never used. From cycle 1, there was a large number of employees that had never used PowerPoint. This would be the test application. At the completion of this short on-line course, they will demonstrate their new knowledge by preparing a short presentation to use in their work place.
  4. Participants would then complete a short survey on their experience and recommendations on how to improve the program.

 

Future Cycle 2:

Development and implementation of social construction of knowledge workshop centered on development of technology integration

Imagine a group of teachers gathering for a week to work as a group to solve real-world problems. These would be problems that have no single answer and really can’t be solved in the time that is given. Teachers would produce a series of artifacts that chronicle their journey as a group toward understanding. Now what if the problems are situated in their practice? What if the questions revolved around the craft of teaching and learning? What if the challenge was designed to deepen their personal understandings of how people learn, how knowledge is constructed?

What types of artifacts might be left behind? How would the teachers be engaged? What would be the methods of learning? What resources would be used? How would they use the technology? How would they gain the technology skills?

Now enter the mentors- students. During this week, teachers and students would be engaged in a common learning experience. Together, they would explore the world of learning and knowledge construction. Teachers would find themselves situated in their profession as well as personal learners. Students would work from the perspective of learners and mentors. Together they would work as a team, breaking down the traditional barriers that often exist between teacher and learner- barriers often arbitrarily defined by age.

Teachers and students would be selected and encouraged to volunteer. The desire would be to include teachers from all disciplines and levels. Students would include grades 5 and up. Students would have to be recommended for the program as the level of engagement would be intense and require long hours from all. Ability to work as a team would be very important. I envision a maximum of 20 people in the first program with students and teachers being equal in number. This would then allow us to create 2 larger groups of 10 as well as break down into groups of 5 for some activities.

At times, the groups would be able to interact as one large group. However, there would also be the opportunity to physically isolate the groups and allow them to use appropriate technologies to communicate and collaborate.

The emphasis of this program would be authentic learning situated in a social construct. Participants would be asked to do things that they might not normally do. However, reflecting on these experiences will help them to develop a better understanding of the process of learning and knowledge acquisition. Each learning adventure will provide a chance to teach as well as learn.

There would be reading and online work prior to the week-long institute. This reading and work would provide the foundation for the principles explored during the week.

Development and implementation of formal teacher induction program

This follow-up cycle represents the reflection of the past year and the first three cycles in this action research. At the start of this research, I explored the literature surrounding professional development in the area of educational technology. I suspected that this was an area where considerable improvement could be made at the school. My hope was to explore my current professional development methods, current skill sets of the faculty and other employees and identify opportunities for improvement. Early in this process, I discovered literature that discussed characteristics of effective professional development in the area of educational technology.

Summarizing this information, an effective professional development program in educational technology should:

  1. Provide training in the context of use in the classroom. Learning activities should be authentic and situated in classroom use (Valovich).
  2. Focus on pedagogy rather than specific software skills. Skills can be taught in context of pedagogy and offered in the spirit of “just in time” learning (Meehan, Anderson).
  3. Emphasize just-in-time learning and learning on demand. Rather than covering software skills in a comprehensive manner, focus on only the skills necessary at that moment for the learning task at hand (Meehan, Anderson).

This information served as a basis for the first three cycles and specifically the development of the new training classes in cycle three and the impetus behind the development of the discussion topics for cycle 2. The literature also discussed a systematic training program for new employees known as an induction program. With the attrition rate being so high in the profession of teaching, the literature discusses how well planned induction programs increase retention of new teachers in the profession. Seeing this as a great vehicle for technology training for new employees, I wanted to explore the possibility of developing a school technology induction program for new employees.

As I progressed through the three cycles, I found I was engaging in more frequent conversations with faculty and staff. The subjects of these conversations were often pedagogy, training, and general experiences with technology. During this time, there has also been discussion regarding ways we could improve our training for new employees. As I started to reflect on how a technology induction program might be developed, I realized that the program could be far greater than technology. This could be a vehicle to induct teachers new to the school. Through this program, new teachers could be introduced to the life, history and culture of the school as well as formulating discussions of pedagogy and development of a shared repertoire.

With an induction program that takes in all aspects of school life rather than focusing on technology, the emphasis on technology training can be diminished allowing the tech training to become more transparent. While there will still be a need for some formal technology orientation to the school. However, much of the induction program can be accommodated by using technology to deliver information, facilitate discussions, and provide collaborative work areas for the new teachers. Routine procedures for using technology at the school can be documented and placed on the Intranet for retrieval on demand providing just-in-time training. Pedagogy using technology can be demonstrated by using the tools and services available at the school to facilitate the induction program.

