Monday, February 20, 2012

Professional development for digital learning is a TALL order

In my previous EDCompass blog posts, I described our journey at Lebanon High School researching technology implementation and development of the SMART Worldwide Effective Learning Lab (SWELL). For this post I am excited to share our unique way of facilitating professional development at Lebanon High School.

Dialogue that always occurs when discussing the proper use of technology and the impact it makes on the 21st Century learner, is how should schools provide the necessary professional growth for teachers to be able to offer a rich digital learning environment?

One of the major factors at play is the vast array of differences in where staff members are on the digital/technology learning curve. A one-size fits all system of professional development will not work where technology is involved (or any other educational subject for that matter). Lebanon High School has developed a process that has proven very valuable to meet this need. To eliminate the traditional “one-shot” professional development time, where information is thrown out to teachers with hopes that some of the material caught on, in the spring of 2009, our school implemented TALL (Tiger Academy of Lessons Learned).

This process was a product of the studies of Garvin (2000) in the area of the elearning organization. TALL is modeled after the U.S. Army’s Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL). It is a process with no hierarchy that involves teachers working in groups to learn new techniques. They all share similar interests and knowledge, research together, try new practices and technology, and read books. Groups meet formally in the morning each week, and have a reporting form on the school’s shared network file that can be broadcast to the entire staff, as well as using Ning (internet social network) forums. We are now also using Indiana’s new Learning Connection Network (Indiana Department of Education, 2009). Many groups meet outside the normal school day to work. Groups can start up and dissolve as necessary.

This strategy enables teachers to use the group genius created to improve teaching skills and gain best practices from each other, thus improving student achievement. These self-directed professional development groups provide for teacher-researcher-based discourse about teaching and learning (Weinbaum, Allen, Blythe, Simon, Seidel, & Rubin, 2004).  TALL teacher inquiry groups allow for both knowledge production and sharing (Weinbaum, et al., 2004).

As of the writing of this article, Lebanon High School has TALL groups specifically relating to technology including the use of computers, SMART Board interactive whiteboards, web 2.0, and teacher blogs and websites. When it comes to technology, many of our more seasoned teachers who were finding it difficult to move toward a more digital environment say that TALL has given them the confidence and skills to match the technology with their pedagogy. This will become even more important this fall when all classrooms will have SMART Board interactive whiteboards and other SMART products like the SMART Document Camera and SMART Response interactive response system.

A SWELL Vision for Providing Innovative Technology Solutions

Through the SWELL Classroom and other duplications of this throughout Lebanon High School, the Agriculture Department has become a leader in providing innovative networking and information technology solutions to student learning. By proceeding in stages, Lebanon will be able to develop skilled staff right from the start, so first round teachers will be able provide support and training, and share lessons (Fishtrom, 2009). The SWELL Classroom allows for designing each lesson to meet the individual student’s needs, and then deliver that lesson in such a way that is effective each student.

Students always come to class enthusiastic and ready to connect to a global society brought together through technology. The plans are to add 24/7 remote and self-guided learning through technology to further differentiate learning and offer an even wider range of classes.

Using SMART education solutions, we’re also be able to offer distance learning and connect with other schools. The idea of one-size-fits-all schools will not always work for all students because the same teaching techniques do not work equally for every student. But the SWELL Classroom model creates an inclusive environment that adjusts to meet the educational needs of all students.

Fishtrom, R. (2009). Best in tech 2009. Scholastic Administrator, 9(3).
Garvin, D. A. (2000). Learning in action: A guide to putting the learning organization to work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Indiana Department of Education (2009). Retrieved on August 13, 2010 from: http.//
Weinbaum, A., Allen, D., Blythe, T., Simon, K., Seidel, S., & Rubin, C. (2004). Teaching as inquiry: Asking hard questions to improve practice and student achievement. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

About the Author

Byron Ernest is a multiple award winning educator and the Department Head for Agriculture and FFA at Lebanon Community School Corporation. Ernest was recruited to start the department in 2005, which now has four teachers and an enrollment of 586 students in grades 8-12, making it the largest Agriculture Department in the state of Indiana.

Ernest holds two Bachelor of Science Degrees from Purdue University in Agricultural Education and Animal Science, and a Masters in Science in Agricultural Education, also from Purdue. Ernest is currently finishing his Ed.D. in Administrative and Teacher Leadership from Walden University.

Byron Ernest can be reached directly at

This article was originally posted at


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