pilots teachers

A tale of two pilots

2 educators share the practicalities of pilots in their districts and the keys to getting teachers onboard

A Rock Star pilot

St. Clair R-XIII School District, Missouri
Nadine Aitch, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

St. Clair’s instructional and technology team regularly attends professional development conferences, as well as dedicating time to researching products that are new to the market. We also use Twitter to follow educational groups that are tied closely to Google, instructional technology (#GoOpen), and many other groups as well. For three years, I was a part of the team that attended ISTE, which is often where we find the next technology we want to pilot.

In most cases, it’s a team decision to pilot a product that might fit an academic need in our district. Of course, our superintendent has the final say on whether or not it’s fiscally possible to purchase the product. A key to our success with technology implementations is that we pilot two or three products a year but have never piloted a product that we knew we couldn’t afford. Piloting products allows us to test them in real-world circumstances to make sure that we don’t waste money, time, and forward progress on a product that is not going to positively impact student achievement.

We strive to do our homework on the front end. As part of our research, we contact other school districts who are using the product, and conduct site visits to see and hear for ourselves what their teachers think of the product. Very rarely do we pilot a product that is “brand new.”

We’re a PLC (Professional Learning Community) district, so data is very important to us. We want data to drive our instruction wherever possible, so we need the data we collect to be useful and actionable for our teachers. Products also need to be easy for our teachers to adopt and use.

In 2013, the year our district went one-to-one, we found many resources with a focus on STEM, but we were not finding quality technology resources for literacy. We are a balanced literacy school, so the fit had to be perfect. After viewing myON at ISTE, we thought it supported our balanced literacy model, so we launched a pilot.

Starting with the ‘Rock Stars’

We made the decision to start small with the myON pilot, introducing it to a number of our “Rock Star” teachers during summer school. (We already had a few other new initiatives going, so we were worried that we would overwhelm our teachers with one more thing.) Using a “train the trainer” model, we set up extensive PD for our Rock Stars and allowed them to implement and use the platform for a few weeks. We knew that if our Rock Stars gave their seal of approval, their excitement would spread through the district like wildfire, leading to more teachers asking to pilot the product as well. We never turn down a teacher who is interested in taking part in a pilot.

To measure the success of a pilot, we listen to our teachers. Often we will have teachers complete a Google Form or survey to share their thoughts on the pilot. Our instructional tech coaches spend a lot of time in the classrooms to not only provide technical support, but also to observe the product in use so we have a good grasp of what teachers and students think of the product and how it is being integrated.

Listen and learn

In the past, we’ve said no following a pilot. Ownership of the product changed companies in the midst of our pilot and there were several kinks in the new set-up that caused our teachers and students to become extremely frustrated. It was an electronic product, so it was crashing, not tracking student data correctly, and giving us constant error messages.

If I were offering advice to other districts just starting with pilots, I would say: Do your homework up front. Conducting a district needs survey is a great place to start. Listen to your teachers too, but remember that often, teachers are not exposed to new products, so create a team to do some of the front end research. Attending conferences like ISTE that have a heavy emphasis on instruction and technology is another great place to start. And most of all, don’t pilot a product or initiative if you know the district can’t afford it.

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