District partners with Dell Inc.'s Education Business Development for on-the-job teacher training

Fridays have always been the same for the staff of Lake Travis ISD's Curriculum and Instructional Services Department, said Becky Burnett, assistant superintendent for CIS. It has become a custom, she said, for everyone in the department to gather for team workdays every Friday. The staff uses the time to see what everyone else is working on and offer advice and suggestions. It did not take many meetings for Learning Technologies Coordinator Carl McLendon to speak up about the disconnect between students, technology and lesson plans.

"We started asking questions like, 'Why do you have technology in classrooms?'" Burnett said. "[That question] was a big piece of the puzzle, and we wanted to start infusing technology. Before we were saying, 'I have this piece of technology—how do I use that?' and, 'Here is what I want to teach—what technology do I use?' That was the wrong mindset. We need teachers asking, 'How am I going to work with this different technology? What is my activity, and how can I best demonstrate that using these tools?'"

Burnett said these discussions, along with community input and recommendations from another, similar school district, led LTISD to change the way it looks at educating its teachers during the year and how it deals with technology in the classroom.

Visioning meeting

The district held a Visioning meeting June 16 with school administrators, students, business owners, higher education staffers and parents to get input on next-generation learning and the infusion of technology in the classroom.

"We wanted to make sure to have [the program based in reality," Burnett said. "Students use technology for every aspect of their lives. That is what we heard from the students. It firmed up that we have different learners, and we have to become different educators."

Working with Dell Inc.

LTISD met with Snow White, a business development senior consultant for Dell Inc., about the Round Rock–based computer company's program for integrating technology into education.

Dell has been involved with professional learning and development for about 11 years, White said

"The trend we are seeing is that more students have access to technology, and that is resulting in a higher demand for professional learning for teachers. Even though Lake Travis [ISD] isn't doing a 1-1 [ratio of technology to students], they know students have access to a lot of technology."

White and a group of former educators, known as facilitators, met with the school district about job-imbedded learning, or learning on the job, during the Visioning meeting. Starting Oct. 13 about 30 LTISD teachers will sit down with Dell facilitators in a one-on-one setting to go over lesson plans and work together to create a technologically rich education environment.

"Before we would have teachers attend seminars and conferences and come back to the classroom with every intent to implement what they learned," Burnett said. "But things would fall by the wayside. We are trying to get to a point where [teaching with technology] is the norm. Students aren't taught things once and expected to retain it. They are taught, retaught and then taught again. We are going to do the same thing with our teachers."

White said Dell has been involved in school technology for a long time, and it can take several months to make the strides needed for implementing technology.

"When we see a real impact on learning, it is when there are sustainable and scalable technology plans in plaice," she said. "All of our practices have research behind them. We don't look at a this as a canned approach. We have to understand the district's vision for the learning model—where they have been and where they want to go. We have to provide for their needs. The nice thing about [LTISD] is they have a very cohesive executive cabinet. They all have the same vision of what they want to do with the students.

"We have to make sure that this isn't just a teacher initiative. We have to build systemic processes throughout the district. That is critical for technology implementation. We focus so much on the teachers, but we've seen programs where the leadership isn't engaged and those programs don't tend to succeed. That is why the Visioning day was so important."

LTISD schedules 19 days during the school year on which teachers generally attend conferences. This year 30 teachers from every campus and grade level in the district will spend those days working with a facilitator, asking questions and creating a new lesson plan based around the district's Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, policy, which allows students to bring their own devices, such as smart phones or laptops, rather than providing devices to each student.

The teachers will meet with the Dell facilitators once a month, including some time in which the teacher is with his or her class. The teacher can either observe the facilitator, split time or teach the whole class. Each session includes a debrief in which the facilitator and teacher can discuss why things were done a certain way and ways things can be improved or modified.

"Those 30 teachers will be our trailblazers," Burnett said. "We are hoping that, through word of mouth, the program will catch on quickly. When other teachers see and hear the success of these trailblazers, they will want to try it as well."

Other teachers in the district will be encouraged to sit in on classes taught by the "trailblazers" to see firsthand the changes the facilitators helped make, she said.

Burnett said she plans to have the first 30 teachers become the facilitators for the following school year and by the third year have the program become the norm in the district.

Following footsteps

White worked with Houston-area Clear Creek ISD a year before coming to LTISD, giving the district a model to follow and from which to learn.

"We went to a conference CCISD held in August," Burnett said. "It was a perfect situation. They are a year ahead of where we are, so we could ask any questions we had about the program."

Burnett said LTISD learned a lot about what worked and what did not work by observing CCISD, and she hopes to one day provide a similar service.

"I hope [other districts come to us]," she said. "What I want is everyone doing a program like this. I will assist any district that is on the same path we are."