When I walk into our kindergarten classrooms now, seeing a five-year old moving her avatar to the “School Lunch” or “Home Lunch” box does not seem like a big deal. This not only provides this information to the teacher regarding her lunch preference, but also simultaneously takes attendance (if someone’s avatar has not moved, he or she is either absent, or they have forgotten to move it!) But when I recall how far we have come as a school in a fairly short period of time, I realize that the growth we have made has been significant, and was not accidental.
Eight years ago I sat in a room with a group of fellow administrators deliberating which of the many “initiatives” we were undertaking were most crucial to our district’s success moving forward. I remember choosing “technology” as being in the top three (along with our district tech director). I had been taking classes at the University of New Hampshire for my Ed. S degree, and had been involved in a hybrid course, and my strong feelings regarding the importance of maximizing available technologies had begun to form. I am pleased that technology is no longer an “initiative”, but a vehicle by which we are able to make learning opportunities more engaging, timely, and accessible for our students.
Five years ago I was hired as our school’s principal, and in conjunction with a forward-thinking leadership team and tech department, we began to deliberately integrate various resources within the classrooms to support and enhance instructional practices. To start, this included Mimio boards (a less expensive alternative to the SMARTboard), as well as Senteo Clicker Sets and LCD projectors. This has continued to evolve since that time, but as many of you know, just getting the equipment into the schools would not mean a thing if we didn’t have educators who were willing to utilize and maximize this equipment. It would all be for naught…
In hindsight, I believe we did a few strategic things to ensure that the integration and maximization of technology would be successful in our school. As an administrator it is just as important to realize what we don’t know, and I understood that there were technologies out there that I didn’t fully comprehend or understand, but that it was my job as an instructional leader to learn how they could enhance our profession and ultimately, learning opportunities for students. We are fortunate to have an incredibly stable and talented group working within our technology department. This department’s work behind the scenes to provide us with what we have has been astounding.
First and foremost, four years ago our leadership team made the decision that the technology budget was going to be “untouchable.” That is, when the inevitable time for budget cuts came, we were going to do everything in our power to ensure that this budget was not slashed, as it had been so often in the past. This decision has proven to be imperative to the growth our district has experienced, and has contributed to all teachers having a laptop, numerous carts in each building, Cloud capability for all staff, and iPad integration into the schools.
The Cloud capability in itself is monumental, as this allows students and staff members to have access to all documents anywhere! As our district Technology Director explained to me, the Cloud “levels the playing field for kids.” Students have access to the district’s licensing, specifically Microsoft Office, anywhere they have access to the internet. Students can “learn anywhere, anytime, even at their brother’s ball game.” Teachers, as well, have fully taken advantage of this capability, and our district was one of the first to move to this format a number of years ago.
About six years ago, our tech department purchased various pieces of equipment to begin the process of increasing the technological capability within our classrooms. I wholeheartedly accepted any and every piece of equipment I could get my hands on. My feeling was that if placed strategically with a teacher willing and able to successfully incorporate its use, others within our school would thirst for not only the equipment, but the knowledge that went with using it. I also worked with our Parent Teacher Organization to help support the purchase of additional Mimio technology and began to earmark budget monies toward the purchase of technology tools within the classroom. A few years ago, our tech director indicated that some of the SMARTboards from the high school could be moved to the elementary level. There was research that indicated that the SMARTboard was better suited to primary-aged children because it was not necessary to use a stylus to write on its board, thus requiring less fine motor dexterity. We now have a SMARTboard in each classroom, Pre-K through first grade.
It was slow-going in the beginning, but I am blessed to work with a staff that is patient, flexible, and willing to “trust the process.” The process, in this case, was the implementation and utilization of something that was not familiar and the belief that, in time, it would pay off and allow them to engage student and ultimately, allow them to provide greater learning opportunities for students. Our staff was open to incorporating anything that was going to allow students increased learning opportunities.
One of the greatest benefits of technology integration within our school has been the impact it has had on how we go about providing professional development opportunities. I believe it is imperative to have highly functioning Professional Learning Communities to support this type of model, as it relies heavily on the collaborative nature of professionals to assist each other in developing skills that are literally across the spectrum. Our curriculum coordinator, Ellen Hume-Howard, suggested the creation of a “Training Team”, and we began to imbed our PD during our scheduled weekly afternoon meetings. Our team consisted of teachers who were willing and able to provide small group training to staff on a specific topic. Topics varied from the use of the LCD with a Mimio (in the beginning) to the creation of lessons utilizing existing resources, to document cameras, to SENTEO Clickers, to Googledocs, to the Cloud… The list continues to grow as staff members increase their capability and use. One of the benefits of this model is that the trainers were able to identify teachers’ individual needs and then were able to follow up with the individual teachers for a one-on-one training at a different time. It truly modeled differentiated learning and was a great example of our “Learning for All” vision.
Another impactful use of our time was to have staff “shares”. Instead of a staff meeting, we would use our time to share practices that were occurring within our school. Many times, teachers had no idea what was possible because they just hadn’t seen it. I would ask teams to share specific tools they were using or ways that they were utilizing the available technologies, and they would walk through the process in front of their peers. I will never forget the look (literally, jaws dropped) when one staff member demonstrated how to replicate test questions using a question bank with a simple click. Teachers recognized the time-saver this provided, and immediately craved more information and training.
This increase in technology use demands additional support. For three years we attempted, with a very slim budget, to hire a technology coordinator/teacher in our elementary schools. Two years ago we were successful in getting this passed on a ½ time basis. Last year we were able to move this position to full time. The result has been extraordinary. The position has already morphed into one in which technology is no longer an activity we perform (as a special, etc.) or an “event,” but a means by which to engage in our daily tasks, whether for our students or as educators. Classroom teachers work collaboratively with our technology coordinator to build units and lessons. Originally, this was our vision, but we moved to this model around two years earlier than we anticipated and are all better off for it.
Looking ahead, I believe that we will never be able to rest on our laurels. The speed at which technological advancements occur is mind-boggling. In the short-term, we are hoping to incorporate SMART table technology in our preschool and to continue to continue to find ways to get our iPads into students’ hands as much as possible. They are comfortable and quite adept using these tools. In the long-term, I hope we are able to continue to find a way to be flexible, open to change, and willing to do what is necessary to provide our students and staff with the tools they will need to be twenty-first century learners.