Merrill Area Public Schools Director of Technology shares hard-won wisdom key to keeping the playing field level for all learners—and teachers.

GUEST COLUMN | by Keshia Mashak

Like many school districts, resources were limited and the demands to meet the needs of 21st century learners were increasing.

Or that’s how we found ourselves not so long ago.

A Little Background

My district, Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS), in rural North Central Wisconsin, is comprised of one pre-kindergarten program, four elementary schools, one middle and high school, in addition to one virtual school.  

As a result of those limits and demands, we transitioned to priority-based budgeting and made the thoughtful decision to implement 1-to-1 iPads for all kindergarten through twelfth grade students and staff.

Moreover, the goal was to transform learning and increase access to digital resources.

“Providing staff with the high-quality professional development necessary to meet the needs of all 21st century learners was a key factor in the overall success of the instructional transformation taking place.”

The decision was not solely a technology initiative, but rather a transformation encompassing all departments within the district.

This included everyone from the maintenance to curriculum departments.

What We Recognized

We recognized the need to put a stronger emphasis on providing students with a variety of innovative opportunities that would better prepare them for the future.

In doing so, it was essential for teachers to create engaging lessons that promoted skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

Fortunately, our leaders understood that today’s educators are faced with the challenge of preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist, while leveraging resources and technologies that continually evolve.  

Providing staff with the high-quality professional development necessary to meet the needs of all 21st century learners was a key factor in the overall success of the instructional transformation taking place.  

2 Vital Support Positions

At the onset of iPad deployment, the district implemented two new positions including a library technology specialist and instructional coach.

Each of these roles was created to support teachers with the technology, content and pedagogy necessary to transform learning in the classroom.  

Additionally, we at MAPS arranged for job-embedded Apple Professional Learning, which included sessions that focused specifically on best practices to maximize the use of Apple technologies. Information covered during the professional learning sessions was then shared with the remainder of staff through a train-the-trainer model. 

Both opportunities had a focused purpose that provided educators with the opportunity to expand their knowledge during the normal workday.

A Few Years In

Year two and three of the iPad implementation brought a different set of professional development needs. The instructional coaching model provided a personalized approach to professional development, which was the premise of Discovery Education’s Digital Leader Corps.  

It was at this time that our district transitioned its professional development to the Digital Leader Corps (DLC) framework.

A group of teachers was selected through a peer nomination process to be involved in the prestigious professional learning opportunity.  

Through a series of coaching days, teachers learned different ways to effectively incorporate technology into lessons in order to make learning more relevant and engaging for students.

These teachers then opened their classrooms as “learning labs” for other colleagues to visit and gain exposure to new tools and resources.  

An Encouraging Environment

In addition to the onsite, job-embedded professional development, MAPS continually made strides toward providing personalized professional development for staff outside the district.

Site visits to surrounding schools, statewide conferences, and Edcamps were encouraged, which provided unique networking opportunities for staff.  

Overall, the task of providing all staff with relevant and engaging professional development can be complex.  

Nonetheless, it is imperative to begin with the end in mind to ensure that an effective plan is in place to meet an ultimate goal.  

A Few Final Tips

In order to determine a professional development plan best suited for your district, staff members’ learning styles and needs—in addition to a district’s compensation plan and initiatives—should all be taken into consideration and reviewed regularly.  

Yearly changes with staffing and resources often leads to a new set of needs.

Consequently:

-evaluating the pros and cons of a variety of professional development options,

-remaining flexible, and

-providing staff with a voice and choice…

…when it comes to executing an efficacious professional learning plan—is key.  

Keshia Mashak is Director of Technology Integration at Merrill Area Public Schools and a 2018 Winner of The EdTech Awards for Leadership. Write to: keshia.mashak@maps.k12.wi.us