Identifying the primary needs of teachers in remote areas is crucial in planning appropriate staff development programs. A good program recognizes that teachers need to know how to:
--Obtain specialized teaching resources
--Use "high-tech" innovations such as accessing specialized secondary curriculum via satellite or using interactive videodisc systems for teacher training
--Integrate rural-focused content into their curricula, particularly when working with culturally disadvantaged students
--Obtain additional funding and equipment
--Involve the community as an instructional resource
--Relate effectively with rural parents, peer professionals, and community members
--Incorporate alternate instructional arrangements for special needs populations
Teachers should play an active role during the planning phase so that other needs can be identified and included in the program.
WHAT SPECIFIC FEATURES MIGHT A GOOD PROGRAM INCLUDE?
An effective staff development program will incorporate a variety of alternative resources (including the community, nonprofessional staff, business and industry, and shared teaching efforts) and should include the following steps:
A Broad Definition of Staff Development
Planners should study the local rural culture and the communication and power systems to discern currently acceptable staff development methods and to discover the means for securing community support for new techniques. Typically, key communicators (in both informal and formal systems) should be involved in planning unique staff development options. Such approaches as remote "high-tech" inservice systems and the four-day student attendance week are more successful when the community is involved during the planning stage.
Ensure That All Relevant Personnel Are Trained
An effective teacher training program may fail if ancillary support personnel are not aware of program objectives and desired end products. Relevant personnel such as secretaries, librarians, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and others should receive appropriate inservice training and, when reasonable, be involved in planning the staff development approach.
Develop Partnerships to Secure Additional Resources
Fiscal resources for staff development within rural school systems are typically inadequate. One cost-efficient alternative is partnerships between rural schools, businesses, and agencies. For example, businesses can gain tax deductions when donating computer time or equipment for inservice use. Many community agencies are willing to share computer time, make cooperative purchases to help schools secure reduced prices, and offer similar contributions. Partnerships also promote long-term support for rural school programs.
Use Low Cost or Free Staff Development Tools
Some simple systems of securing resources are frequently overlooked and include
--Assessing individual teacher needs and resources and arranging for teachers to share or "barter" these with each other
--Using retired or unemployed certified teachers as substitutes so that regular teachers can be released to observe, plan, or attend an inservice session
--Arranging informal brown-bag lunches or after-school sessions for group sharing and problem solving
WHAT ARE EFFECTIVE RURAL STAFF DEVELOPMENT PRACTICES?
System-Wide Models Afford Numerous Advantages
A data bank of staff development needs and resources can be established. A basic assessment instrument may ask staff members what they could offer others and what resources they are seeking. Local citizens, such as retired or unemployed teachers, are queried about resources they might contribute to inservice sessions or classroom activities. These resources are linked to individual teacher development needs. These linkages may mean that teachers temporarily exchange roles or that community volunteers manage the classroom while the regular classroom teacher can observe another teacher or attend an inservice session. Relatively mobile personnel (such as principals or secretaries) can also assist in this effort. Permanent "floating substitutes" or teacher consultants can be made available.
The school week can be restructured so that students are present only four days. The fifth day is devoted to teacher self-education, consultation, planning, and group inservice activities. Communities involved in the planning for such a program tend to be supportive and more willing to arrange alternate activities for their children on the fifth day.
Specific Technological Approaches Meet Special Needs
Computer-managed instruction can be used to teach educators new methods of administering and evaluating tests, keeping records, and making decisions.
Formal computer-assisted instruction is a particularly valuable learning technique for teachers in isolated settings. Appropriate software can be mailed, and a supplemental mobile inservice van equipped with computers can be used.
Amplified telephone systems allow teachers to "attend" lectures or discussion sessions with remotely located persons. Instructional television, including transmission via cable or special satellite, can present subjects that might otherwise be omitted from the small school system inservice program. Educational satellites, audioconferencing, and videotape exchange systems can be used as "remote" inservice techniques.
For example, a statewide audio teleconferencing network can link educational providers at a central school system or university with receivers in isolated areas. The system can use live interactive audio with occasional computer networking to provide programming to small, rural, isolated educational institutions across the state.
Satellite inservice sessions allow participants to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of consultants or professors in distant locations.
With microcomputers, small schools can access mainframe programs for specific inservice menus and access such specialized topics as vocational and special education.
National and state telecommunication resource and information systems provide databases of media, materials, and other program resources. Such linkage systems increase knowledge regarding inservice and student service options.
Remote electronic bulletin boards (telecommunication systems that may be accessed by rural remote schools) allow teachers seeking information to communicate interactively with experts in a related area. Such boards can be operated from a district, cooperative, education service district, state department of education, or university base.
