This year marks my eighth teaching in my district (when did that happen! I swear I just started yesterday!). During that time, my school leaders have fostered my learning and growth as an educator in a lot of ways, but in particular with technology.
- I’ve been funded to attend MassCUE in Foxboro, MA in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014- that is at least $2000 on geeking out where the Tom Brady works, all for me. When I hoped to present there in 2013, I was supported by all of my administrators whole-heartedly.
- I was invited to be a part of committees exploring Google for Education, online and open grade books, and early learning management systems in my first few years teaching.
- I was included in professional development with Apple to learn features of their operating systems and hardware. Swipe, screenshot, multiple desktops galore.
- A colleague and I wrote a grant for a cart of iPads in each of our classrooms. When it was only partially funded, my technology department found the money to fill the cart. *This environment started to change my view on teaching and what good teaching look liked. We coupled this with training on Project-Based Learning with the Buck Institute for Education and wham, I was innovative! Coincidentally my assistant principal at the time now works for the Buck Institute.*
- I was invited to present to faculty on what I’d learned and tried with Google, iPads, Learning Management Systems, and more. The first time I presented, I blacked out and could not tell you what I said. My friends and colleagues tell me I was coherent and it was great, but it is amazing how nerve-wracking it is to present to your peers even though your job involves presenting every day!
- When PD focused on basic technology skills, I was allowed to create independent study time with a colleague to research and develop advanced skills. This play-time, our school equivalent of Google’s Genius Hour, is when I felt truly trusted in my practice, and supported in my initiative to explore new technology. On the one hand, I have a problem with the fact that being treated as a professional in my practice was so rewarding potentially because teachers aren’t often treated as such. But on the other hand, I got to play! I explored Twitter for my go to PLC to see what they were doing lately. I got to build some lessons, experiment, and use time aptly called Professional Development to… *gasp* develop professionally!
Essentially, my district gave me the space and opportunity to become an innovative (hopefully) educator.
*District leaders take note*–
Somehow I was identified early on as someone who wanted to learn, try new things, and share with others. I do not recall a specific incident that identified me in this way, but someone in charge did, and gave me the chances to develop.
This gift has been invaluable. I cannot imagine what my practice would look like, or if I would even still be in teaching, had I not been given these chances. If you see folks like this in your schools, support them. Get them talking to people and learning things that can change their practice.
There is a population of teachers out there (don’t shoot me, union folks, I mean no offense) who quite honestly cannot keep up with the pace of technology. Those folks sometimes react with fear. Fear is projected as negativity, a refusal to participate, and striking down those who can keep up. Those folks can crush a newer teacher.
I’ve been learning a lot about brain development lately (I just got married to a Speech and Language Pathologist who now works with kindergartners) and the experts talk about how major events can imprint on the brain early on and dictate its development, physiology, and its ability to build new pathways. I think any transition to a new experience can involve an imprint like that. If a brand new teacher is imprinted with the attitude of negativity, their outlook, practice, and ability to learn new techniques has been tainted. If you are a school leader hoping to foster innovation, you cannot let new teachers be imprinted with that. You must imprint them the way my district imprinted on me. Let their heads be in the clouds, outside the box and otherwise dreaming of what could be, barring that their classroom is functioning appropriately, and let them explore. We talk about lifelong learning as what we want in our students, so why wouldn’t we support that in our newest generation of teachers?
In the 2014-15 school year, a lot of major change happened for my school system. We finished construction on a brand new co-located middle and high school. The building is incredible. Every classroom has a projector, Apple TV, Top Cat sound system. We use Media Master to operate these and through it, also have access to an endless library of digital resources.
A part of the transition to the new building was a transition to a grade 8-12 1:1 laptop initiative. We call it “iConnect”– I wasn’t invited to be on the naming committee for the initiative, otherwise it definitely would’ve been called “Holy Crap: What Else Could You Want In A Classroom?” I would’ve proposed the acronym HC: WECYWIAC (pronounced weh-kee-wee-ack) for short.
Every teacher was handed a brand new Macbook Air, outfitted with the Apple and Microsoft suites of software. Every student was handed a brand new Macbook Air as well. Teachers were given some PD on using the devices, and they either jumped in with both feet, or denounced the things as the worst possible change in education.
The year was hard for many people. And, this was in a district that had iPads, online grading, Google tools, flip cameras, computer labs booked all the time, and training on new technologies. But, the shift to a 1:1 environment was more than that. Those of us in the building like me, were ecstatic and continued to innovate. Those who seized up at the word “Macbook” kept their classrooms operating in the status quo, while administrators urged them to try things, and considered changing contract language to force it.
But a really interesting thing happened for those in the middle. These were people that sometimes voiced negativity, but lit up when they heard of someone else’s success. They were people who love teaching, and worked hard to get good at it, and were afraid what they’d worked so hard at, but recognized the success of others. These middle folks started asking for more training, and time to talk to other teachers using technology, and they were given just that. They were also reassured that part of this new game of teaching was to try (and sometimes… ok often… fail) and that they’d be safe in doing so. By getting these people the support they needed, and making the pace more manageable (without slowing down your advanced folks, and continuing to look at ways to move your refusal folks), these guys turned the tides.
That is where the shift has been. We are special in having that environment here. And we are special in having the funds and the right people and some smart leaders recognizing who to hold up and who to quiet down. Because of this, we are in our second year in the model, and the conversations that were once “Where do I click for…” are now about pedagogy, with technology as the tool. We recently jumped on board with Schoology as our LMS, and training has been focused to leveraging that for student achievement. The world looks different now because of these changes. There is definitely no going back, but at the same time, good teaching remains good teaching. In the end (though we are far from it) it is becoming clear, the technology doesn’t make the teacher, the teacher makes the technology. I’ll write more about this journey to Schoology soon.
Thanks for reading.