Realizing that this takes this project outside of the technology office and would require additional buy-in from other members of the community, I approached an individual who would have a pulse on what the needs were in areas outside of technology. This individual is currently responsible for curricular programs and is chair of the accreditation process for the school. This placed them in the unique position of reading all of the reports from all parts of the community related to the accreditation process. Taking a proposal to this individual, we have teamed up to develop a proposal that we have now taken to the head of the school. Receiving approval to proceed, we will present this concept to the administrative team for their input.

At this time, we have planned an induction program that would last a total of three years with the hope that it will naturally transition into an ongoing community of practice. This program contains three elements: emphasis on effective instruction, ongoing assimilation into the culture of the school, and unifying a cadre of teachers.

Several years ago, the school went through the process of establishing a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that focused on the implementation of a set of qualities and practices that they felt described exemplary teaching. These are: (enter trait here). We have focused the first year of the program around the theme of exemplary teaching providing opportunities for the group to read and reflect on each trait. We will be using existing technology to facilitate on-line discussions and collaboration prior to short face to face meetings on each trait in the theme for the year. We have established a tentative schedule of topics as follows:

September- Attributes of Exemplary Teaching

October- The Brain and Learning

November- Understanding by Design

January- Great Essential Questions

February- Meaningful and Authentic Assessment (Part 1)

March- Meaningful and Authentic Assessment (Part 2)

April- Unification of themes

May- Reflections and Goal Setting

 

We also plan to establish a common reading to help focus on the themes for the year. At this time, we are considering Frank Smith, The Book of Learning and Forgetting.

The technology training that usually takes place during the first week of school will change from skill based to exploratory allowing teachers to experience collaboration and learning with technology. The training will continue as they utilize the technology throughout the course of the year with just-in-time training being delivered electronically through the development of an online training repository of skills and tasks related to life at the school as well as application tips and tricks. There will also be additional hands-on training available where effective use of technology can be experienced by the teachers. These sessions will be opened to all faculty and staff but priority will be given to the teachers in the induction program. These sessions will be a continuation of the training programs discussed in cycle 3 of this report.

It will be very important to determine the technology skills and knowledge of the induction class as this will determine the offerings and types of training that will be introduced throughout the year. It will also help to identify the new teachers that have specific expertise in technology as they can serve as additional resources within the community. This will be determined during the summer by having each new employee complete a technology survey similar to the one used in cycle 1 of this report. The survey will be adjusted so that it is more suitable for new rather than existing employees. This survey should be distributed to the new employees during the first week of August.

Teachers will be asked to be reflective of their teaching experiences and to record these reflections throughout the year. One way of helping the teachers to reflect is to give the reflection purpose. They will be asked to consider starting a professional portfolio. As they are preparing projects and curriculum for their classes, they will look for items that they are proud of and would like to feature in the portfolio. They will then critically evaluate the project for submission writing a reflective piece on their selection. Understanding that a teachers time is critical and that a new teachers time is even more precious, we believe that the extra time needed to start this portfolio will be minimal as it will be drawing on the work the teacher currently performs to prepare for class. The added reflection should be the only item requiring extra time. We will use existing technology at the school and assist each teacher in creating the electronic professional teaching portfolio.

The second year of the program will have less formal structure and will encourage each teacher to focus on a specific aspect of their practice. They will be grouped in learning circles according to the topics of focus and will be encouraged to pursue a limited action research project throughout the year. We will have several times during the year were we will gather as an entire cadre for sharing and reflection. Technology training will continue in a blended format and will again be conducted in a fashion as to make the technology as transparent as possible and keep the focus on pedagogy. Teachers will continue to add reflective work to their professional portfolios.

At this time, the third year is still loosely designed but will focus on developing the cadre for mentoring the new induction class. I envision a program where they are able to continue to develop as a cadre while also developing in a formal mentoring program. We currently have new teachers assigned to mentors but there is no guidance or training for being a mentor. The hope is that the third year will allow for this development and that would serve as mentors for the new induction class.

As teachers transition out of the induction program, the hope is that they will be better prepared to grow in their profession and that they would feel a sense of belonging that will continue to function for years to come as a community of practice at the school.