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Modeling Tech Use in Our

Small District

BY JENNIE L. SNYDER

 

 

 

DavisJennieSnyderFour years ago, the Piner-Olivet Union School District, which serves about 1,500 students, began upgrading outdated network systems and computers. Today the district has updated servers, cloud-based computing and 1-to-1 access in grades 2-6 and 1-to-2 access in kindergarten and 1st grade.

Despite our small size and rural location about an hour north of San Francisco, our school district has been able to increase access to technology for students and staff. We’ve done so by adopting a device-agnostic approach. Staff members use district-issued iPads for professional learning and classroom teaching. In classrooms, students use Chromebooks and iPads as key aspects of their learning.

However, establishing the necessary infrastructure and access to devices is only part of the puzzle. As a small district without a large in-house technology staff, we must look beyond our local community and cultivate a culture of experimentation and innovation — essential elements if we expect to use digital tools to develop student competencies in 21st- century skills. Just as importantly, moving forward requires focusing on purpose, leveraging the power of networks and building capacity through shared knowledge.

We emphasize the learning, not the tools.
Educators are often mesmerized by gadgets. But putting devices into the hands of students and staff without a clear focus on the larger purpose does little to improve student learning. We emphasize “the task, not the tool.” The idea behind providing access is to apply digital tools to our professional work and classroom learning.

Our use of technology is guided by the purpose — to enhance learning for all. As teachers meet and plan units of instruction or projects, they share resources using Edmodo, an online platform that we introduced in the district two years ago. Students use Google Apps to conduct research, write, get feedback from peers and teachers, revise and share their work.

Focusing on the learning, not the tool, gives adults and younger learners a defined purpose for using the technology that furthers academic growth.

We leverage the power of networks.
Given our district’s size and location, making full use of professional networks, both locally and beyond, is a must for learning and for supporting technology use. When we initiated our 1-to-1 deployment last year, we benefited from the expertise of a 21st-century teaching and learning specialist at our county office of education. By contracting with this local partner, we could provide teachers with instructional coaching in their own classrooms to facilitate the integration of technology into teaching and learning.

This year, we are expanding this model by assigning one of our teachers to be a full-time implementation coach. Working with a coach in the classroom helps teachers feel more comfortable using technology with their students. The coach also helps bridge the gap between knowing and doing. Teachers may be aware of particular devices or applications but can’t see how to use them to enhance instruction. Seeing models empowers teachers to incorporate new approaches to learning.

We recently tapped into the power of Google Apps for Education to enable students and staff to collaborate and connect with other educators and students locally and nationally.

A 4th-grade teacher incorporated the digital tools to have her students thoughtfully address this question: How can I make a difference in my community and the world? Students used devices in the classroom to research community organizations committed to social change, shared their findings and reflections through their blogs, and connected with members of the local community and organizations across the county using Skype.

We model what we espouse.
As the district superintendent, I believe it is important that administrators in our district model the use of technology that we expect for students and staff. Even those uncomfortable with technology can provide a powerful example of learning for staff who may be reluctant to dig in. I started using social media in 2010 to connect with other educators and to tell our story as a school district.

Twitter has been an essential part of my own professional learning. By using social media, I am learning from other superintendents and education leaders about making informed decisions regarding purchasing devices and how to support teachers in integrating classroom technology. I also use Twitter to share student learning and accomplishments with parents and community members.

Last year, I attended an Edcamp, an “unconference” where the agenda for sessions is developed by participants based on their interests. Instead of the usual presentation-driven format, Edcamps encourage discussion and hands-on learning. I facilitated a session for other educators on how to get started using Twitter.

I also started a blog (http://jenniesnyder.com) in 2012 to walk the walk. I blog about my reflections on the ways I use technology in my work. I have shared my learning as a participant in technology events. Through blogging I am able to expand my learning network.

We build capacity by sharing what we learn.
To build capacity in our small school district, we develop systems of internal support by sharing our professional learning. We emphasize that we all are learners — from district and site leaders to teachers to classified staff. We learn with and from each other, making peer-to-peer learning a powerful component.

Formal professional learning for administrators and teachers, offered at the county office of education, focuses on 21st-century learning. Conferences sponsored by regional providers enable staff to delve into new models of teaching and learning. Participants share with other educators in our district what they are learning using Twitter. We use blogs to extend new ideas and resources to others.

Last year, a 5th-grade teacher attended a Google education summit and returned so inspired by what she learned that she facilitated a Chromebooks 101 session for her colleagues across the school district. At the end of the year, she led a “Demo-Slam” for her school colleagues to showcase how to use a particular digital tool.

Our principals incorporate the use of digital tools, such as TodaysMeet and Google Forms, at faculty meetings to gather feedback and facilitate discussion.

By building capacity in these ways, we can build upon our individual strengths and expand our collective knowledge.

Jennie Snyder is superintendent of the Piner-Olivet Union School District in Santa Rosa, Calif. E-mail: jsnyder@pousd.org. Twitter: @pousdsupt

 

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