digital readiness

How to assess your district’s digital readiness

How do you know if your school system is high performing in its use of technology? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Here are 10 key areas to focus on.

How do you know if your school system is high performing in its use of technology? What are your strengths and weaknesses? While there are many free, self-assessments, how do you get a rigorous, outside expert assessment?

A first step is for districts to learn about CoSN’s new Digital Leap Success Matrix (Matrix) which outlines the practices needed to be a successful digital school system. And, CoSN has created a new fee-for-service CoSN Peer Review process using this Matrix to determine how a district aligns to best practices by expert external peers.

The Matrix focuses primarily on ten key areas: Leadership & Vision, Strategic Planning, Ethics and Policies, Instructional Focus & Professional Development, Team Building and Staffing, Stakeholder Focus, Infrastructure, Information and Data Management, Communications Management, and Business Management.

1. Leadership and Vision: This component sets the tone for the entire transformation. On the inspirational side, the vision that is developed becomes the “true north” by which all policies, procedures, and operationalized innovation are guided. If this vision gets to the heart of improving outcomes for students, the transformation will be pointed in the right direction. If the vision is limited to bringing in technology solely for engagement or to connect with the digital generation, the transformation will likely go astray. In addition to vision, there are many programmatic necessities such as distributed collaborative leadership, data-informed decision making, continual improvement processes, and equity practices.

2. Strategic Planning: The principles of program management apply to the process of strategic planning including setting goals and identifying success metrics, aligning resources, and planning for technology implementation. Key is ensuring that instructional goals precede technological goals.

3. Ethics and Policies: Policies operationalize the vision. They will either help or hinder innovation and transformation and must be crafted with care. They include everything from legal compliance to responsible use policies to student data privacy policies, and much more.

4. Instructional Focus and Professional Development: Supported by standardized processes, infrastructure, and policies, this area is one where ongoing innovation and improvement is core. On the “inspiration” side, instructional practice is evolved by adapting (not adopting) successful practices from the field, engaging in thoughtful action research, and focusing on practices that support students taking ownership of their learning and environments that support the activation of intrinsic motivation. On the “perspiration” side, using data to inform teaching and personalize learning as well as having a formal ongoing improvement process support the development of innovative practices. In addition, there is a need to address the “elephant in the room” of teaching to the test. Systems theory says that when one subsystem (test scores) is optimized, the system as a whole becomes suboptimal. To keep a focus on test scores from driving out other important learning outcomes, it is important to intentionally focus on success skills such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication and content knowledge simultaneously.

5. Team Building and Staffing: New processes require cross-functional organizational structures where obsolete functions are no longer supported. A transformational environment also requires that teachers and staff model the behaviors and skills that they are asking students to learn. As one desired outcome is for students to take ownership of their learning, teachers must demonstrate taking ownership of their teaching (and administrators of their work, and so on). This calls for an environment that supports intrinsic motivation: one that offers autonomy, mastery, and purpose as opposed to one with a top-down command-and-control structure. Intrinsically motivated teams are at the heart of transformed schools – they are the ones who say, “I could never go back to the old way of teaching.”

(Next page: 5 more key areas for digital readiness)

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