Sharing Our Journey

Mrs. Smith visits with some 1st graders from Mrs. Wiley's class

Mrs. Smith visits with some 1st graders from Mrs. Wiley’s class

BYOD Visitation Day – February 7th, 2014

Putting your school and your work on display isn’t always easy. When teachers, administrators, and district leaders give up their time with students to be at another school, they want it to be worth their time and effort. They should leave not just knowing more than they did when they came, but also having an action plan to implement change in their own building. No journey can be replicated by others without a map. In much the same way, documenting and sharing a school’s journey can help other schools determine their own path. They may not follow the exact same path as we did, but at least they will have a handy reference guide if they have trouble navigating or if they become lost on their way toward successful technology integration.

It was with these important factors in mind that we hosted staff from several other GCPS elementary and middle schools on February 7th. The experience of preparing for the day, putting ourselves in our participants’ shoes, and reflecting on our own technology integration journey was both invigorating and humbling; it is amazing to look at the quality and depth of our student work and how much we have accomplished in the past few years. At the same time, we also realize that we are at a particular place on our path – we have not yet “arrived.” If we ever begin to think that we have, I hope to find another place to work. Educators must always be willing to reflect and ask “What can I do better next time?” Losing that critical reflective attitude would be the death knell for the growth, innovation, and continuous improvement that we pride ourselves on.

Ensuring Equity

Have you ever been to a theater performance? Have you wondered about how much time and effort went into designing the stage, the scenery, lighting, sound, costumes, so that everything was “perfect”? I have, and unfortunately, I’ve also been to visit other school where I wondered the same thing. Our leadership team was intentional about ensuring that our visitation day was not a production, but a meaningful learning event for teachers. We decided to open every classroom in the school to our visitors to reinforce the message that ensuring an equitable education for our students is our most important job. According to research by Dr. William Sanders and the TVAP (Tennessee Value Added Project), it takes two years for a student to recover from having an ineffective teachers. He also states that students who have an ineffective teacher for two years in a row may never recover. It is therefore incumbent upon us as educational leaders to make sure that doesn’t happen in our school buildings. Each student deserves an effective teacher – we don’t want our future student success determined by the luck of the draw or by a couple of ineffective teachers.

We often joke in our building about putting on a “dog & pony show” when people come to visit. We have seen this in other schools and it is natural to assume that’s what people do when they are in the spotlight. But, nothing could have been further from the truth when we welcomed guests into our building. Our teachers did what they do every day, integrating technology effectively and using it as a part of quality teaching and learning. We don’t do “Technology for technology’s sake”, we integrate when it will help students achieve a specific learning outcome. To do anything less would be doing our students a great disservice and perpetuating an educational myth that we are working hard to dispel. Effective technology integration is about quality learning and teaching. I know, we usually put it in the other order, but I feel like we should list the most important thing first. If learning doesn’t happen, the quality (or style, method, enthusiasm, etc.) of the teaching is irrelevant. We are here first and foremost to ensure that our students learn; everything else is secondary.

Here is a Prezi that we used to share our journey in the opening session.

A Culture of Collaboration

One of the most important things that we can emphasize to teachers and leaders that come to our school is our culture of collaboration. We can do that by telling them (which we do some of), or we can let them experience it by giving them time to digest and plan with their own school teams. With that in mind, we had sessions split by job title (Administrator, Teacher, Technology Coordinator/Media Specialist) and by grade-level interest (K-2 and 3-5) where we shared everything from administrative details to lesson plans to student work samples. Here is a Haiku Deck that I used with the K-2 interest group.

http://www.haikudeck.com/p/55wpoeqVfU

We even had time for a brief app smackdown! I shared quick demos of Write About This, Educreations, Skitch, and Explain Everything from my iPad so that teachers could get a glimpse of how we use them in our K-2 classrooms. Here is a link to our BYOD Visitation Day resource page that contains all of the resources I mentioned and more!

byod_visitation_snapshot

 

We are far from a perfect school. We have technology frustrations like blocked websites, limited access to collaborative tools, no student emails, and a learning management system that isn’t ideal for our young students. But, we choose to focus on “What we can” instead of “What we can’t.” In the long run, it is what our students need. They need to have choice and voice in their learning – learning that is authentic, engaging, and meets them where they are. It was a true pleasure for us to share this with other teachers and leaders in our district. I’ll leave you with a Ticket Out the Door, like I always do with my students.

Where are you / your school in your technology integration journey?

What steps are you planning to take to ensure equity for all of your students?

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