George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

High-Impact Professional Development for Rural Schools

David Markus

Former Editorial Director of Edutopia; dad of 4 (3 kids in public school)
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Investing in Professional Development for Technology and Inquiry-Based Learning (Transcript)

Tonya: I grew up here at Hartville. I moved here in third grade and I graduated here.

We are kind of your traditional small town. We've got our square with the courthouse on it. We've got old buildings that have been around since the Civil War era.

When I first came in the classroom I was one of those traditional teachers. I would stand in front of the class. I would give the notes. Nothing really ever worked great.

And then once eMINTS was brought in and I went through that training, learning how to help the students work in groups, learning how to guide them.

It was amazing to see the student who was always resistant to education gradually and slowly over the school year they start getting involved with the group and never been involved before, start making friends that had never made friends before.

You could see it in the student's eyes that big "aha" moment when the light bulb goes off and you can tell they finally got it.

Doug: Well today we're working with catching up on some websites that you may or may not be familiar with.

Monica: The biggest thing we do is help teachers learn how to be learners again.

Doug: Just a second ago you guys were talking about what your favorite part of working in a technology classroom was. And so now I want you to think again. If you could create a word or a phrase or a picture to describe what you just talked about, what would that be?

One of the things I do is I deliver the professional development for the district teachers.

I try to make the trainings be active and meaningful.

Teacher: You know you've got the live, laugh, learn and the lifetime because it's a lifetime skill that we're teaching them.

Doug: A lot of times teachers don't get that opportunity to just be an instructional designer with other teachers.

Teacher: Enhanced interaction.

Teacher: Enhanced interaction. That's it.

Teacher: I like it.

Doug: In a typical school day they may work with children all day and then when the bell rings and the students go on the bus they may have to work by themselves or they go home and when you come to an eMINTS training you're working with your peers.

Tonya: They go out and they collect all this data and they compile all these graphs and they put it all together in the PowerPoint and they have to stand up and teach the rest of the class, they have a better understanding of those concepts of the scientific method and how important your hypothesis is and how you have to follow that all the way through.

Doug: Here's what we will do next with that word, phrase or picture is we have a graffiti wall and we're going to ask that you come up, select a pen and either write your word or write your phrase or draw your picture on the graffiti wall.

Tonya: Doug Caldwell, you know, he stands up there and he models what us as teachers should be doing in the classroom. After the explore time he brings us all back and had us do a graffiti wall, a sharing what we learned and talking about as a group "Here's what I looked at, what am I going to do with it?" so that helps me to know that in my classroom it's important to get them back in that group and say "Okay, here's what I've done." So other students can kind of like "Oh, I've got an idea now.”

Monica: It's a two-year program. The person who is doing their professional development sessions facilitating those, comes into their classroom on at least a monthly basis so they are very tightly woven with eMINTS, with their facilitator, with the materials and with their colleagues in this learning community over a period of two years and that's when the changes begin to take place.

Student: Every animal has to have its adaption to its environment.

Student: Yeah.

Doug: Why do you think that understanding that all that stuff you just mentioned is important?

Student: Well it's important to know if the animal can live there or not?

Tonya: What I want you to do now is I want you to come up with either a picture or a word that represents what you just talked about.

What has helped me is I choose one thing, maybe one lesson I really want to work on and I work on it and I get it done and I use it with the students and then I'll move on to another lesson.

Doug: We're bringing technology to the rural school instead of throwing a teacher in that room and saying "Hey, enjoy all your new tools." We try to talk about during the training how we will use the tools, how would students use the tools? What is the role of the teacher? What is the role of the technology?

I saw your entry point where you used the graffiti wall.

Tonya: Yes that was a really neat thing last night. I really liked using it so I really enjoyed it. It helped us focus our attention on our unit so I think it's a great- I'm hoping to use it more.

I have discovered that if students are digging and finding it for themselves they will learn it much better. So it has really changed my view of education.

Doug: A teacher met me in the teacher's lounge and she was crying. She said "That was the most powerful thing I've ever done. I really took a chance. I wasn't sure that my students would respond, but I followed through then the students generated some terrific questions. And there are things that I wouldn't have thought of as an adult." And it was really meaningful to the students because they were trying to solve problems that meant something to them.

Get Video
Embed Code Embed Help

You are welcome to embed this video, download it for personal use, or use it in a presentation for a conference, class, workshop, or free online course, so long as a prominent credit or link back to Edutopia is included. If you'd like more detailed information about Edutopia's allowed usages, please see the Licenses section of our Terms of Use.

  • Director: Zachary Fink
  • Producer: Mariko Nobori
  • Editor: Daniel Jarvis
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Camera: Hervé Cohen, Zachary Fink
  • Graphic Design: Maili Holiman
  • Digital Media Curator: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producer: David Markus

© 2012 | The George Lucas Educational Foundation | All rights reserved.

I talk with a lot of teachers about how they become fulfilled or, in too many cases, frustrated in their profession. It isn't long in these conversations before the words "professional development" come up. You can practically set your watch to it. And I've discovered that where you find enthusiastic teachers enjoying persistent classroom success, you will find sustained, collaborative, educator-directed PD programs.

This month Edutopia focuses on professional development at a small rural elementary school in southwest Missouri. The school is Hartville Elementary School, in the town of Hartville (population 613). The program is called eMINTS and is produced by a nonprofit, Missouri-based professional-development organization of the same name. For 12 years, eMINTS, which stands for Enhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies, has been educating teachers and other learning professionals about how to use technology to enhance inquiry-based learning in K-12 classrooms. They have trained more than 3,700 educators throughout the state of Missouri and in districts in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah, as well as in New South Wales, Australia.

