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Advice on developing technology staff development


(CC) Photo by eren {sea+prairie}

A colleague in one of my Google+ circles asked for some general advice on developing technology related staff development sessions. Well, I am certainly no expert on staff development or adult education. My college degrees were in working with students, just like most of yours probably are. Pausing to reflect, I realized that after a decade of experience leading technology staff development sessions perhaps I have actually gathered a few choice nuts. I’ve taken a moment to attempt to gather a few of my learned tendencies and considerations.

I’ll begin by saying that we in the LPS Computing Services Training department often hear about folks in our schools who have been tasked with leading technology staff development in buildings. If this is something you WANT to do and feel competent doing, and feel is consistent with your role in the building we would love to support you however we can. On the other hand, this is what we are here for! If you feel uncomfortable with what you are being asked to do, feel free to push back on your building leadership and ask them to contact Kristi Peters and/or Tim Hahn. If a technology topic is important enough to a building’s professional development that the office can guarantee 10 or more people will be in attendance we would LOVE to come out to your building and lead the session ourselves. In many ways, this is actually our preferred methodology.

With that being said, I’ll continue on with a brain-dump of the wisest things I can think of at the moment…


Ideally I try to treat staff development on technology focused topics no different than any other topic. Pedagogically, the methods would be consistent. Good teaching strategies don’t change with the content you are covering.

In reality, we often face significant constraints. Our sessions are generally limited to a couple of hours or less, there is no opportunity to create a structure for support of learning via practice and reflection, there is no followup post-session and ultimately there are no tangible expectations placed upon the recipients short of being “present and accounted for.” This essentially cuts 3/4 of the legs out from under the instructional table and makes using what we know about sound educational practices less useful.

Our sessions often remind me of walking down the beach and seeing a stranger getting into a kayak with the intent of crossing the Pacific Ocean and having them shout in your direction as you pass by “Hey buddy, before I shove off, tell me what I need to know about water.” Where do you begin, or end?

In this scenario where we have no prior relationship with the attendees, no data on their existing knowledge of the topic, no time for a cycle of instruction / practice / reflection, no expectations of the participants applying what they have learned, what we are really trying to do is figure out how to use our limited time together most effectively. Our objective becomes getting our information to be more memorable and packaged in a way to independently support users in an “on-demand” format as they need it in the future.

Address Human Needs

Experience as an elementary school teacher helps to inform much of my staff development work. Like children learning a new subject, staff members rarely come to a session with any scaffolding – prior knowledge of the topic we are covering. Since we tend to forget positive experiences more easily than negative ones, if staff come to my session with anything, it is likely to be emotional baggage about a previous experience that did not go well. You’ll need to be conscious of their emotional needs and address what you can.

Some trainers bring food to sessions for this reason. I like to eat as much as the next guy, but I prefer to begin sessions with a video clip – a “thinking device.” These are nice for a lot of instructional reasons, but in this scenario their real value to me is that they can serve as a redirect. Whatever baggage the participants arrive with gets set down for a moment as they watch the video. When the clip ends, I ask a question about the clip, forcing them to shift mental gears for a moment, putting more distance between the current moment and the moment they arrived in the room. This helps to cleanse the palate, and sets a better scene for beginning the session.

If I jumped right in and started showing where to click, I’m afraid that I would lose many people. Instead, I try to frame what we are about to do in a larger context, provide a connection to something they already know to be true. Perhaps the thinking device I’ve shown provides a good segue for this.

Nervous people don’t clearly hear or understand what they are being told. If they don’t hear or understand, they will certainly not remember it. With that in mind, before I even begin preparing the contents of the session I try to put together a valuable set of supports that staff can return to after the session (or others may find useful if they didn’t even attend.) These might be web pages, PDFs, videos, or a combination of all of these. Before we touch the computers I show these to the participants and attempt to convey that Computing Services is available to support them. This is an attempt on my part to offer a safety net for them and reduce anxiety. Before they begin they now know that there is a lifeline they can access if they need it in the future. We also know that we only really keep a person’s full attention for 20 minutes or so, and if they are going to remember one thing, I would hope it is that they have supports in place.

There is Never Enough Time

I attempt to take the topic and render it down to the very essence of what they have to know to leave the session and continue using the tool or concept. In a good situation, I’ll get to cover 25% of what they MIGHT need to know, but hopefully it is a functional & foundational 25%. Try to imagine a fire drill eliminating half of your time together. Will they still understand enough to begin independently tomorrow?

