The past three days I spent in amazing place – Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. I was there as one of the lead learners for CUE Rock Star Admin, a three-day camp for school and district administrators focused on leadership and more effective, meaningful use of digital tools. The camp is more of a retreat than a conference with session leaders that are focused on cultivating a conversation and a sense of community.
As with other Rock Star Camps, each day I led a different session – Digital Writing for Digital Kids, Building the Foundation for 1:1, and Lead Change. Learn. Blog (all session materials are linked here). As a session leader I have a bit of a different perspective than an attendee, mainly because each day I led multiple sessions with the same content and have the unique opportunity to witness how ideas grow throughout a camp. Over the next few days I plan on writing a post for each session, because each one provided me with new experiences and inspiration as a leader. However, what is currently resonating with me the most are the conversations from my second day’s workshop – Building the Foundation for 1:1.
Nearly every day I learn of another school or district going 1:1 and honestly each time I get a little nervous. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and have witnessed its amazing power to amplify student voices, but I have also been part of a 1:1 program that fell apart. In my experience technology simply amplifies what is already occurring in a classroom or school site (for good or bad). Digital tools help amazing teachers do even more amazing things, but the tools can also complicate the weaknesses of struggling teachers. Any school moving towards 1:1 needs a clear plan – a plan that incorporates a collectively held vision, meaningful professional development, a sustainable budget, and a rational timeline.
The plan must also be rooted in an instructional practice…and not just any practice. The practice must be open-ended and make meaningful use of student devices, providing an opportunity for students to have choice and voice in how they demonstrate learning. Some of my favorites are project based learning, writing workshop, blended learning, but it really can be anything that is meaningful and leverages the power of connected devices that can easily create content. Two others that the group came up with were GLAD and Understanding by Design. Why is identifying a clear instructional practice so important? Throughout my conversations with each group four key themes kept appearing.
- Common Language – First and foremost a collectively held instructional practice provides the school community a common language of instruction. Without it teachers, administrators, instructional coaches have no clear, transparent vocabulary to provide meaningful feedback. Instead the feedback will often be superficial (ex: “the kids looked engaged”) or based only on the tool (ex: “she had an innovative use of Google Forms to collect data). It is tough to get to the “so what” without this common language.
- Supports Teachers – From my experience all teachers want to improve and with today’s teacher shortages we need to focus on coaching our struggling staff members into greatness. A clear instructional practice helps teachers focus on where they are going. It is a professional tool that provides them the ability to name successes and challenges and allows them to identify effective strategies when working with their colleagues.
- Recovering from NCLB – After more than a decade of No Child Left Behind and the scripted curricula, pacing guides, and other “teacher-proof” strategies it created don’t assume that every teacher on your campus knows how to effectively develop meaningful, relevant learning experiences. And this is not their fault. We teach the way we were taught. A solid common language provides a framework for all teachers to leverage digital devices and improve their practice.
- On-Boarding New Hires – California is projected to have a giant wave of teacher retirements in the next few years. Without a solid instructional practice in place leaders will struggle to properly train new teachers and bring these staff into the common language of the school site.
Throughout the second day of the camp I could tell that significance of a solid instructional practice was something that most 1:1 programs already in progress had missed. However, a few leaders mentioned that they were starting to notice that this was a key missing ingredient. Many districts are using the SAMR model to help teachers reflect on where they are in their journey towards using technology, but a lack of commonly held instructional language was hindering teachers from moving into modification and redefinition. As I’ll discuss in my next post a solid instructional practice is also key for moving professional development beyond the tool.