“If it’s edtech, it must be good,” used to be the mantra in schools. In fact, many school technology plans fluctuated depending upon the latest fads and what someone learned at a conference and had little connection to curriculum or learning goals.
But with recognition of the disconnect between school and district leaders, the realities of the technology infrastructure and classroom needs, an initiative guided by more judicious thinking is now underway. The Consortium for School Networking and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, have created the Empowered Superintendent initiative, which is dedicated to helping superintendents, aspiring superintendents and district leadership teams build their knowledge, skills and confidence as technology leaders.
During “The Empowered Superintendent: Leading Digital Transformation,” the first entry in a new webinar series, Dr. David Schuler, superintendent of Township High School District 214 in Illinois, and Dr. Chris Gaines, superintendent of Mehlville School District in Missouri, discussed the goals of the program, joined by host Ann McMullan, project director for the CoSN Empowered Superintendents Program. They implored listeners to move away from using “tech for tech’s sake” and to become intentional adopters of technology that enhances teaching and learning.
Focusing on the first module of CoSN’s Empowered Superintendent Toolkit 3.0 , entitled Five Imperatives of Technology Leadership, the presenters explored how they have shifted their approaches to integrating edtech into the classroom.
Imperative 1: Strengthen district leadership and communication
The first imperative isn’t just about telling the school community about the districts’ tech plan, but, more important, ensuring they understand what the learning goals are and why they are attached to the plan.
Once a technology plan is adopted, superintendents need to make sure all constituents have a laser focus on implementing it as developed, evaluating successes and failures, and then discuss how to move forward. The instructional team can only be effective when everyone agrees on the non-negotiable goals.
Imperative 2: Raise the bar with rigorous, transformative and innovative learning and skills
Technology allows teachers to expand their lessons outside of the classroom and make connections beyond their communities. Instead of isolated lessons, students learn how to connect their studies with real-world problems. School leaders should encourage educators to use edtech that promotes skills like creativity and problem-solving, which will serve students no matter what professions they choose.
Imperative 3: Transform pedagogy with compelling learning environments
Classroom design today often looks like it did 50, or even 100, years ago with rows of desks facing the teacher. That stagnation of the environment mirrors the stagnation in how many classrooms still work (a teacher at the front, lecturing students and asking them to repeat back what they learned). Schools need to throw out that design — and that way of teaching — and think about developing spaces that reflect new approaches to learning. For example, instead of desks, consider a room with small discussion areas, whiteboard writing surfaces, and multiple teachers moving around the space engaging students in their lessons.
Imperative 4: Support professional development (PD) and communities of practice
School and district leaders need to be as intentional about creating space and time for teachers to focus on their own learning as they are on the students. While there are topics that need to be covered in all-school PD days or sessions, what teachers really need is consistently scheduled time to collaborate with each other. Teachers may belong to several communities of practice in a school — across a grade, a subject, or even a particular teaching methodology. Leaders should foster an environment where PD is integrated into everyday life.
Imperative 5: Create balanced assessments
Assessments look far different than they did 10 to 15 years ago, but it’s not just the switch to computerized testing. Successful schools look at assessments as a jumping-off point to evaluate curriculum, teaching methods, student engagement, and other aspects of the learning environment. Rather than viewing them as tool for punitive measures, assessments should be seen as just another tool that allows educators to figure out how to improve teaching and learning.
Underlying all of these imperatives is the idea that school leaders need to continuously adapt the learning environment as the world outside of the classroom changes.
“We’ll continue to monitor how our students learn, and we want to create learning environments that meet each generation’s learning styles,” Dr. Schuler said. “I think we have to be nimble and adaptable to ensure that as new generations come into our schools, we don’t take the approach of trying to unlearn them and who they are and reteach them in the way we learned. Rather, meet them where they learn and where they live.”
About the Presenters
Dr. David R. Schuler is the 2018 Illinois and National Superintendent of the Year. Known for his ability to inspire and build leaders, he spearheaded Redefining Ready! , the national movement to redefine what it means for students to be college, career and life ready while serving as the 2015-2016 President of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. Dr. Schuler leads High School District 214, Illinois’ largest high school district, where he led the development of an innovative instructional philosophy around personalized learning experiences focused on career pathways, early college credit, and industry credentials that enable students to discover their futures while still in high school. The 44 pathways align with the 16 national career clusters and students gain real-world experience through youth apprenticeships and workplace learning experiences. Dr. Schuler earned his bachelor’s degree from Carroll University and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Chris Gaines is in his fourth year as superintendent of the Mehlville School District in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. Under Dr. Gaines’ leadership, Mehlville is expanding opportunities for students. They have widened the availability of virtual and blended learning options. Mehlville is currently 1:1 in grades 6-12 and will be 1:1 for K-12 later this school year. In 2017 the district opened MOSAIC, a personalized learning elementary school, and created the MyPath program, which allows high school students to create their own class. The AASA Digital Consortium visited these programs in the spring of 2018 as part of their efforts to gain insight into emerging models of best practice using digital media to support engaging learning experiences. Dr. Gaines previously served as superintendent of the Crawford County R-I and Wright City R-II school districts. He is a member of the CoSN Superintendent Advisory Panel and is the 2018-2019 President of AASA.
About the Host
Ann McMullan is a 34-year veteran educator who served as the executive director for educational technology in the Klein Independent School District, located just outside Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the team in Klein ISD that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to over 4,000 professional educators serving over 50,000 students. During that time Ann also co-chaired the Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Education Agency’s Long Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020.
Today, she is based in Los Angeles, California working as a public speaker, writer, and independent education consultant focused on supporting leadership, visioning and planning to meet the needs of today’s students. She is a frequent presenter at state, national and international education conferences. Ann serves as project director for CoSN’s Empowered Superintendents Program. She serves on the board of PowerMyLearning Los Angeles and on the advisory board of Project Tomorrow. In the fall of 2016 Ann co-authored and published Life Lessons in Leadership: The Way of the Wallaby .
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