Creating Teacher Leaders as Scalable Reform

When discussing what to do with $3 million for advancement of online education with @eabbey, I argued that we ought to invest the money into teachers: teaching them how to use the already available systems in effective ways. The way I see it, most computer labs are wasted with word processing tasks.  While getting every student a laptop might be nice, $3 million isn’t going to do it.  So my argument is to teach teachers how to engage students better with the equipment already available.  Imagine if teachers were fighting to get into the computer lab to use the computers effectively.  This kind of problem could cause districts to consider purchasing more computers or even going 1:1.  Furthermore, if/when districts do go 1:1, the teachers will be better prepared to implement.  The learning curve will be less steep.

However, the worthy discussant @eabbey is, he pointed out that $3 million spread out over just secondary teachers in his state equates to about $200 dollars per teacher (or about 1 measly professional development day). He further questions (or more likely noted) whether 1 professional development day is enough.  Of course not.  However, what if the $3 million was invested in creating teacher leaders.  People in districts who may already have high interest in online learning, but do not have time/resources/background knowledge to bring the online world into their classroom.  By teaching a core group (or several core groups) how to meaningfully engage with what is already available for free, they will become models in their building of what is possible.  Furthermore, significant time could be spent during professional development helping the teachers prepare to help others in their district.  The scalability is not in the number of teachers first affected, but in the “trickle down” effect.  At the state level, leaders are created, then within the schools, the inclusion of online learning becomes a grassroots effort!

My worry is that $3 million dollars will be spent on “stuff”, or developing some online hub for teachers in the state to access.  The problem with using moneys to create new, is that many teachers are still not using what is available right now.  If they aren’t using the “old”, why would we expect them to use the “new”?

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4 Responses to Creating Teacher Leaders as Scalable Reform

  1. eabbey says:

    Your concept of “teacher leaders” as a train-the-trainer model is certainly a good model for professional development. This is especially true from an administrative point of view, where sustainability is the key outcome. Investing $3 million in “teachers” looks a lot different if we actively identify who the teachers are that we invest in. It leads to less time being spent with basic learning (“this is how you log into Moodle”) and more spent on pedagogical change.

    You still are fighting the problems of systemic change, however. There are many “teacher leaders” who have been trained to integrate technology, be it by AEA-sponsored programs, ITEC, graduate courses, or even their own PLN. This includes a lot more money than $3 million a year. Yet, has it really led to transformative change? In most schools, those teacher leaders remain isolated pockets. That knowledge doesn’t naturally trickle down to others without systemic administrative support and structuring.

    If your fear of “stuff” is relegated to the purchasing of online content to be used in the development of online learning, then I see your perspective. However, if your fear of “stuff” extends to the fear of development of any systemic statewide structure that can move schools, then I think you are missing the picture. Even in a Super-School where all the teachers rally and make online courses, how does that benefit the school? Students can take the courses they could take in a face-to-face setting now online, with the same teachers and the same fellow students?

    The potential of online learning is that it opens courses up to be taught in schools that couldn’t otherwise teach them. Most rural districts cannot afford a French teacher, or AP courses. But if one school has the resources to provide French instruction, and another the resources to provide AP Literature, and another the resources to provide engineering, and another architecture, you have just made all those courses available to the rural students.

    This type of availability doesn’t take place unless there is a system for districts to share. If it could take place… it would already exist, as online education certainly isn’t new and the need has been there for years.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      Won’t what you are talking about just be a new version of the ICN? How much did that cost? How much is it used? While now we have free platforms, but use is still the issue. I would bet students would be more willing to take online college courses for college credit than online high school courses.

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  2. Jeremy Haugen says:

    I have to agree with eabbey… atleast to a point.
    When South Dakota schools went 1:1 MUCH of the state’s share of the cost went into professional development. The main problem? It was 1 years worth of PD. I can’t speak for other schools, but my school didn’t continue to innovate after that basic push to comfortable mediocrity.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      Jeremy, I fail to see how you agree with @eabbey. You note that the laptops haven’t really done anything. That is what I am saying. Unless we address what the teachers DO, the stuff is pointless. My argument is to extend the PD for a select few for several years. While @eabbey has a point that that has happened in the past, so has the idea of online courses to help rural districts. The common denominator in why both failed to meaningfully reform schools is likely the people or the implementation. Nothing is a magic bullet, people have to fire the bullet. A reform initiative is only as good as those who run it and participate in it.

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