Any time that can be spent hands-on and using a tool while an experienced user is in the room to address questions is time well spent. If you have 2 hours with the participants and feel like you can cover 70% of the topic in that time frame, you will actually be better off covering only 40% of the topic and offering more time for participants to engage the tool or discuss the concept with peers.

Every 10-15 minutes you need to create an opportunity for reflection, even if it is only for 60 seconds. Offering a guided question is very useful, but it does not need to be Nobel laureate quality. Simply asking them to reflect for a moment with an elbow partner is a useful enough conversation starter in many cases.

When time is not abundant, the situation may call for a different approach all together. Perhaps you’ve got 20 minutes or less with a group of teachers. You’ll need to take more of an “executive briefing” strategy. A) Begin by recognizing that time is limited, B) Deliver either a short overview of the topic or a sales pitch for the tool, with no opportunity for interaction, C) Introduce support materials, D) Entertain questions from the participants in the time remaining. In these cases you are less of an educator and more of a journalist or salesman, but your educational background will help inform what you do and use your time wisely.

Everything is Hard

One thing I have learned from experience is to go out of my way to never call what we are covering “simple” or “easy” or create an implication that they should be able to do this without struggling in any way. That puts them in a no win situation. Either it really is easy, and they feel no sense of accomplishment because I said it SHOULD be easy, or they are struggling and feel ashamed because I’ve implied that they should not be.

Another thing to remember is that when working with adults, you have no positional authority over them. You will do your best to prepare and deliver the information. The hardest part is getting these peers of yours to care about what you are bringing to their attention. People do not act upon new information unless they are emotionally invested. (Being required to act to keep their job is a form of emotional investment. We don’t have that authority.)

My Pantheon of Professional Resources

“Teaching That Sticks” is an LPS staff development session I offer on occasion that is largely based upon the book ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip & Dan Heath. That book has been more influential on my trainings than almost anything else I have encountered. It is an easy read, chock-full of strategies to try, and I highly recommend it.

The facilitation skills modeled in “Adaptive Schools” trainings would also be a tremendously good use of your time if you ever have the opportunity to participate. If not, any facilitation related trainings or texts go a long way when working primarily with other adults.

The books ‘Presentation Zen’ by Garr Reynolds or one of Nancy Duarte’s books on presenting ‘slide:ology: the Art & Science of Creating Great Presentations‘ or ‘Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences‘ would be excellent reads if you are wanting to improve your content delivery.

If you find yourself in a situation where you develop a longer term relationship with a teacher or a group of teachers, you really shift from the role of “Trainer” to the role of “Coach.” The best resource for this working environment might be the text ‘Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction’ by Jim Knight.

In LPS we maintain a subscription to a number of e-book titles in the Gale Virtual Reference Library. Many of these focus on modern instructional models that take advantage of brain research, multisensory learning, visual learning and using technology with classroom instruction. These would be useful for instructing people of any age. Talk to your local media specialist if you need assistance accessing these texts.

Your Turn to Share

There you have a few of the “nuts” I have gathered over the years. Now it is your turn! I’m also interested in hearing the thoughts of others. I’d love to learn something from you as well!


Posted in My Thoughts, Tips & Tutorials.

Tagged with , , .

We, the Web Kids

“My, dzieci sieci”

by Piotr Czerski,
translated by Marta Szreder,
remixed/downsampled to verse by Chris Pultz

We grew up with the Internet
and on the Internet.

We do not ‘surf’.

The internet is not
a ‘virtual space’, not
external to reality, but
part of it.

We do not use the Internet,
we live on the Internet
and along it.

The Web is not a technology
which we had to learn and
which we managed to get a grip of.

The Web is a process,
happening continuously and
continuously transforming
before our eyes;
with us and
through us.

Technologies appear
then dissolve in the peripheries,
websites are built,
bloom and
pass away, but
the Web continues,
because we are the Web

Brought up on the Web
we think differently.

When we want to know something
we know that we’ll find the information
in a lot of places,
we know how to get to those places,
we know how to assess credibility.

We have learned to accept
that instead of one answer
we find many different ones.

We select,
we filter,
we remember,
and we are ready to swap
the learned information
for newer, better information,
when that comes along.

To us, the Web is a sort of
shared external memory.

We do not have to remember
unnecessary details:
street names,
detailed definitions.

It is enough for us
to have an abstract,
the essence needed to process
and relate information
to other information.

Should we need details,
we can have them
within seconds.

