Jon Gregori’s passion for and interest in technology started when he was a studio art teacher.
He taught art at the high school he attended as a student — in Henrico County Public Schools outside Richmond, Virginia — but everything changed when he was asked to teach Advanced Placement Art in 2010.
“It was this huge challenge to me,” he said in an interview. “I started to look at technology as maybe a savior, and I realized that technology couldn’t do the teaching for me, but it could be a tool to help me work with the content and get students through the test.”
He had his students use Google presentation tools, and he worked with a local college art history professor to allow students access to his tutorial videos at home.
“I started empowering students to do some of the investigating and learning and teaching, and I fell in love with the concept of technology.”
Gregori, now the instructional technology specialist at the district, has been named a NextGeneration Leader by EdScoop and CoSN, and he will be honored at the CoSN annual conference from March 12-15.
Last year, Gregori started supervising and mentoring one edtech coach from each of the 12 different middle schools in the district. Five of the 12 had unaccredited status, meaning that they did not meet state standards.
“The traditional approach was not working, so more of the same was not working,” he said. “These students are going to enter the world at a rapid change, and the number of different careers is going up, so that was a challenge for us.”
So Gregori and his team set to work on how to transform the educational model and philosophy for adolescent learners. They have developed a “Deeper Learning Model,” which focuses on project-based learning and community experiences.
There is also a new STEAM Steering Committee to identify “authentic learning tasks.” One example is a recent partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University, where the instructional technology team and middle school principals traveled to the VCU sports science training facility. The committee is developing STEAM lessons with health and gym teachers that mimic the work of a sports scientist.
Eventually, the middle school plan will be expanded district-wide.
“Transformation is a big word,” he said. “It’s a big shift in what we’re doing. It’s going to take time, but we’re going to be assertive and really work to put our kids in the center and focus on them.”
For now, the ongoing priority is instructional coaching. There are coaches in each subject, such as math and English, and each coach may be assigned to a particular teacher. At one point, a coach may have been assigned to a struggling teacher, but that is changing.
“We are working more with teachers who are trying to do new things, so a lot of time is supporting [the coaches] on building relationships,” Gregori said. “To create that spark and get that partnership going, and then taking that relationship and still being able to have critical conversations and reflect and push our staff to really grow is definitely a challenge.”
Gregori said they call the process of coaching others “guerrilla coaching,” training without being overt about doing so, but rather letting it come naturally.
“The No. 1 thing I’m working with coaching my team on is the coaching cycle — from building relationships to planning to action,” he said. “Which could be co-teaching and observing to reflecting. So it’s not just a one-and-done. We want to have teachers that we work with in multiple coaching cycles, to the point where we’ve built another one of us.”