This post is sponsored by Samsung. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
From Providence, Rhode Island to Phoenix, Arizona, I’ve had the privilege to travel and work with over 2,300 district leaders from almost 500 school districts over the past year through the Future Ready Initiative. Regardless of which region of the country the conversations take place, a number of concerns arise regarding a district’s digital transformation. These concerns are real and often become roadblocks for student learning. Each district’s story is unique and each scenario brings with it a new set of circumstances as well as a diverse set of challenges. As school leaders work to implement digital learning practices, they must commit to navigating roadblocks, problem solving, and planning for sustainable, systemic transformation. With the new year now upon us, listed below are six edtech resolutions for 2016.
1. Commit to Ensuring Equity in Access and Opportunity.
Equity in access, from broadband to devices is a concern and something that districts need to work to meet head on. “In America,” former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan often says, “your zip code or your socioeconomic status should never determine the quality of your education.” It’s no secret that there have been tremendous achievement and opportunity gaps for many of our nation’s children – particularly those who are traditionally underserved, of which is disproportionately represented by our nation’s children of color. It’s also vital that school leaders take a hard look at access once students leave the school doors, as five million of the 29 million households with school-aged children lack access to high quality broadband while at home according to a Pew Research Center report. This connectivity issue, coined “The Homework Gap” by the FCC’s Jessica Rosenworcel, means that many of the children sitting in our classrooms lose access – and therefore opportunity – the moment they leave our schools. School Districts like Coachella Valley Unified (CA), Kent School District (WA), and Spartanburg 7 (SC), are working to tackle this issue head on.
2. Commit to Long-term Sustainability.
With school budgets being planned on a year over year basis, the concern over long-term sustainability for digital learning arises. As seen in various news stories in 2015, when districts are leveraging long-term financing to purchase equipment that will only last a fraction of the time, and using one time funding to purchase equipment that will eventually need to be replaced, a concern arises over future funding and budgeting patterns, and in the worst cases leads to back peddling in the move forward to 21st century teaching and learning. Districts having success in this area have comprehensive refresh plans, work with high quality partners, build relationships with local businesses, work diligently to receive grants, and leverage a variety of open educational resources (OERs). As districts became more in tune with these issues in 2015, the move to Chromebooks continued to grow. Districts looking for long term sustainability by purchasing high quality devices at an affordable cost should take a hard look at both laptops and tablets for solutions. Consolidating resources, leveraging purchasing power, discontinuing funding for outdated equipment and supplies, combined with prioritizing the digital conversation can be difficult, yet is a vital part of the redesigning process. For more information, check out how to ‘Equip Your School for the 21st-Century with a Solid Foundation.‘
3. Commit to Student Privacy and Clearly Articulate Policies to Stakeholders
News headlines containing the NSA, Home Depot and Target a number of months ago, as well as the debacle of a bankruptcy case with ConnectEDU combined with a push by a number of parent bloggers, brought student data and concerns over privacy to the forefront. SIIA, the organization that represents the software industry launched the Student Privacy Pledge, giving school partners that collect data a platform to show their commitment to maintain student privacy. At the end of 2015, there were 188 privacy-related bills in 47 states awaiting deliberation in state legislatures, with 28 new laws having already been implemented. Districts must keep privacy on the front burner and keep up-to-date with both state legislation and that coming out of Washington. Districts leading the way in this area have clear privacy policies in place, carefully review terms of service and contract language, have teachers that are educated on their responsibilities, and communicate well with families. (Resources: Data Quality Campaign (stat source) & Future of Privacy Forum)
4. Commit to Systemic Planning – Before You Purchase.
Quite often districts find themselves buying incredible amounts of educational technology, deploying these tools throughout their district, and essentially are left asking, “Now what?” Deploying technology without a plan has left many districts with incredible 21st century learning tools – in 20th century, teacher-centric learning environments with minimized impact. Districts have been known to purchase thousands – if not millions of dollars in equipment, with little to no plan to transform teaching and learning at the instructional level in the classroom. Districts can take advantage of the Future Ready Dashboard, a systemic planning tool, free for district leaders to help them develop deep action plans in a variety of key areas.
5. Commit to Personalized Professional Learning.
The top-down, one-size-fits-all, sit-and-get, hours-based accountability model for professional development that has reigned prevalent in districts for decades, according to recent research studies, simply a waste of time and money. When it comes to a successful digital conversion, however, professional learning is one of the key vehicles of transformation. If districts want to transform their classroom instruction, they must first transform their accelerant for progress – professional learning. Professional learning that is relevant, engaging, and personalized builds capacity for educators to take charge of their own learning. For far too long, professional learning has been something that educators viewed as something done to them – not something they have been a vital part of.
Districts having success in this area are working to empower teachers – giving them a voice and choice; moving from hours-based to outcome-based systems of accountability; and have school leaders that model and are transparent with their own growth.
6. Commit to Leveraging Social Media and Telling Your Great Story!
Every day across our nation, great things happen in every school. But how does the community know? How are these great stories being shared? Districts having success in this area are committed to meeting families where they are. The once a month newsletter sent home in the backpack is an outdated practice, which ultimately communicated very little. Families expect more from schools and their classroom teachers in a time where digital tools make such communication efficient and effective. Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become education game changers, while tools such as Samsung School encourage deep parent involvement, so communication becomes far more than a one way newsfeed – but a partnership in the child’s learning.
From weight loss and debt reduction, to spending more time with family, 2016 has brought with it millions of New Year’s resolutions. But when it comes to school leadership and making decisions that impact the students that we serve, what will you commit to? School leaders from around the nation will convene this week at FETC as well as at upcoming events to continue working in these areas. Our students deserve our best and our commitment to overcome these roadblocks will level the playing field and provide incredible opportunities for the kids we serve.