HATTIESBURG, Mississippi — N.R. Burger Middle School teacher Nona Boney needed help recently with some of the more technological aspects of the Promethean board that was in her room.
She wanted to use the computerized white board to count her eighth-grade science students' responses to her questions, but she didn't know how to use the digital clicker that came with the board.
"I was really unfamiliar and uncomfortable with it," she said. "But I got one-on-one training so I could get comfortable before I started introducing it to my children."
Boney went online to a new website set up by Hattiesburg Public School District and booked some professional development time. Soon, at a time of her choosing, one of the district's instructional technologists taught her everything she needed to know.
The district has used the website — SimplyBook.me — for about a year now.
District instructional technologist Albert Galeas said a teacher can book individual time or can schedule time for a group of teachers.
"The teachers can book us for professional learning communities and we show up for their learning time," he said. "Oftentimes, we have individual teachers book for themselves."
Galeas set up a diverse array of technology topics teachers can sign up for, along with educational topics like blended learning, reading fluency and behavioral observation. Each area is taught by an expert in the district.
The teacher goes online and picks the topic, the instructor and the time slot. She gives her name, email, phone and any additional participants. A text is delivered before the session to remind her.
"There's a lot of times when we see on a Sunday night our calendars are free and by Monday morning, we're booked a lot," Galeas said.
The system costs the district about $80 every six months. There have been 300 participants in the past year, and Galeas expects more this year.
"It's really good, because now they're calling and saying, 'Hey, I need training. Can you walk me through how to use the website?'" he said.
Before SimplyBook.me teachers would have to make a phone call or email to see if someone was available to train them. Usually, what actually happened was all scheduling was left up to the principal.
"Before it was more top-down professional development," communication director Jas N Smith said. "It changed the way we do things. It was hit or miss. Now it can be tailored to what the teachers need."
Galeas said he doubts the district will ever go back to the old way.
"It's pretty much vital for us," he said. "The feedback the principals have given us is 'Our teachers can do it on their own. They know the type of professional development they need.' We talk about personalized learning for the students. This has been personalized learning for the teachers."
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com