Instructional tech leader provides students with iPads, and teachers with training


Zach Desjarlais always has one foot in the IT world and one foot in the instructional world.

The manager for instructional technology at Vancouver Public Schools in Vancouver, Washington, helps support teachers and administrators to ensure that students are equipped to use the latest technology.

With more than 23,000 students across 37 schools, Desjarlais oversees a team of 16 instructional technology facilitators that do everything from helping teachers learn to use the learning management system, Canvas, to supporting STEM initiatives.

“We’ve been working on our one-to-one implementation, leading with instructional pedagogy as our focus,” he told EdScoop in an interview. “We do some stuff with digital content, but that is less of a priority of ours. We’re big into teaching and providing a lot of support directly to our teachers.”

Students in grades 5 to 12 are currently learning how to use iPads in the new one-to-one program, and next year the program is expected to expand to grades 3 and 4.

“We piloted all kinds of devices and landed on the iPad from a creativity standpoint,” Desjarlais said. “It’s empowering students, looking at ownership, choice and all the different ways they could show and demonstrate their learning.”

For his commitment and dedication to his district, Desjarlais was named a NextGen Leader by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and EdScoop in a national program to recognize rising leaders in K-12 education technology. She will be recognized along with her fellow finalists at the annual CoSN conference this month in Chicago.

Besides the iPad initiative, the district is going to start using an online platform called SeeSaw, which allows students to create digital portfolios of their work that will stay with them from year to year, and that parents also have access to.

“It’s a great way to collect their best works to be able to present or demonstrate their learning,” said Desjarlais, who studied criminal justice and law.

The district includes two nontraditional schools — one focuses on STEM subjects, with access to laptops and iPads, and the other is a flex academy that also uses laptops.

Desjarlais, who previously taught middle school and high school, said the first step before giving students any devices is making sure teachers first experience their possibilities.

While the instructional technology team plans the device pilot for grades 3 and 4 next school year, the teachers have already received iPads to begin trying them out before they get into the hands of students.

“We need to adjust so it’s really heavily driven by input from those [teachers],” he said. “We have a perception of what’s needed and oftentimes that’s confirmed and other times we have to adjust based on the pilots.”

Teachers can also visit other schools in the district where the devices have already been deployed, or visit pilot classrooms so they can see what the technology looks like in practice. In August, when teachers have a good idea of what will be expected of them, they go to an intensive two-day institute called weLearn, where they receive 14 hours of professional development.

“They’re really digging into how to use an iPad in an instructional way, so we cover a lot on consumption versus creation.”

Desjarlais said the iPad offers a wide variety of educational tools for students, and teachers can brainstorm during these two days on sample lesson plans. They also get a crash course in digital citizenship.

All of this rigorous teacher training will culminate in a new group that Desjarlais and his team are putting together called Future Ready Administrators – so that school principals, assistant principals and other administrators can get up to speed along with teachers and students.

“We were providing all this professional development for our teachers and we weren’t specifically giving that same level of support for administrators,” he said. “We really looked at how we can empower building leaders to lead in this area, and most of them were not equipped to do so.”

Desjarlais said one middle school principal approached him, saying it was the first time in his career that he had to ask teachers to use this technology that he had never had to learn.

The district is working with partners from Apple and other districts to address these new needs.

After a year, the administrators in the group will present at a “national venue” to share best practices with fellow administrators.

“That’s how we want to grow this within the district,” Desjarlais said. “We’ll be able to grow our own leaders by our own leaders.”

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