We do not have to be experts,
because we know where to find experts
in what we ourselves are not.

When we create,
we usually just
give it back
for circulation.
We are willing to pay, but
our money has stopped being
paper notes. It is a
string of numbers
on the screen.

We show appreciation and
want to reward artists.

It is not our fault that
business has ceased to make sense in
traditional form.

It is not our fault that
instead of accepting the challenge and
trying to reach us with
something more than we can get for free
they defend obsolete ways.

We are willing to pay, but we
expect to receive added value.

Payment is a symbolic act of exchange
that is supposed to benefit both parties.

Our view of social structure
is different from yours:
society is a network,
not a hierarchy.

We will start a dialogue with anyone,
professor or pop star.

The success of the interaction
depends solely on whether
the content of our message
will be regarded as
and worthy of reply.

“Generations” exist only on paper.

We were not born of a reality, but rather
a metamorphosis of the reality itself.

Reality never provided us with a single
tangible, meaningful, unforgettable
event with which to forever distinguish us
from the previous generations.
We keep looking for it.

Our groundbreaking change
came unnoticed.
Along with cable TV,
mobile phones, and, most of all,
Internet access.

We have learned that change is possible:
that every uncomfortable system
can be replaced and
is replaced
by a new one more efficient,
better suited to our needs,
giving more opportunities.

We grew up with the Internet
and on the Internet.

We do not ‘surf’.

We do not use the Internet,
we live on the Internet
and along it.


Thanks to the following individuals who brought the original text to my sight:


(CC) Uznanie autorstwa-Na tych samych warunkach 3.0 Unported:

Contact the author: piotr[at]

Posted in My Thoughts, Quotes.

Tools for Creation

Last Saturday at #EdCampOmaha there were a couple of sessions dedicated to sharing web based tools people had found useful in their classrooms or school districts. I was surprised and pleased by the large number of sites shared that I had never heard of! A number of the sites shared were attempts to bring the feel of “social networking” of Twitter and Facebook into the classroom setting by offering closed “social” tools for students. I’ll skip those and focus on tools for creation. Hopefully you will see something new in here like I did and get excited about a new project within your own classroom!


Site Basically it is… …yet another online comic strip generator. I’m VERY impressed by the tool itself, but the displaying of every recently (anonymously) created strip on the front page of the site would keep me from using it with students. A great option for teachers who want to create their own comic strips as instructional devices. …an animation tool aimed at elementary/middle school students. Make movies, cards, or other artwork. Could be very useful for digital storytelling and has a number of educator support resources. Note that it may be blocked by your school system because the site has a number of commercial and game oriented facets. It is owned by Disney, offers kids the option of purchasing products with their artwork on it, and attempts to draw kids into a social game-like ecosystem by earning "koins". …a divergent way to look at data. They marry statistical data sets and world maps to offer new views of issues facing our world. Could be used as conversation starters, or as a tool to illustrate how America’s behaviors are different than the rest of the world’s in many ways. …a animation tool for developing frame-by-frame animation based upon lines and pivot points. (Actually a free desktop based software – Mac/PC.) Could be a great supplement to a unit on force and motion, or the basic concepts of animated graphics. …online pinboard. Allows you to create a virtual canvas for visitors to share thoughts, links, images, etc. Similar to many other tools, but the teachers who use it claim this tool is more "stable" under classroom use. Also has an iApp that can be installed. …online "binders" in which you can organize and present information. Could have many uses for a teacher looking to organize info in one tool that can be shared in many ways, many places, various devices. …a goofy way to record a message and share it with others. Your recording is juxtaposed with a still image in a way that makes it look like the image is speaking. Kind of silly at first glance, but sometimes silly is exactly the right medium to engage a student. There is a good deal of instructional possibility, especially in digital storytelling, or virtual book reports. …a mashup of Wikipedia information, creative commons photographs and other publically available information into a multimedia slideshow. Useful for short video clips to introduce a topic, book, concept, person, or anything else you might find in Wikipedia. (Example)
Flubaroo Flubaroo is not really a website, it is a script that can be added to a Google Spreadsheet. It loads a nice "wizard" that asks you a few questions, then scores the answers submitted to the spreadsheet via a Google Form. It adds a second sheet that summarizes the scores recorded in ways that will be useful to teachers.


I know that I come nowhere close to sharing all the tools that that I saw for the first time. How about you? Please add any sites that you have learned about recently, whether you were at EdCamp or not!

Posted in My Thoughts, Tips & Tutorials.