From Teachers to Teacher Mentors through Staff Development
Haas, Karlheinz, Multimedia Schools
The Southern Regional High School District in southern Ocean County, New Jersey, is a grades 7-12 regional district that houses about 3,500 students and almost 300 teachers. An overview of the staff development program was featured in the March/April `99 issue of MULTIMEDIA SCHOOLs. Here, I would like to present a snapshot of two initiatives undertaken in the areas of math and science.
Building on what had been learned through an already strong staff development program, we decided to take the next step and focus in on teacher leadership and mentorship skills in order to foster a collaborative atmosphere, which could lead us toward an interdisciplinary approach to professional growth. I felt that in my present position as the district's director of Technology Education, I had the capacity to provide the guidance and support needed to initiate new projects. I could then step back and encourage the teachers to take on responsibility for the activities themselves, bringing other teachers along as the scope of the project and the number of participants grew.
The examples cited here to illustrate the district's approach to staff development have two aspects in common. The examples show how teachers took an active role in their professional growth and became mentors and facilitators for their peers and how active administrative support is an important ingredient of any staff development project.
Over the past several years, the school communities and the district's board of education have supported significant investments in new facilities and technology expansion. As access and availability to computers and other forms of technology have steadily increased, the focus of the district's activities shifted to the improvement of our staff development program. The goal is to empower teachers and their students to use technology as a regular and integral part of their teaching and learning.
Approximately 2 years ago, in an effort to help teachers in math and science integrate technology and develop an inquiry-based approach to curriculum, three high school teachers (two math, one science) agreed to submit a grant under the Standards Implementation Project of the New Jersey State Systemic Initiative (NJSSI) (http://dimacs. rutgers.edu/~njssiweb). The project was funded and enabled the teachers to develop three interdisciplinary curricular units addressing topics from Probability and Statistics, Discrete Math, and Biology. Technology integration throughout each of the projects was substantial. During one of the units ("The River Study," see Figure 1 page 44), students took a field trip to the College of New Jersey (http://www.tcnj.edu), which collaborated in the project. Students used laptop computers with the appropriate probes and sensors to collect a variety of data in the field. Immediately upon their return, they began working in groups to analyze the data. Over the next 4 days the students created a variety of media presentations to report the results. The activities were posted on the district's Web site along with some very creative project results, which were shared with other schools in the initiative (http://dune.srhs.k12.nj.us/ssi/rivers/index.html).
Collaboration and teamwork took place on two different levels. On one level students collected data at different stations, reported their results back to the group, and collaborated to create a picture of what was happening to the environment they were studying. On another level, working on an interdisciplinary project made it necessary for the teachers to act as mentors for each other in two aspects: the tools used for the investigation, and the content (math versus science) that was needed to accomplish the assignment. It helped strengthen the ties between the departments and demonstrated to the students the real-world applications and connections between the two disciplines. The type of activities undertaken by both students and teachers continues to be carried out whenever possible. …