5 Concerns School Leaders have about Digital Transformation

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From Atlanta, Georgia to Vancouver, Washington, I've had the privilege to travel and work with over 1,500 district leaders over the past year. Regardless of which region of the country the conversation takes place, a number of concerns arise regarding a district's digital transformation. These concerns are real and are often roadblocks for school leadership teams. Each district is unique and each scenario brings with it a new set of circumstances and diverse challenges. One will not find a district that has had a perfectly smooth digital conversion, as in every case, school leaders must navigate roadblocks, problem solve, and plan both systemically and strategically. From coast to coast, there are a number of concerns that consistently arise, with five of the most common shared below.1. Access to Broadband and Quality DevicesEquity in access, from broadband to devices is a concern and something that districts are working to meet head on. Fortunately, support from the FCC through the latest revisions of E-rate should significantly help close the digital divide over the next five years, but districts must work to ensure equity of access for all students. Districts that are having success in this area are leveraging consortium purchasing power, supporting home access for students, developing refresh plans, minimizing copying and other outdated costs, and reworking school budgets to prioritize 21st century learning environments. (For more on connectivity statistics nationwide, visit 99in5.org.)2. Consistent Funding StreamsDistrict budgets have remained stagnant and in many areas, year over year reductions have forced districts to analyze each line item every budget cycle. Working to the advantage of district leaders is the fact that technology typically gets better and cheaper as time goes on. Districts that are successful in this area are finding ways to cut costs while simultaneously increasing access. Consolidating resources, leveraging purchasing power, discontinuing funding for outdated equipment and supplies, combined with prioritizing the digital conversation is a difficult, yet very possible task.3. Long-term SustainabilityWith school budgets being planned on a year over year basis, the concern over long-term sustainability for digital learning arises. 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 reversal in the move forward to 21st century teaching and learning. Districts having success in this area have comprehensive refresh plans, force competitive pricing from vendors, work with businesses, grants, and partnerships, and leverage a variety of open educational resources (OERs).4. Maintaining Student Privacy while Empowering Teachers with ResourcesNews headlines containing the NSA, Home Depot and Target a number of months ago, as well as a debacle of a bankrupcy case with ConnectEDU, brought student data and concerns over privacy to the forefront. As of this writing there are 127 bills in 37 states awaiting deliberation in state legislatures. At the federal level, recently released in the House is a bi-partisan student privacy bill to further protect students in various digital related areas, many of which are not specifically outlined within FERPA. Districts must keep privacy on the front burner and keep up-to-date with both state legislation and that coming out of Washington. Districts having success in this area have clear privacy policies in place, carefully review terms of service and contract language with third party vendors, have teachers that are educated on their responsibilities, and communicate well with families. (Resource: Data Quality Campaign)5. Professional Learning that WorksSimply put, the effectiveness of digital learning comes down to systemic planning and high quality classroom instruction. Districts finding success in this area are shifting the instructional paradigm; transforming classroom pedagogy and doing so through high quality, personalized professional learning. The one-size-fits-all model of professional learning that remains prevalent in schools throughout our nation is a direct inhibitor of such pedagogical shifts. Just like classroom instruction needs to be personalized, engaging, and relevant, so too does professional learning for educators. This method of professional learning is time intensive and required both a shift in mindset and in culture; not an easy feat. 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.Although these concerns can be found throughout all regions in our nation, there are many districts tackling these issues head on. Future Ready, a collaborative effort of over 40 organizations, is working to help school leaders tackle these concerns so that student-centered learning environments, lead by empowered teachers can support a technology-infused, personalized approach to learning for all students.