A program of site visits can teach leaders invaluable skills and keep them from feeling too lost

fish-site-visitsSince 1987, the National School Boards Association’s Technology Leadership Network has hosted education technology site visits that allow educators to grasp the essential conditions needed to support technology innovation. Without these crucial in-person learning experiences, too often educators looking to implement technology in their local environments feel like fish out of water—perhaps literally.

Consider author Leo Lionni’s Fish is Fish, which serves as a lesson about how individuals construct new knowledge based on their current set of experiences, and why it is so important to understand the critical elements to experience success in another environment. In that story, the fish’s tadpole friend, who becomes a frog and leaves the pond, returns to tell him about the fantastic things he has seen on land, like birds, cows, and people. It’s hard for the fish to imagine those creatures, as they simply are not part of his world. After an ill-fated adventure on land, he is rescued by his friend the frog and returned to the pond, having never learned what enabled the birds, cows, and people to be successful in their world.

Unlike Lionni’s fish, participants at NSBA site visits gain the experiential learning critical to allow them to return to their respective “ponds”—local school districts and schools—better able to define a vision and construct a plan that improves teaching and learning and promotes student success.

Across the US and Canada, NSBA hosts 73 technology site visits that aim to chronicle major innovations in K-12 education technology. From the one computer classroom and arrival of the internet to social media and new approaches to professional development, NSBA site visits offer a roadmap and blueprint for those seeking to implement change.

Next page: Finding that “Aha!” moment on a visit

 


District leaders often point to a specific visit that created an “Aha!” moment when they first knew they wanted to embrace the innovation they were observing. The entire program takes place at schools within the host district and includes classroom observations, mini-briefings, and conversations with students, staff, board members, and community partners. Participants gain insight on how district staff implemented their vision, and in some cases, what changes they would make if starting over.

The three 2015 visits continue the tradition of focusing on the intersection of technology policy and practice, rather than particular products or devices. Perhaps you’re wondering what this year’s participants will bring back to their ponds.

•    Creating student–driven learning environments
•    Defining and supporting blended learning
•    Building community support and engagement
•    Staffing strategies to enhance success
•    Delivering a world-class education experience

Each of the three site visits has unique relevance and appeal:

Site visit #1: Recognized with countless awards, Virginia’s Prince William County Public Schools in suburban Washington, D.C., attributes much of its success to the use of instructional coaches that ensure the investment in technology is maximized across all curricular areas and schools within this large district.
•    During the April 22-24 visit, participants will see a makerspace in an elementary school; learn how the district’s BYOD program is being managed and secured; and how the district is using technology to ensure its students have the skills they need to be proficient in problem-solving, communication, and collaboration.

Site visit #2: The Mentor Public Schools in Ohio, home to three of NSBA’s “20 to Watch” educators, embraces a district-wide approach to innovation.
•    The April 26-28 visit showcases the district’s comprehensive approach to blended learning from the selection of furniture and devices to the re-design of learning spaces and new approaches to professional development. Autism will also be highlighted as participants visit the Cardinal Autism Resources and Educational School (CARES), the area’s state-of-the-art program serving K-12 students with autism.

Site visit #3: The annual, community-wide Technology Expo and a “behind the scenes” look at how to create a similar event is the centerpiece of the Kent School District visit.
•    The April 29-May 1 visit, in Washington state, spotlights a TechExpo that celebrates how technology enhances learning to create public awareness around innovative approaches to digital citizenship. Well established one-to-one learning initiatives will be featured though classroom observations and discussions, plus attendees have an option to participate in Microsoft’s Global Forum during the visit.

Leading the Digital Leap is an online collaboration between the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Superintendents (AASA). From literally leaping across a puddle as a child to taking a leap of faith by saying “yes” to a marriage proposal, the act of leaping can be both exhilarating and frightening. NSBA’s technology site visits are designed to diminish that fear as school leaders make the leap into an increasingly digital future.

Registration is now open for NSBA’s 2015 site visits at www.nsba.org/tlnsitevisits.

Ann Lee Flynn, Ed.D., is director, education technology, for the National School Boards Association. Flynn was named one of 2014’s “Top 30 Technologists, Transformers and Trailblazers” by the Center for Digital Education.