Ann Flynn, NSBA's ed-tech director, said this year's '20 to Watch' embrace tech's classroom potential.

Ann Flynn, NSBA's ed-tech director, said this year's '20 to Watch' embrace tech's classroom potential.

At its annual Technology + Learning (T+L) Conference in Denver this week, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is honoring 20 emerging leaders in education technology, ranging from school teachers to superintendents to directors of nonprofit organizations.

The leaders make up NSBA’s “20 to Watch,” an annual list of movers and shakers chosen by the organization’s Technology Leadership Network (TLN). These individuals are being recognized for championing ed-tech initiatives that are making a difference for students, teachers, school districts, and the greater education technology community.

“This year’s ’20 to Watch’ represents educators who see the potential that technology brings to the learning environment, and they know how to translate that knowledge in a way that excites and inspires their students and colleagues,” said Ann Flynn, director of education technology for NSBA.

“We hope their stories and experiences will influence policy makers and encourage district leaders to develop and support programs that allow their successes to be replicated across the country.”

Brian Nichols, principal at Hidenwood Elementary School in Virginia’s Newport News Public Schools, said he thinks his district’s progressive approach to education is what made him stand out among the other “20 to Watch” nominees. Nichols helped develop an after-school academy where students can immerse themselves in technology.

“They’re trying to save the world through technology,” he said of the students. “They’ve [created public service announcements] about saving the Chesapeake Bay … and the program is targeted to students who aren’t meeting their [state] benchmarks.”

After one year of being in the program, he said, 95 percent of participants passed the state-required tests.

Nichols’ students aren’t the only ones trying to save the world. Anne Smith, a language-arts teacher at Littleton Public Schools in Colorado, said her students–who are primarily ninth graders–also operate with changing the world in mind.

“It’s about what the kids want to do to [improve the world around them],” she said. “So they find ways to make a difference … [and then] kids see that what they do makes an impact.”

Smith said her students regularly participate in live blogging events with authors such as Cory Doctorow, who wrote “Little Brother,” and Daniel Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind,” who has worked with the students for about two years. They also use Skype, a software application that allows users to make free voice calls over the internet, to interact with the authors, as well as with fellow students when they are sick and have to stay home.

Innovation is something that Barbara Kurshan, executive director of Curriki, said drives her and the nonprofit social entrepreneurship organization that she runs. Curriki supports the development and free distribution of open-source educational materials to improve education worldwide.

“Curriki is the [winner] here,” she said of being included in this year’s “20 to Watch” list. “I’m lucky to be the leader … where I’m getting a chance to do things that change the way teaching and learning is done.”

Kurshan said standing out isn’t the reason Curriki works to build a community of teachers who share knowledge and information with their colleagues worldwide.

“We just do it because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

More information about this year’s “20 to Watch” winners can be found here: http://www.nsba.org/SecondaryMenu/TLN/RecognitionPrograms/20-to-Watch.aspx.