Roanoke County School System Faculty and Staff's Perceptions Regarding the Use of Web-Based Professional Development
Implications for Improvement of Practice
Introduction (could be longer. Include mandatory teacher ongoing certification standards)
Ongoing staff development has long been a vital part of the educational environment. It is the means by which the faculty and staff of a school system are kept current in educational trends, technologies and philosophies. In a diverse society, social pressures felt in the classroom are continually making the teaching process more challenging.
In the past few years alone, the advance in computer capabilities and in-home computer gaming equipment has affected the attention span of the average student. Elementary and secondary education students have a different paradigm as to what is interesting. Thus the challenge in the classroom to grab, hold, and mold the students attention have changed. An effective teacher must be aware of these changes, and other social influences, and be equipped to adjust his or her teaching styles to continue to reach his/her students. Ongoing professional development is the means by which the school system can stay current with the needs of its student body.
Therefore, the overarching goals of an effective staff development program must include:
Having maximum staff participation,
Providing relevant, quality content,
Generating effective, positive results which enhance the staff's professional abilities.
Given the current environmental factors in the K-12 academic arena, growing and maintaining staff participation in professional development programs is one of the most important aspects of creating an effective teaching environment, and building an effective, equipped teaching staff.
Nature of the Problem
Pedagogy, the Greek word that has come to mean the art and science of teaching actually means "leading children." This term, commonly used throughout the teaching profession, has become education's way of explaining teaching and the relationship between teacher and student. Pedagogy can be defined as the combination of learning and teaching, the how and the why of a student's ability to apply what they have learned. Stated more simply, the art and science of teaching can be described as the interconnected workings of the personal nature and the professional nature of the teacher. Simply because a teacher knows his subject backwards and forwards does not mean that he can effectively teach that subject to others. In the same light, a teacher who is effective for a number of years can no longer expect to remain effective with the diverse set of cultural sub-currents which flow though the student population. Every teacher needs to be:
Completely versed in his subject matter.
S) He must keep current with all the new methods and trends within his respective discipline.
The knowledge of ever-changing technology will only add to the quality of the methods of the teacher.
S) He must also be aware of cultural and significant environmental shift affecting the local student population.
The broader our awareness beyond our content areas, the more we can relate to the diversity of students sitting in our classrooms, and the diversity of our teaching tasks" (Reed).
Another situation encountered by teachers is "that to focus on the art of teaching is perceived as anti-intellectual" (Cuban). Content in education is being stressed by curriculum reformers today. They are concerned with the knowledge retained by the students, not with the students' ability to use that knowledge. These reformers have no use for the philosophy of "teaching the whole child." They are only interested in the results of the latest tests and then with comparing these test scores to those of other students across the nation or across the world. Recently state wide standards of learning were introduced in the Roanoke School system. The resulting tendency is for teachers to instruct their students with the required materials for the test, and ignore the students' needs to be able to process the information into life skills
Dr. Maxine Greene, professor of philosophy and education at Columbia University's Teachers College is a proponent of the modern philosophy of teaching the whole child. She believes that, "teaching is about loving questions and moving kids to search for answers in science, literature, and other subjects. A great teacher gets excited about these unanswered questions and becomes an example of quest and curiosity" (Oringel). An effective teacher uses both the art and science of teaching to create this love of knowledge in his students. A teacher that is constantly learning himself models this love of learning for his students. To describe a teacher who does not balance his methods of teaching, Dr. Greene has said that, "if they (the teachers) act like clerks, the kids won't get anywhere (Oringel).
The successful blending of the art and science of teaching is intrinsic to the well rounded development of a student, and his/her teacher. A teacher that strives for effectiveness will discover how to use the science of teaching to complement his own artful teaching ability. He will learn how to merge the two facets of teaching in every part of his life. He will find that teaching skills are as necessary as curricular knowledge. His love of learning will raise the senses of his students to ask their own tough questions and to look for their own answers. Dr. Greene summarizes her book Teacher As Stranger: Educational Philosophy for the Modern Age with this statement, "to help kids shape their identity, we've got to awaken them to their own questions and encourage them to create their own projects. They don't really learn unless they ask" (Oringel).
The same is true for the teacher.
The profession of teaching requires each teacher to examine his personal pedagogy. From his dedicated evaluation, the teacher can then establish his own individual balance between the art and the science of teaching.
The discussion of professional teacher development (PTD) and how to build an effective PTD program must consider the teacher as a student, and take into consideration the art (how the material is presented) and the science (what is presented) of learning. In the PTD setting, the teacher is a student who's needs must be met at a professional level. They also are a teacher, who is being equipped to take the PTD material, and translate it for their classroom, and their students.
The Roanoke County school system consists of 29 schools and approximately 2000 faculty and staff. Staff development and teacher training are an integral part of the continuing education of Roanoke County employees with most sessions being conducted after school hours on various school sites. This current arrangement necessitates adjusted school and teaching schedules, travel arrangements and expenses, and building use costs. If the current system were being utilized to it's full capacity, these additional time and physical costs would be a small investment in a successful program.
However, observation and informal interviews shows a significant decline in staff participation.
In a school system with close to 2000 faculty and staff, recent scheduled PTD events have been attended by less than a dozen participants. Informal interviews with staff throughout the Roanoke county school system revealed that when PTD days are schedules, a small fraction of one percent of the teaching staff participates. This lack of interest could be attributable to many factors:
Lack of reagent content, information that is intrinsically meaningful the real life needs of the teaching staff. (The science of teaching)
Poorly designed PTD modules (the art of teaching) time and scheduling conflicts.
A lack of real perceived benefit on the behalf of those participating. (Both art and science of teaching)
In an effort to increase participation in the program the school system purchased an online delivery system for faculty and staff training from Blackboard (Blackboard, 2002). Blackboard Inc. is a leading e-Learning infrastructure company powering the online transformation of the global higher education industry - the."edu" marketplace. Its products and Web properties are used by over 3,600 colleges, K-12 schools, professional organizations, and commercial education providers to bring their academic, administrative, community, and other educational services online. Blackboard currently serves over 2.1 million unique users in every state and in 70 countries. (Dell.com 2000)
Major computer manufactures also recognize the value of provide training in the art and science of teaching via online delivery systems. For example, recently Dell announced a strategic relationship with Blackboard Inc. To install its Blackboard 5 software on Dell servers for the education market. The agreement is part of Dell's commitment to maintain a leadership position in helping universities, colleges, and K-12 schools harness the power of the Internet.(Dell.com, 2000)
The company will offer its education customers individualized e-Learning programs, end-to-end technical consulting, web-hosting, web applications and wireless network capabilities. Through this agreement, Blackboard and Dell can help provide institutions with the necessary technology and support to enhance in-class instruction by bringing course materials, class discussions, assignments and tests to the web.
The problem is that the employees of the Roanoke County school system are not currently participating in the online offerings of the staff development department either.