Mobile vans with specialized electronic equipment are used more frequently to reach educators in remote locations where school systems lack master teachers, access to essential curricula resources, or extraordinary equipment. Such vans frequently carry mobile electronic curricula.
Many Practices Focus on Individual Teacher Needs
In recent years, an increasing number of schools have used a "master teacher" approach, and more state departments of education require school districts to formulate plans guaranteeing that individual teacher needs are met. Such programs typically focus on continuing staff development needs of individual educators. Exemplary practices usually require that each teacher design an individualized plan for appropriate administrators or master teachers.
If hotlines or crises information networks are established, educators can call a toll-free number for advice regarding resources and methodologies to use with severely disabled students.
The "down time" of travel for itinerant specialized personnel, such as special educators and resource personnel for vocational or gifted education, can be used creatively for professional development. Cassette tape players in cars can be used to report, to share, or to listen to inservice cassettes prepared by other school staff or by commercial enterprises.
Informal professional development sessions can be structured around brown-bag luncheons, social meetings, and other informal get-togethers.
Regional or building-based teacher consultants can be available "on call" to conduct structured observations, provide demonstrations of effective instructional techniques, and help identify resources responsive to teacher needs.
A video or audio cassette tape of the teaching methods of a remotely located teacher can be made, mailed to a central location, reviewed, and returned with specific suggestions. A subsequent tape can illustrate progress relevant to the critique.
Short-term teacher exchanges provide participants with insights regarding the functioning of the total school system, the need for continuity in a student's education, and an understanding of other educators' role. Longer exchanges involving an actual temporary shift from one cultural or geographic area to another are particularly useful for increasing a teacher's perspective and preventing "burnout." For these reasons, the personnel exchange system was initiated by the National Rural Jobs Services operated by the American Council on Rural Special Education (ACRES).
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE FOR RURAL STAFF DEVELOPMENT?
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools offers rural education publications and personalized computer searches. Other publications, including journals, reports, and reviews that focus on rural educators, are available through the Rural Education Association (REA), the American Council on Rural Special Education (ACRES), and the National Rural Development Institute located at Western Washingon University.
Inservice modules specifically designed for rural schools are available from ACRES. They are designed to be used by remote teachers isolated from traditional inservice opportunities or in group settings. The topics include the following:
--The need to increase funding for equipment and materials
--The need to develop support for special education programs
--Difficulties of providing services on a regional (collaborative) basis
--Difficulties of involving rural parents in the educational program
--Inadequate numbers of special education personnel
--Difficulties of delivering services to students with low-incidence disabilities
--Difficulties of transporting students to services or service deliverers to students
--Effective teacher consultation processes
A growing number of teacher preparation programs are increasing their accountability to rural schools by attempting to meet their staff development needs. For example, The Missouri Center for Small Schools, located at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, designs individualized inservice plans after consulting with rural administrators requesting assistance. Faculty are integrally involved in delivering inservice; preservice students observe rural education programs; and relevant summer courses are offered for credit.
National conferences specifically focusing on the needs of rural educators include those of the REA (Colorado State University), and of ACRES (Western Washington University).
ACRES also manages a National Task Force on Rural Staff Development which assists in identifying national needs and planning appropriate intervention methods. A Rural Electronic Bulletin board administered by ACRES is part of the national "TeleNet" telecommunications system. It provides information about conferences on rural education, successful instructional practices in specific rural subcultures, the ACRES Rural Educator Resource Network, and recent publications on rural education.
A complete report entitled "Planning Staff Development Programs for Rural Teachers" can be obtained from the National Rural Development Institute, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Berman, Paul, and Mikey Wallin McLaughlin. FEDERAL PROGRAMS SUPPORTING EDUCATIONAL CHANGE, VOLUME VIII: IMPLEMENTING AND SUSTAINING INNOVATIONS. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 1978. ED 159 289.
Helge, Doris. "Staff Development Models To Serve All Children, Including the Handicapped." THE RURAL EDUCATOR 2 (1981):14-24.
Helge, Doris. "The State of the Art of Rural Special Education." EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 50 (1984):294-305.
Lawrence, Gordon. PATTERNS OF EFFECTIVE INSERVICE EDUCATION: A STATE OF THE ART SUMMARY OF RESEARCH ON MATERIALS AND PROCEDURES FOR CHANGING TEACHER BEHAVIORS IN INSERVICE EDUCATION. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State Department of Education, 1974. ED 176 424.
Lortie, Dan C. SCHOOLTEACHER: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1975.