3 Components for Success with Instructional Technology

February 22, 2019

As an administrator, when you search for instructional technology, you’re looking to streamline a would-be cumbersome process and give valuable class time back to teachers. In order to ensure that the resource is not only implemented but is woven into instructional practices, the right training and processes must be put in place.

Caroline Brown, Compliance Facilitator for Wayne County Schools in NC, has made support for these types of technology a priority in her district. She is responsible for planning professional learning. In this role, she ensures fidelity of implementation and provides support for teachers.

Wayne County uses Classworks, the comprehensive online intervention resource, to help students close gaps using Renaissance STAR data. However, getting this many teachers up-and-running didn’t happen overnight. It was a coordinated effort to put a plan in place that keeps teachers engaged and ensures students benefit from high-quality, instructional resources.

I had the opportunity to interview Caroline to learn more about how they are experiencing success with their instructional resources.

What was it like when you first started using Classworks?

The first year we focused on learning the best practices for using Classworks, reaffirming its value, and communicating that value with teachers. At this time, I was working as a curriculum facilitator. Early, I wanted to focus on setting the right tone with Classworks in our district, so I became a liaison between our Classworks Curriculum & Instructional Specialist (C&I) and our teachers. I knew having a consistent dialogue would help us to have a better understanding of our new technology and help in my communications with teachers.

Now, we have many more students using Classworks across all grade levels.

How did you support your teachers as they adopted this new technology?

With one year under our belt, we had a pretty good idea of what it would take to successfully implement Classworks across the district. Professional development was going to play a huge role, as well as maintaining collaboration and conversation with our teachers about Classworks.

We customized our professional development schedule for the year, and then I made sure to attend every single one. I traveled with the C&Is and met them at each school. This reinforced the district’s support, not just for them, but for our teachers as well. It’s one thing for the teachers to be told they have ‘district support’, but to actually see someone there is a reminder that we’re all in this together.

Why and how was communication such an important part of your process?

I was able to join in on the conversation with teachers during professional learning sessions. By attending the sessions, I had the chance to hear what they were saying in the schools, what they liked, and what they wanted to learn more about. It helped me provide them with the most relevant information and tailor our future plans. It was through collaboration and observation that we learned how to best implement Classworks district-wide, and it’s a model that benefits everyone.

Keeping an open dialogue is vital to success. Because I always had an ear out to communicate one-on-one with teachers, I was able to connect on a more personal level than I ever could with email.

Wayne County has over 800 teachers using Classworks. How does training help everyone stay on the same page, and what types of follow-up do you do?

With as many teachers and students as we have, training is imperative to make sure everyone is using Classworks as effectively as possible. It’s a key piece to using this new resource with fidelity.

We also have to go beyond just the training and ensure the teachers are really comprehending the value of Classworks.

After each session, I would always follow-up with emails reiterating the training and reestablishing the support resources available to teachers.

We tried not to do ‘train-the-trainer’ sessions because, ideally, we want all of our teachers to get the best practices directly from our Classworks trainers. But, sometimes it’s necessary to have these sessions due to schedules and availability. We wanted to maintain the consistency of the trainings so I had to put another process in place.

I followed up with every trainer in our district to provide expectations and guidance. Each lead teacher "trainer" filled out a form describing how they would train staff at their schools. We were going to do this as effectively as possible. This helps maintain that teachers are using Classworks with fidelity across all of our schools.

Then at the training, each trainer would collect a sign-in sheet and submit it to me as sort of an artifact of evidence.

I do my best to attend these sessions and provide another layer of support as they need it.

Again, it’s really just about keeping the line of communication open. Sometimes, even though teachers know they have district support, it can feel like there’s a separation. Seeing you there makes a difference. It gives the chance for immediate feedback and guidance.

It’s also important to give teachers their autonomy. They need to grow implementing new solutions into their plans and feel comfortable. We don’t want them to have a bad experience and leave a bad taste in their mouth. You’ve got to strike a balance between building accountability and not becoming overbearing. You’re always learning and the process keeps evolving for the better.

How are your teachers liking the new Classworks Smartguide online courses*?

We are very excited to start working on them! Giving teachers the flexibility to expand their knowledge without waiting for a training day is great. In our district, these courses also count towards professional learning credits. Right now, I’m going through all of the courses, myself, and compiling a chart for my teachers. It will include a brief description of each course and how long it will take them. We will use this chart to assign the appropriate amount of credits to our teachers once they submit their completion certificates.

Do you have any advice for other districts bringing on instructional technology?

Communication is key! Don’t just tell your teachers they have the district’s support, show them. Be an ear and maintain that open, consistent line of communication. Also, remember to give your teachers the room to grow into any new software or system.

*Classworks offers free, online courses on a variety of topics. Learn more.

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