People drive change with technology in a New Jersey school district.
In Belmar Elementary School District, the superintendent and other education leaders have realized that people make the real difference, not the technology. With an expanded rollout of Chromebooks this fall at the elementary school, two staff members have spent the majority of their time helping teachers become comfortable with the devices and Google Apps for Education.
"I'm a firm believer in human resources create change," said David Hallman, superintendent of the school district. "It's not the currriculum or the tools or the technology; it's about people."
For more than 20 years, Kevin O'Donnell and Pamela Lockwood have taught at Belmar Elementary School, and more recently as part-time technology teachers, staff developers and network administrators. Because of their teaching background and the length of time they've served, they've earned the trust of the teachers they're trying to help, Hallman said. And that's made a world of difference in the school's culture, Hallman said.
As O'Donnell and Lockwood find out about different tools, they introduce them slowly, one-by-one, and work with teachers until they're comfortable incorporating them into their classroom on their own, O'Donnell said. When teachers experience difficulties, they call one of the team members, who respond within an hour or at least by the end of the day.
With the latest Chromebook initiative, teachers needed time with the devices away from students so they could explore, collaborate and figure out how to best use them in the classroom, O'Donnell said. The district gave them time with the devices and committed to supporting teachers with four years of professional development through Google certified trainer Rich Kiker.
That professional development includes figuring out how to make the best use of Google Apps for Education tools such as Google Forms, which gives teachers instant feedback on student learning.
"When they walk out like 'I'm going to use that tomorrow,' we call that the bingo, we know we hit them with something that they're going to want to use right away,'" O'Donnell said.
If teachers feel intimidated by technology, they're not going to accept new ways of doing things. But when they have the support and work in a culture where risk is accepted, they're more likely to use technology when they need to as an aid.
The district is investing more money in professional development rather than in devices because teachers need support, Hallman said. For example, Kiker has been identifying math apps for teachers to use and is also setting up a dashboard that will have recommended apps for different subject areas and grade levels in one place.
Initiatives like this enable teachers to individualize and personalize students' education, Hallman said. And now that teachers are held accountable for how much their students are growing in their learning abilities, it's even more important to differentiate instruction with the help of technology.
"It's going to take time, but I think we're going to see a big change in terms of how our students learn," Hallman said.
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