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W&L Academy Introduces New Technology into Local Classrooms

by Brittany Lloyd

A $20,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation has enabled Washington and Lee University’s Teacher Education Program to bring the Educational Technology Leadership Academy to elementary, middle and high schools in Lexington, Rockbridge County and Buena Vista. Through the academy, Haley Sigler, W&L’s assistant director of teacher education, in partnership with instructional technology departments from all three local school systems, helps teachers further their technological knowledge.

One teacher from each of the schools participated in the week-long academy during the past summer on how to efficiently utilize tools such as Edmodo, Near Pod, Microsoft Office and different modes of Digital Storytelling.

During the current school year, Sigler is meeting with the teachers in six follow-up sessions to discuss how the teachers are using the technological knowledge they gleaned over the summer. The teachers also are designing and implementing their own professional development plan.

In order to renew their Virginia teaching licenses, teachers must continually show they are improving their practice and developing new skills. Instead of attending single workshops randomly throughout the year, the teachers involved in the academy “receive feedback and support from Washington and Lee and their within-system technology staff. They receive renewal credits for specific, meaningful work,” said Sigler. Teachers will also receive credit from Dabney Lancaster Community College for attending the academy.

“I think successful models of professional development are those that follow through and support teachers for a sustained amount of time,” explained Sigler. By continuing conversations with the teachers after the summer academy, she hopes to both boost professional development for the teachers as well as sustain relationships between the local schools and Washington and Lee.

Margaret Swisher, a fourth-grade teacher at Waddell Elementary School and participant in the academy, has already put her new knowledge to work in the classroom. “Most of what I’ve used has been for my own organization—class newsletters, presentations for parents using Prezi, an app called Remind that sends reminder texts to families that sign up, and downloading and keeping Youtube videos to show in class,” she wrote. Swisher’s students have also used the computer program Animoto to create movies about Virginia. “The movies turned out well, and the students had a lot of fun creating them,” Swisher continued.

Another participant in the program, Susan Mahood, is a third-grade teacher at Natural Bridge Elementary. She used her new technological information to help her students create digital stories about how rules and laws are implemented in their schools from pictures they took with iPads.

“Academy participants are teaching the same curriculum, just with exposure to options with technologies many didn’t know existed before,” Sigler stressed. “Good teaching is still good teaching, but technology can make life significantly easier and helps in engaging students.”

Feedback about the program has been positive from all three school systems. The Educational Technology Leadership Academy allowed the three local systems to pool their resources and work together, with W&L as a facilitator. In return, Washington and Lee’s Teacher Education Program is confident W&L student teachers placed with participating teachers who attended the academy will get the opportunity to observe technology integration at its best in our local community.