Instructional technology has merged with personalized learning at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, and Aubrey Harrison is at the center of the change.
Harrison, the personalized digital learning specialist for the school district — one of the largest in the country — has been named a NextGeneration Leader by EdScoop and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and will be honored at CoSN’s annual conference this month.
As part of his role, Harrison trained teachers from about 170 schools in preparation for the largest Chromebook deployment in the country.
The initiative started in the 2015-16 academic year with middle schools, and now there are enough Chromebooks for every Charlotte-Mecklenburg student in grades 3-12 to access the devices.
“It has accelerated the speed at which teachers and students can make decisions about learning,” Harrison told EdScoop. “We trained a team from each middle school on everything from management to pedagogy to your basic device navigation understanding. So it wasn’t a one-day training.”
The deployment took about a year, Harrison added, but the training is ongoing for elementary, middle and high school teachers.
Over the summer, Harrison’s department offered teachers a summer training session — and a stipend — to continue learning about what Chromebooks are capable of.
‘Tech Minute’ takeoff
When Harrison assumed his current role almost five years ago — he’d been with the district for 11 years, previously as a teacher and then a technology facilitator — there was a lackluster video library. Harrison took that library and completely revamped it to offer “Tech Minute” videos.
Those one-minute clips help teachers learn on their own about technology integration and troubleshoot common questions that arise during class. For example, Harrison created a video lesson on how to show students YouTube videos without other suggested videos popping up, and how to play a video on a loop.
Another video lesson was called “App of the Week,” where Harrison would take an app used on an iPad or Chromebook or other device, and highlight how they could create something in the app.
“We might do a video on digital storytelling and we’ll talk about what it is, how you could use it, and then we’ll show a tool that you can use with it,” said Harrison. “And that’s what we’ve been doing for our staff.”
The videos have become so popular that other districts — including New Mexico’s Albuquerque Public Schools and North Carolina’s Orange County Public Schools, Durham Public Schools and Gaston County Schools — have begun to use them for their own professional development sessions.
More time to coach
Harrison said the focus now is evolving and deepening around personalized learning. The top priority now, he said, is to coach teachers and administrators on how to incorporate personalized learning into their classrooms.
“We’re showing them how to create student ownership and how to look at the whole child,” he said. “We’re talking with them about goal setting and tracking data and how they can do it.”
Harrison said his role has changed so that he is able to do more coaching in classrooms, and observing teachers and giving them feedback, suggestions and action plans.
“That has been an experience that I’ve enjoyed doing,” he said.
Harrison applied to the 2018 NextGeneration Leaders program after Valerie Truesdale, associate superintendent for Personalization and School Partnerships for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, encouraged him to apply.
“She has always referred to us as Swiss Army knives — we can transition into anything,” Harrison said. “If we need to teach pedagogy, we can do that. If we need to be more technical, we can do that. We’re very flexible in terms of our capabilities.”
He said the best part of his job is the ability to collaborate with teachers at every level of experience.
“The interaction with all different sorts of educators is a huge motivator,” he said. “You can see all the different things that are going well, and you get to pass along what you’ve seen to teachers who may be new to the profession or struggling or feeling overwhelmed. That interaction with everybody in the district, that’s the most fun part of the job.”