Moving from We Can’t to We Must

Something wonderful happened today. I was speaking at the Connecticut Association of Administrator Mentor program and came to a realization:

For the first time I was able to hear a chorus of “We Must” instead of “We Can’t” when discussion technology and literacy integration. There were no calls of not enough machines or students too far behind grade level to worry about technology. It seems the critical mass of administrators in Connecticut understand the challenges students face in a multimodal world.

This is a monumental shift that I do not take lightly. I usually hear calls of overwhelmed budgets, resistant staff, cyberbullying. Not this time. It was great to work with a group of such committed folks.

After the talk we gathered to discuss some key strategies that administrators could use to implement literacy and technology in their district. I will do my best to summarize the issues, but I am sure I am missing some key issues. If you attended the talk please feel free to leave your ideas below in the comments.

Encourage Teacher/Classroom Websites

It was agreed that building a classroom presence is the first step teachers should take. As one participant commented, “Having a classroom website meets the needs of special education pre-teaching requirements and lets gifted and talented students work at their own pace.” It meets your differentiation needs.”

Building a class website frees education from the time and space constraints of schools, increases accountability, and provides a home-school connection.

We discussed the (minimum) types of elements that should be included: notes and objectives from lessons, homework and assignment calendar, a place to publish student work, and links to outside resources.

Encourage Teachers to build their PLN

Professional Learning Networks have greatly improved what I teach. We agreed that administrators must encourage teachers to seek out their peers on online spaces such as Twitter, Facebook, ISTE, NCTE Connected Community English Companion Ning, SMART and Mimeo networks, etc.

I shared some common hashtags for Twitter such as #edchat, #BlackEdu, #cpchat, and #edtech that teachers could use.

Require Hybrid Lessons

If educators are not teaching some part of their lesson online it is impossible to say school systems are graduating college ready studnets. According to recent Sloan Consortium Reports the majority of students enrolled in K-12 will take an online class in college. How can students be college ready if they did not take an online class in K-12.

We also discussed the benefits hybrid teaching approaches have for empowering students who do not always participate in class.

These learning spaces can range from gDocs to wikispaces to discussion boards. The point is students have an opportunity to build their digital footprints with faculty pointing the way.

Create schoolwide email systems

Much of the discussion focused on technology solutions. It was agreed that schools should adopt a schoolwide email system. There are many options out there such as Google Apps for Educators or epals.

We all shared a laugh about how many times an email we wrote is misconstrued. These discussions highlighted the need to include email writing in the curriculum.

We also discussed how email can help alleviate communication issues with students and parents

Have a published filter/unfilter policy

There is nothing more frustrating to a teacher who works all weekend long on a lesson plan who then comes in to find safe sites they need are blocked by a filter. We discussed how important it is for school systems to have a published filter policy that teachers understand.

The unblocking requests teachers file must also be returned in a timely manner with a clear explanation of why the site was or was not unblocked.

Invest more in PD than technology

We spent some time discussing funding issues and agreed that professional development was more important than capital purchases of equipment. You can have the latest and greatest technology but if your staff does not knwo how to use the tchnology to enhance their pedagogical goal the computers will gather dust or just be used to migrate worksheets into electronic forms.

We agreed that a good bench mark would be 50% of the technology budget should be spent on professional development and 50% shoudl go to purchasing.

One strategy shared by a participant was to give out limited resources to teachers who attend professional development or show promise in integrating technology into their classroom.

Have long term 1-1 computing strategy

Another issue we discussed was the choice between laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smartphones. I do not think the technology matters. What is important, and participants agree, that schools should have a plan and place to reduce the computing to student ratio with a long-term 1-1 goal.

We discussed how publishers may start to underwrite tablets with the purchase of textbooks or allowing to access the Internet using smartphones.

Either way everyone agreed access is key.

Encourage and assess students’ digital footprints

This was the most critical step. I call it the end of milk crate grading. In fact cafetria staff across the country can rest assured that teachers will no longer need to “liberate” milk crates in order to lug binders and notebooks home. By teaching in online environments students can build a history of where they have been an point to where they are going. Teachers can then look for growth in content knowledge and skills not in final products but over time..all the while providing responsive feedback. To me that is the real power of technology.

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