The district that I have had the privilege of working in for the past 7 years has been steadily transforming from a technology standpoint, and this year we have reached an incredible milestone of rolling out more devices than we have students in our district. Access to high-quality digital devices and resources is paramount to the development of today’s youth as the world that leveraged books, pencil, and paper for learning is evolving at a break-neck pace. Access is hardly the end game however, and it was last year that our district, took the Future Ready Pledge with the intent to transform the practice of teaching and learning over the coming years and beyond. As we approach and move beyond the digital “tipping point,” it was clear that a strategic plan to disrupt traditional teaching practices leveraging technology-based and infused pedagogy was crucial for our district stakeholders. With this mindset, we began the process of engaging our stakeholders in a year-long series of events to set a course for the future. This post is a retrospect view of the past year and 3 critical steps we took, to advance our digital transformation.
Ownership and Trust
Leaving behind traditional paradigms in favor of a new model of education involves a tremendous amount of change, that inevitably affects the entire school community. We made it a priority from the outset to engage all of our stakeholders including administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community members. Throughout the planning process, they provided varying views and perspectives essential for building public support for our change. Providing a platform for which stakeholders can build a sense of ownership is a powerful motivator for change. Besides hosting face to face meetings with our stakeholders, we tried to elicit additional feedback from our students and teachers with the use of a district designed and aggregated survey, informal conversations, formal observations, and student interviews. As we move forward we hope to continue to build on the conversations of the past and further develop a sense of trust with our stakeholders through follow ups and especially social media.
We began our change process by articulating our vision for the future of learning in our school district. When planning a vision, tapping into the varying perspectives of all stakeholders is paramount. Once we compiled a cross section of all of our stakeholder groups (Admin, teachers, students, parents, and community members) we began the vision planning process.
Over the last year, I have spent much of my time listening, watching and engaging with thought leaders through social media and have quickly learned that leadership is about asking the right questions. To this end, we engaged our stakeholders with comprehensive surveys meant to gauge teacher and student readiness as it pertains to the use of technology. These surveys provided a very valuable backdrop for our conversations on vision planning, as it provided context for our stakeholders on the current lay of the land. There is something to be said about avoiding data till the vision is defined so as not to skew perceptions, however, in planning for the diverse needs of our district we found it helpful to have a consistent basis from which to plan.
Our use of questioning to engage our stakeholders continued in our vision process and we focused on a simple question “Imagine, five years from now, a local TV station has decided to create a documentary on our school district. What would this documentary be about? What would the cameraman see in his tour of our buildings?” This question drove our stakeholders over the course of a couple meetings to our final vision:
“The PAASD will provide a collaborative learning environment that will challenge each student to explore and expand upon their own unique strengths and ever changing interests. State of the art technology will blend seamlessly within the teacher-guided/student-driven educational experience stretching beyond the walls of PAASD buildings and out into surrounding community. Through this global educational experience, students will acquire the 21st-century skills necessary to become productive citizens engaged in all facets of society.”
Within our discussions, there were many underlying ideas that moved us to our final vision, and it’s worth mentioning that a major focus was not on the technology, not on the content, but rather on the skills, attitudes, and experiences of our students. With the world constantly changing the focus in our discussions shifted to tools that we can and should impart in students experiences that are adaptable to a changing world. Some of the thoughts in no particular order included:
- Risk takers
- Community minded
- Student agency
- Lifelong learners
- Four C’s
- Digital Citizens
- Student Driven Experiences
Actions that Map to Goals
After creating and defining our vision, the next step was to begin to plan our the strategic objectives that would guide our boots on the ground. Our work eventually led us to 3 specific initiatives that were designed to look beyond the integration of technology and focus on setting the foundation for broader systemic change. In our district we chose to highlight digital learning opportunites, digital citizenship, and stakeholder and professional development. As this year kicks off I am very excited about the future that is in store for my school district. We have already seen a few milestones with regards to digital learning and innovation including rolling out more devices in the district than we have students, serving our 100th student through our own cyber program, and beginning with some of largest groups of hybrid and fully online distance learners. Though we have reached access milestones it is now more critical than ever to see through our digital transformation and begin to tackle redefining what school is.