DECATUR — Professional development time is limited in schools due to the demands of the instructional day.

At Durfee Magnet School, which is focused on technology, bringing teachers up to speed on using that technology and on other aspects of teaching at the same time, is a little easier now thanks to iTunes U.

That’s an online training tool that teachers can use at their own pace, whenever they have the time.

“It’s differentiated instruction,” said Rida Ellis, an instructional coach, using terminology usually applied to students. When the kids are at different levels of mastery, the teacher adjusts her lessons to their levels, and this works the same for the teachers.

“We met at the beginning of the summer to have a conversation about what Durfee staff needed in terms of professional development,” said Principal Sarah Oakes. “We made a list, and as we looked at the list, we realized it was more than we could ever do in a traditional format. In addition to that, we acknowledged that the staff is at different levels in terms of their understanding of a lot of the things that we cover in professional development. We wanted a way that we could provide a lot of (training) in a flexible amount of time.”

Chrissie Edwards, instructional technology coach, is an Apple-certified instructor who jokes that she “loves” her iPad and MacBook Air. She uploads training to iTunes U and teachers receive notifications on their own iPad when something new is available, almost the second she finishes loading it. She used to get dozens of questions about all kinds of topics, but now most of those are answered in the training materials online.

Oakes said that now when teachers meet together, they can spend their time more efficiently, and instead of piles of paper handouts, they have materials stored online. New teachers who have a lot of questions can get them answered any time they want.

“We can all access iTunes U to put things in,” Ellis said. “Teachers enroll and they’re given a code to join our class, so it’s kind of private to Durfee at this point. We hold things that are important for us to go back to, things we’ve done in professional development, instead of using paper. It’s all there.”

And it will stay there, Oakes said, for the foreseeable future, so that staff who come to Durfee next year or the year after can go back and look at training material.

Because it’s online, the training can include links to YouTube or blogs or websites, and when those are updated, so is the training.

“It’s dynamic, not static,” Oakes said. “That link never changes, and when teachers go to that, they can see the most updated version that is there.”

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