Shaping Educators Through Professional Development

Priscila Zigunovas
25/09/18
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Lake Charles, La., United States

At Calcasieu Parish School Board, a school district in Louisiana, educators have been provided with continuous professional development (PD) for more than 17 years. The school district’s Technology Training Center offers a plethora of PD strategies, adapting to the changing needs of today’s learners. For its initiative of supporting and developing educators capable of creating new technology-infused learning opportunities to engage students, Calcasieu Parish Public Schools are among the winners of the 2018 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Training & Professional Development.

The first schools founded in Calcasieu Parish, one of 64 parishes in Louisiana, date back to the 1820s, just a couple of decades after the Louisiana territory was acquired by the United States from France. Two centuries later, the Calcasieu Parish School Board (CPSB) is the fifth largest school district in the state, serving 34,000 students within 63 public elementary, middle and high schools.

Technology has been an integral part of instruction at the Calcasieu Parish Public Schools for almost three decades. According to Dr. Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer, ongoing assessment practices indicate that technology integration has produced a significant and reliable impact on student achievement.

Photo Sheryl Abshire, Chief Technology Officer at Calcasieu Parish Public Schools.
Sheryl Abshire, Chief Technology Officer at Calcasieu Parish Public Schools.

“We realize that technology cannot be treated as a single independent variable, and that student achievement is gauged not only by how well students perform on standardized tests, but also by students’ ability to use higher-order thinking skills, such as thinking critically, analyzing, making inferences, and solving problems,” says Abshire, who has been working at the school district for the past 44 years.

According to the chief technology officer, school district evidence indicates that when used effectively, technology applications are supporting higher-order thinking by engaging students in authentic, complex tasks, within collaborative learning contexts.

“Our educators use the accumulating knowledge regarding the circumstances under which technology supports the broad definition of student achievement and are making informed choices about which technologies will best meet the particular needs of specific learning goals,” affirms Abshire.

Technology to Advance Education

The CPSB Technology Department has a team of education technology professionals committed to maintaining the highest standard of service and support to the students, employees and community.

According to Abshire, their mission, “Advancing quality education with technology-connected learning,” is represented in all processes and procedures.

The department believes that technology-proficient teachers and 21st century tools for learning are critical for increasing student achievement. For the past 17 years, CPSB’s Technology Training Center (TTC) has successfully implemented and provided opportunities for professional development.

TTC’s team is responsible to provide continuing professional development that enables educators to restructure learning environments to create new technology-infused learning opportunities to successfully engage students.

In order to do that, the center works collaboratively with the district’s Curriculum and Instruction department, as well as several universities across the state. Over 350 training opportunities are available yearly for departments, administrators and teachers throughout the school year and summer, and include Tech Training Center Classes, customized School-Based Training, and courses for principals and administrators, to name a few.

The Tech Training Center Classes are aligned to the International Society for Technology in Education (Iste) standards and district-wide needs. Designed to meet the needs of all employees and raise the level of technology proficiency and integration practices, these classes are offered year-round.

Technology summer classes provide opportunities for district teachers to collaborate, learn new tips and techniques, improve classroom management strategies, and focus on ways to ensure student success.

According to Abshire, to accommodate the many learning styles, professional development is offered through multiple methods: online, face-to-face, webinars, and hybrid classes, with all materials and resources housed in Blackboard Learn.

Customer snapshot

Improving Education Access in Rural Montana

Supporting Teaching and Learning

Since 2000, CPSB uses Blackboard Learn as the hub to drive professional development throughout the district.

In an effort to make the digital learning environment even more effective across the district’s over 90 schools and departments, TTC staff have trained 15 Blackboard mentors across grade levels to assist teachers in creating and maintaining websites within the platform.

“Blackboard mentors add one extra level of support to teachers in the classroom,” says Abshire.

In addition, according to the chief technology officer, all the schools and departments utilize Blackboard solutions for Professional Learning Communities, book studies, surveys, and more.

“Even our superintendent of curriculum and instruction utilizes Blackboard for professional development for principals and assistant principals. It is a proven, effective tool for interactivity and input from all stakeholders,” says Abshire.

To the chief technology officer, digital learning is a key component for preparing students for the world of work and future educational opportunities.

“Our long-standing use of Blackboard Learn has been the essential element to ensure our students are prepared for their next steps, whatever they may be. That is why we refer to Blackboard as the DNA of our district.”

“Our long-standing use of Blackboard Learn has been the essential element to ensure our students are prepared for their next steps, whatever they may be. That is why we refer to Blackboard as the DNA of our district.” Sheryl Abshire

Tools for Development

As the CPSB digital learning program continues to grow, the district is using solutions such as Blackboard Learn, Blackboard Mobile Learn, Blackboard Collaborate and Blackboard Web Community Manager to:

1. Advance communication within the district

2. Network, communicate and collaborate within curriculum content areas

3. Enhance classroom instruction

4. Identify and share best practices

5. Access resources

6. Provide “just-in-time” learning

7. Increase knowledge and use of technology in teaching and learning

8. Increase parent-school communication

The Tech Points Incentive Program

One of the most innovative and effective best practices of the CPSB has been the implementation of the Tech Points incentive program.

In this program, teachers earn Tech Points by participating in professional development classes and activities during after-school hours. Tech Points can be redeemed at the Tech Point Store and traded for classroom equipment (see graphic). Over 28,000 points have been earned in less than two years.

Equipment Number Earned
Apple TV (15 Points) 53
Document Camera (15 Points) 19
iPad (25 Points) 263
Projector (40 Points) 2
Student Laptop (45 Points) 28
Teacher Laptop (55 Points) 11
Promethean Board (80 Points) 11

“Through the use of Blackboard solutions and Tech Points, participation in professional development in Calcasieu Parish has grown tremendously. In fact, there was almost a 60% increase in participation after the first year of implementation, and the numbers have raised even more this year,” says Abshire.

To the chief technology officer, when educators are equipped with teaching and assessment strategies that provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively, actively engage in learning, discover and research new learning via the vast array of technologies available, students are highly motivated and produce projects that are a clear evidence of high levels of learning.

“This project has made such an impact. The learning process in the classroom is significantly richer as students have access to new and different types of information, can manipulate it in new and innovative ways, and then communicate results both locally and globally,” concludes Abshire.

Quick Facts

Over 2,800 course sites

4,000 employee users

10,000 K-12 student users

25,000 views per day

33 departments and 63 schools use Blackboard Learn as a means of communication within the district

Customer snapshot

At Davidson Academy, Gifted Students Thrive with Online Learning

Sheryl Abshire, Chief Technology Officer at Calcasieu Parish Public Schools 

Photos:

AFP Scott A. Miller

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