Building the Foundation: An Administrator's Perspective on Technology in Schools
Seven years ago, after sixteen years in the classroom, I made the career choice to become an administrator. (You may be wondering why, but that is a story for another day.) With no one available to mentor me, or to explain the differences between being a classroom educator and being an instructional administrator, I came to the realization that the only way to fully articulate my vision, my mission, and strategies was through structural change. As in my previous position, my goal was to empower the entire spectrum of students to excel, within the classroom and without. What I quickly learned was that in order to do this, I needed to engage and empower every teacher in my professional learning community. I am encouraged that many of the lessons that I have learned and will continue to learn on this path will assist you with keystone strategies in the mercurial field of education. The following are a few of the lessons that I want to share with you.
Lesson 1: If teachers are supported with the tools and training that they need, they can focus more fully on best-practice instruction and relationship-building in their classroom.
Lesson 2: If teachers have the opportunity to collaborate and share with one another, capacity increases and instructional transformation occurs.
When I entered the classroom twenty-three years ago as a special educator and high school social studies teacher, I was fortunate, my students and I never lacked the technology we needed to expand access to the curriculum and to provide learning extensions. This certainly was not the norm in my state or even my building. I never hesitated to beg, borrow, and write grants for technology to access what I knew would be the building blocks for tomorrow’s classrooms. I attended every professional development opportunity that I could, and taught myself when there was none available. Other teachers began to notice that my strategies were different and that students were meeting and exceeding their goals. I began opening my doors, sharing my learning, and having professional conversations. Other teachers were interested in my work and implementing similar strategies in their own classrooms; however, lack of resources and training was a barrier.
Lesson 3: Becoming a connected educator, teacher or administrator, is an invaluable professional development strategy that should be encouraged.
Still, I wondered what life was like out in the larger world of education. What was happening in districts down the road or across the country? Were more teachers like me in their integration of technology, or were traditional classrooms still the norm? I really did not have the answers to these questions until eight years ago when I was provided an opportunity to attend an ISTE conference. If you have never attended an ISTE conference, I highly recommend it. The experience transformed my thinking. For the first time, I was connected with like-minded educators from across the globe who saw value in the enhanced access and opportunities possible through thoughtful and purposeful integration of technology in the classroom. I began to understand the value of social media, networking and being a connected educator who can share and learn from educators around the world. These connections have continued to build, and now I have a network of experts that I can reach out to for advice, resources, or strategies.
Lesson 4: Consider implementing opportunities for differentiated professional development to reach the needs of all teachers. Structures such as edcamps, unconferences and flipped professional development can provide teachers with just right and just in time professional development.
The first visit to ISTE was overwhelming. It reminded me of the feeling that I had the first time I went to Disney World as a child. I wanted to return, immediately, but I knew I needed greater focus. I reflected on why that conference had such an impact beyond the opportunity to network and learn from other teachers. I realized that it was because I was able to design the experience to meet my needs as an adult learner. I was not forced to participate in “sit and get” or “one and done” professional development that would never impact my classroom practices.
Lesson 5: You can call it professional learning communities, building social or professional capital, or common planning. Whatever name you decide on, it is critical to build a culture of respect, collaboration, and communication.
Upon returning from my visits to ISTE, I was so energized that I immediately wanted to share my ideas and what I had learned with the educators around me. I knew that it was important to include teacher voice. More importantly, I knew that since they did not share my recent experience, it could be seen as a change forced upon them. I decided to share first with administrators and then with the professional development committee. We establish action plans and communication plans. We placed the planning and the professional development design in the hands of the teachers. We created our own version of ISTE, with teacher voice weighing heavily in both the design and the delivery.
Lesson 6: What we realized from those early sessions was that integration needed to be fully integrated into our strategic plan, our curriculum, and our strategies for student success. Technology was not and should not be its own thing without connections to the larger purpose of education.
Lesson 7: What we are beginning to learn is the importance of transparency to our larger community, parents and students. It is important to provide insights into the reasons and purpose behind our decisions and transformations, and to respect the voices of our students and parents.
This will be the first in a series of blog entries where I address each one of the lessons that I learned along the way in more depth and detail. It is my hope that other educators and administrators can benefit from my experiences. In addition, from time to time, I will discuss initiatives I am tackling and the challenges and successes I experience through the lens of an administrator. I will also share out some strategies for efficiencies that have allowed me to find time and stay focused on my primary object, the success of students.
Paula Dillon is a Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in Providence, Rhode Island