ISTE 2015 session examines how school and district leaders can best plan for a technology initiative’s success

technology-leadershipEstablishing a shared vision around a technology initiative is one of the most important success factors for that initiative, according to a panel of administrators from around the country who gathered at ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia to discuss a leadership roadmap to successful technology integration.

The panel was based around ISTE’s Essential Conditions, which are 14 necessary conditions for effectively leveraging technology. The conditions fall under the categories of people, policy, and resources.

Some of the conditions–such as consistent and adequate funding–are largely aspirational and may not be fulfilled.

Next page: What various school leaders did to ensure their technology initiatives’ success

“The key is working with what you have and understanding the places where you need to have those critical conversations,” said ISTE’s Mindy Frisbee.

Innovative approaches to school technology

Barry Bachenheimer, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment in New Jersey’s Pascack Valley Regional Schools (PVRS), which was the first one-to-one laptop district in the state of New Jersey. The initiative is now 12 years old.

“It’s not about the device. The more important thing is about what we’re doing with the device–not about the device itself,” Bachenheimer said. “When we launched this initiative, our board of education was really supportive. We made sure that when they were on board, this initiative was not tied into test scores.”

District leaders secured buy-in from all stakeholders, including teachers, students, parents, and they try not to make any big decisions without consulting constituent groups.

“We really want to make sure that we follow our vision and make sure our vision connects with our actions, and vice versa,” he said. “We want to take risks. We want to be one of the most innovative districts around.”

In February 2014, PVRS held a virtual snow day during a blizzard. Teachers put lessons together ahead of time and students accessed the lessons on their devices. The district showed 97 percent attendance that day.

The district also built in 20 percent time for students. Each week, students get 90 minutes of free time to take ungraded or noncredited classes or meet with teachers, among other activities.

District leaders also are focusing on decreasing student stress.

“We’re cranking our students up with so much work, so many tests, and so many activities that they’re stressing out and having breakdowns before they get to college,” Bachenheimer said. “We want to start building in things to change that.”

PVRS is eliminating midterms and finals, is building in two virtual days for students to learn at home online with teachers, and the building will remain open if students need Wi-Fi.

“The idea is to decrease the stress and increase the learning,” he said.

From zero to BYOT

The Copper Ridge School in Arizona, which serves pre-k through eighth grade, went from a zero-device school to a bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) school after conducting several small pilot programs to test how mobile devices might be incorporated into teaching and learning.

“We had the kids teach us BYOT, because we didn’t know what to do,” said Michelle Ostot, the school’s principal.

At the time, the school did not have wireless internet on the campus–a situation that was quickly rectified.

After developing responsible use agreements with staff, the school worked with students to teach them about digital citizenship–how to stay safe online, how to interact online, and what is and is not appropriate.

Data revealed barriers to the initiative’s success: educators felt unsupported due to lack of PD, teachers said they didn’t have enough time to use the tools for teaching, and they didn’t know which resources and apps to use to suit the different devices students brought in.

To address some of those barriers, the district implemented the iE3 Project, which is a collaborative apprenticeship model that pairs early adopters with beginning teachers who are still hesitant to adopt the technology.

The educators teams focus on mentoring and support, shared planning time, exchange of resources, opportunities for observation, and authentic PD.

“From the iE3 Project, we found student-centered learning starting to happen,” Ostot said. “The kids were using technology and digital resources across content areas.”

Based on school data, about 40 percent of school teachers were using devices in the classrooms in 2012, and in 2014, about 90 percent of teachers used mobile devices in their classrooms. Recently, the school logged about 900 devices in use on its campus.

Lessons learned from a large deployment

In 2008, the district participated in the state-wide initiative called Classrooms For the Future (CFF), which provided 114 classroom laptop carts in high schools. One cart was shared across four classrooms.

Before that, technology initiatives varied widely.

“The real infusion of technology as a classroom tool was school by school–if you had a principal who believed in it, you were fortunate. But if not…there was no centralized vision of technology being a classroom device,” said Fran Newberg, deputy chief of the Office of Educational Technology in the School District of Philadelphia.

The CFF initiative changed that, she said.

The School District of Philadelphia has 218 schools and 143,000 students, making it the eighth largest school district in the country.

The district realized a shared cart model hampered teachers’ efforts to integrate technology, because they didn’t have the carts in their classrooms each day.

“In hindsight, we thought we had shared vision,” Newberg said. Though administrators and state leaders were excited about the initiative, teachers were left out. “We needed the teachers from the ground up,” she said.

“It was not a great model for teachers who were excited and changing practice to have to plan to have the tool some days and not others,” she added.

Phasing is important, Newberg said. The district rolled the initiative out to cohorts of schools to ensure proper implementation and support.

Ongoing professional development with embedded coaching helped teachers learn how to truly use the tools to change instructional practices.

With lessons learned from CFF in mind, the district’s 2015 Digital Classroom project places principal and teacher input at a premium.

School teams submit instructional plans based on student needs to receive hardware refreshes, and input from school leaders and classroom teachers is one of the top requirements.

“when you think about a completely transformed instructional model, this is where we believe we will have greater transformation,” she said. “We want a shared vision, and we want it from end to end–but primarily, we want to hear the teacher and the principal vision around this.”

Some of the program’s components include a shared vision, a curriculum framework with digital resources, a transformed student-centered instructional model, and an equitable deployment.

Focusing on network infrastructure

The School District of Pickens County (SDPC) is rolling out a one-to-four Chromebook initiative in elementary schools, and middle and high schools should be one-to-one during the 2015-2016 school year.

Having technical support to buoy the district’s plan is one of SDPC’s top priorities.

The district inventoried its systems, ranking each system’s priority from 1-7 with 1 being the most important. Then, leaders set about examining how those systems might work together to communicate in the background and be more efficient.

“We want all of these things to talk behind the scenes so a teacher doesn’t have to log into seven different things. We want these things to come into one central location so a teacher can use that data for students,” said Barbara Nesbitt, the district’s director of instructional technology.

“The thing that’s been important to us is knowing what systems we have available, what the data says, and how the systems work with one another so we can provide a better and more seamless experience for our end users,” she said.