“We have an opportunity…to change education.”

That’s a paraphrase of a statement made by Diane Lewis, Director of Instructional Technology at Seminole County Public Schools. Her full statement was, “We have an opportunity in education to do something that hasn’t happened in one hundred years…(insert dramatic pause here)…and that is change it.” Powerful words. While the theme from the opening ceremony was looking back, several of the sessions I attended seemed more like looking at the future, but looking at it from a vantage point so close that if we just had enough momentum we could tip over into it. If we could do that, I’m sure Diane Lewis would be willing to be our captain.

It was clear Diane has a clear vision for professional development in her district, and while Seminole county does have a professional development department, it quickly became apparent why the instructional technology department offers the most professional development opportunities.

Diane really won my respect when she emphasized that it’s not about the technology, the instruction is the important part. Seminole County has adopted Understanding by Design, and Diane bases her discussions with teachers on that framework. As she reported, teachers will come to her and say, “Oh, I saw a wiki, I want to do a wiki.” Or “I heard about blogs, I want to do a blog.” And Diane’s response? “Why? Why this technology?” (I can’t tell you how often I have to ask this same question, Diane!) She asks teachers what they want to accomplish, the topics they have to teach, the goals of their instruction. Then she helps them find technologies that can help them get there. And what technologies she uses to get there!

Seminole uses a variety of methods and tools to support its professional development. Diane used the metaphor of an artist’s palette of opportunities. Of course they have face-to-face training, but its training focused on…instruction. Or perhaps more appropriately, it is training focused on technologies that enhance instruction. They use Blackboard, the popular learning management system, for what she calls, “those things they don’t want to do face-to-face.” At least not any more. That just means they’ve developed short asynchronous training opportunities, often with videos or screen captures, to address basic software functionality and commonly requested tasks so they can focus their limited available time on using technology to improve instruction. The ISTE NETS have moved forward, and so has Seminole County. Teachers can go in, learn what they need, then go on. It’s just-in-time training at its best.

If you’re my single reader from yesterday, you know that Seminole also has space in Second Life, which they launched with a guest appearance by digital learning guru Bernajean Porter and who continues to provide ongoing learning opportunities for Seminole’s teachers. The critical lesson I learned from their use of Second Life was that Diane admitted it addressed a common shortcoming, and that was that while there are often professional development opportunities for teachers and even for school leaders, at the district level, it is difficult for instructional leaders to find professional development. She noted that the global education community that she interacts with on Second Life has given her that opportunity, musing that perhaps she has had more and better professional development since joining Second Life than throughout the rest of her career. I can empathize. If you’re the only person in your school or your district who does your job, it’s hard to find professional development. I found that to be true 10 years ago with Pine e-mail and discussion boards. Diane has taken that simple interaction into the future.

Despite all these interesting technology-based opportunities, Diane noted there still seemed to be a gap in their current offerings. Working with outside developers, Diane and her team are informing the development of a new media-based, collaborative environment that allows for high levels of interaction. It’s like YouTube and Facebook got together and had a child, and then fed it steroids and bought it a gym membership. There are so many potential uses, from creating how-tos, refreshers from other trainings, and most exciting to me, support for eCoaching.

What? You haven’t heard about eCoaching? That was the topic of my session! O.K., if you weren’t able to be there, Diane has given me a push. I can see so many opportunities for supporting one-to-one and group collaboration. See, I’m right there on that apex. I’m ready to go into the future. Thanks to the many things I’ve learned at FETC, I’m ready to take that step. Oh, and don’t think I didn’t notice that Diane’s palette had one more empty spot. She’s looking towards the future, whatever that may bring.