IF YOU HAD A CHOICE between a method for professional development that was effective less than 10 percent of the time versus a method that was effective 88 percent of the time, which would you choose?
Not so fast. If you're like me, you would first want a little more information. You can find it in research done more than 25 years ago by Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers, authors of the book Student Achievement Through Staff Development (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002), showing that a teacher's effort to transfer a newly learned skill into actual practice in the classroom will have varying degrees of success depending upon the extent to which the teacher "interacts" with the skill. If the teacher only hears about the theory behind the skill, there is a mere 5 to 10 percent chance the teacher will actually use that skill in the classroom. But if the teacher not only learns the theory but also sees a demonstration of the skill in action, practices it, and receives follow-up coaching and support from a respected peer, the chance of its being implemented increases to nearly 90 percent.
Naturally, the preferable approach is the one that succeeds more often, but it's also the one that requires more work. The most difficult part of the latter method is having the follow-up help available when the teacher needs it. North Carolina, as well as a number of other states, has put in place a model to provide that help and is testing to see what effect it is having.
The IMPACT model, as it is called, is outlined in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's "IMPACT: Guidelines for North Carolina Media and Technology Programs" (www.ncwiseowl.org/impact). It provides for a broad base of support for teachers. The plan calls for each school to employ a full-time school library media coordinator, a full-time media assistant, a full-time technology facilitator, and a full-time technician. This team is responsible for helping to create a technology-rich, resource-rich teaching and learning environment. It collaborates with teams of teachers to plan lessons and units of instruction that emphasize authentic, project-based activities which foster higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills.
In creating its media and technology guidelines, the department drew from educational research and best practices from schools across North Carolina, many of which had components of what became the IMPACT model already in place. Yet few had the full complement of staffing, hardware and software, connectivity, and professional development/collaborative planning necessary to change the building-level culture and practice into a 21st-century teaching and learning environment. In 2003, the state decided to launch the IMPACT model and test its effects using federal research dollars and grant money for school districts available through Title II-D of the No Child Left Behind Act and the US Department of Education's Evaluating State Educational Technology Programs grant. The Title II-D competitive money paid for the technology positions; the state was already funding the media coordinator; local or state dollars picked up the cost of the media assistant. The grant money also paid for the hardware, software, connectivity, and professional development that were aligned to the North Carolina Educational Technology Plan (tps.dpLstate.nc.us/TechPlan0509).
Eleven North Carolina schools were selected to implement the model through a competitive grant process, and each had its own unique problems to solve. How are things working so far? With their teachers trained in all of the new technologies the project has provided, and prepared to integrate those technologies into their lessons, students are more engaged in their work, their performance is improving, and, in parts of the state that needed it, there is hope for a better life that only education can provide. All told, there's no mistaking the benefits of providing professional development that shows, rather than merely tells, teachers how a technology is used, and backs it up with ongoing support from a team of professionals. …