The eMINTS professional-development program consists of as many as 200 hours of learning time, spread over a two-year period, including in-classroom coaching and follow-up training sessions. The results indicate that it's time well spent. About 250,000 students have been taught by eMINTS-trained teachers over the past ten years. According to research from the Education Development Center and the Missouri Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis (cited in Learning Point Associates, 2010) those students attending Missouri schools which received training from eMINTS consistently out-performed their statewide counterparts in state standardized tests.

A Cultural Shift

But there's more to it than teaching teachers how to use technology. "We want to help teachers learn to be learners again," says eMINTS National Center executive director Monica Beglau. "We want to help them move away from being the people who hold all the knowledge to being the people who actually sit alongside -- not in front of -- their students and become facilitators of learning while continuing to learn themselves."

I asked Tonya Wilson about it. She is a sixth-grade teacher at Hartville Elementary School. For years, the school was struggling with a lack of tech resources and a dearth of professional-development opportunities -- until 2005, when the Hartville R-II District implemented the eMINTS program in grades 3-8. "We didn't have a lot of money or a lot of economic opportunity in Hartville," Wilson says. "But what we've always had is an amazing school, where we are determined to prepare our kids for a different kind of economic future."

So after her school secured a grant to purchase essential tech tools like classroom computers and interactive whiteboards, Wilson embarked on her two-year eMINTS PD experience. She and other educators from the Hartville district gathered once a week for up to four hours of training throughout the school year. "eMINTS focused us on how to teach skills relevant to our kids' futures, from things as simple as transforming a lesson to the whiteboard to how to use Web-based tools like Animoto or GoAnimate to make videos," she reports.

(MORE: sample PD materials and other resources from eMINTS below)

Teacher Engagement

Method-wise, eMINTS trainers are very deliberate in creating a learning dynamic like the one they want the teachers to develop in their classrooms. The aim is to make the teachers students again, right down to the groups they work in, the eye contact they must make with their trainers, and the group presentations they deliver to prove out their learning.

Not all the training is tightly focused on technology, though most sessions follow a similar format. A typical PD session, in this case about creativity, unfolds something like this:

  • First 15 minutes: Teachers get settled and the trainer leads them through a fun collective exercise, e.g., each participant picks an image from a group of pictures (famous paintings, wild animals, landscapes) that depicts their feelings about their progress in digesting their eMINTS training experience.
  • Next 30 minutes: The class views a video of creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson on building a creative classroom culture. Discussion follows about how to put the ideas into practice.
  • Next 70 minutes: The class divides into groups, and each group uses simple materials to construct a product inspired by Robinson's words. Groups reflect on the process and draw conclusions about how to implement a similar project in their classrooms.
  • Next 50 minutes: The class focuses on how to develop an assessment tool to measure creativity, and teams reflect on how to use the tool in their classrooms.
  • Final 15 minutes: Participants redo the pick-an-image exercise, this time to reflect their feelings about what they've learned about creativity, followed by closing thoughts on how they will implement what they've learned that day in their classrooms.

Four Essentials to Successful PD

Asked to boil down what makes eMINTS PD successful, Monica Beglau is succinct:

  1. Duration: Aim for 40 to 50 hours per year, and not in bunches but comfortably spaced out across the calendar so teachers have enough time to digest what they've learned and experiment in their classrooms.
  2. Coherence: Training must be explicitly connected to classroom practices as well as in sync with what the district, the principal, and the teacher believe is important to success.
  3. Relevance: Training must be applicable in the classroom right away; principals should provide the support and tools required for teachers to put their training into action.
  4. Coaching: Have an instructional specialist available periodically in the classroom to provide support and suggestions as the teacher tries new strategies.

The cost of the program, according to Beglau, is approximately $22,000 per classroom to implement a full and comprehensive program, including all the technology (hardware and software), teacher training, in-classroom trainer support, extensive resources, and follow-up. Introductory and shorter programs for less than $100 per class are also available.

Consistent Results

According to a Learning Point Associates study in 2010, ten years of eMINTS PD research has consistently demonstrated that the program increases teachers' use of technology to support inquiry-based learning, and students in grades 3-6 who receive this high-quality, technology-integrated instruction outperform students who do not.


Mark Piper, the principal at Hartville, has been more than pleased with the results. "By helping our teachers with training they can apply directly in their classrooms, we not only improved our test results, we changed the entire culture of our school. And our focus has grown from improvement to excellence." Research confirms that building a culture in which teachers support and encourage each other in the use of technology helps promote lasting changes in their practice (Levin & Wadmany, 2008).

With successes like these to point to, one can't help but wonder why, when we provide many diverse professional-development opportunities for other professions in America, we can't do more for our educators. eMINTS is just one of many PD strategies that work, and research is bringing more winning options to light every day. Yes, some money and resources are required. But can you think of a better return on investment than the success of Tonya Wilson's sixth graders in Hartville, Missouri?

Resources and Downloads

Educators from eMINTS have shared these resources for tech integration and PD.

Was this useful?

David Markus

Former Editorial Director of Edutopia; dad of 4 (3 kids in public school)

Comments (1) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Sarah's picture
NC Elementary Teacher

I'm enrolled in a graduate course now where we are focusing on Professional Learning Networks. This is my first stumble onto Edtopia and am encouraged to see this type of professional development is being taught in universities and school systems. I feel these technological advances are new for both educators and students. We are learning right along with you!

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.