Cultural Change at the Core of a Tech Tool

By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, August 2015

DanSchool districts throughout America are rushing headlong to make the digital leap. The lure of the technology, the one-to-one laptops systemwide, is a powerful attraction for educators wanting to be rid of the traditional textbook.

Occasionally, however, superintendents fall in the trap of rushing into the technology without the proper planning, which includes the professional development of staff, the cultural changes that move the teacher from the sage on the stage to the facilitator of learning and the acquisition of the right software and hardware.

With these challenges in mind, AASA established a Digital Consortium of superintendents who have made the plunge into the digital arena and are well versed in the pitfalls and difficulties involved in a successful implementation. Our first meeting occurred in Seattle, hosted by Amazon on their campus. Last May, thanks to support from Pearson and Cisco, the consortium met again in Mark Edwards’ district, in Mooresville, N.C.

Edwards has turned the school system into the mecca of the one-to-one approach in digital conversions — so much so that streams of visitors come to the district from around the world and President Obama announced his ConnectEd initiative from there. We had the opportunity to visit the East Mooresville Intermediate School and talk with Edwards, teachers and the school principal.

Blended Learning

To Edwards, technology is a tool that, if effectively used, adds value to the learning process. It’s all about instruction and being child-centered. The technology opens up windows to the world and makes available instant resources with the ability to communicate and collaborate with other students and instructors. There are no textbooks in Mooresville. They have all been replaced by MacBook Airs.

The school is well beyond the traditional in the blended learning, one laptop per student approach. And, to the extent that at any given moment a student can be engaged, through her MacBook, in an activity that parallels the lesson the class is engaged in but better meets her needs and ability level, personalized learning is taking place.

East Mooresville Intermediate accommodates a diverse population of approximately 600 4th through 6th graders. As we walk through the school and visit classrooms, the level of engagement of all the students is impressive.

The teachers clearly are directing instruction, working with an individual child here, a small group there, or stopping to give the class a new set of instructions or to summarize the findings from a completed project. They have developed a collaborative relationship where often teacher and student are learning together and students develop activities and find resources to assist other students in the class who are having difficulty understanding particular concepts. In Mooresville, students take home their MacBooks in specially designed backpacks provided by the school.

Sharing the curriculum and accompanying lessons and resources takes place among the staff. The sharing is facilitated by the technology since the curriculum and related lesson plans are online. Teachers discover activities that are best suited for different ability levels among their students, and they share those activities with each other, thus compiling a vast array of resources only a key stroke away from instructors.

The teachers constantly monitor student progress as they have the capacity to “peek” into the students’ computer screens to see not only what they are doing but also how well they are doing it. They can assess where a student needs support and can instantly provide it. The students themselves can track their own progress at any time.


Being Patient

Prior to the digital conversion, Mooresville was one of the worst-performing districts in the state. Today, they proudly rank near the top, outperforming many wealthier and less diverse communities. The teachers boast about what they see as a personalized professional development approach. The district offers various professional development opportunities, both in person and online, but teachers are free to pursue the activities that best meet their needs, much of it provided by colleagues.

The lessons learned revolve around being patient and allowing teachers and students to adapt to the changes. Not all staff members were enthusiastic about the evolution to a digitally driven personalized approach. Some teachers required three to four years to come around and accept the changes while others were on board right from the start. Success, however, came about through teamwork and collaboration and adapting to a culture that focused primarily on the needs of the students and used technology as a tool to drive achievement gains.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org. Twitter: @AASADan