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One district strengthened its staff capacity before a mobile deployment

mobile-101In the Township High School District 214 in Illinois, mobile technology use is expanding each year through a series of pilots proposed and supported by classroom teachers.

The district is moving toward a full-scale mobile one-to-one deployment, and district leaders said that in advance of a complete deployment, they wanted to prepare teacher and staff capacity.

To do so, district leaders crafted a multi-step process that empowers educators and allows for flexibility. Important components of that process include planning, a unique implementation approach, using data, and supporting teachers.

(Next page: Keys to gearing up for mobile success)

Identify a goal.

“Our children learn differently from how we learn, and we’re modifying our teaching to meet their learning modalities,” said David Schuler, the district’s superintendent, speaking at the annual NSBA conference in early April. “We have to prepare our students for a world we can’t imagine, and for a world that’s going to reinvent itself.”

One of the biggest steps in pre-mobile deployment preparation is focusing on a goal, and not on selecting a device.

“We needed to transform teaching–we were not interested in a device to be used in the same way,” Schuler said. “We wanted to use it in a transformational manner.”

Consider a flipped pilot structure.

This multi-phase pilot structure is teacher-led, which Schuler said gives teachers a sense of ownership and leads to more commitment.

In the spring of 2010, the district received 9 pilot proposals involving 350 devices, including iPads, net books, and Android Xoom tablets. Spring of 2011 included 22 pilot proposals totaling 500 devices, spring of 2012 had 59 proposals and 1,800 devices, spring of 2013 included 57 proposals and 2,400 devices, and spring of 2014 included 39 proposals and 6,330 devices.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Steven Kellner, director of professional learning and instructional technology. “The authentic nature of the change the devices brought to our district [is wonderful].”

Don’t be afraid of data.

Annual quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis has enabled the district to successfully monitor mobile pilots and learn from experiences as more pilots are approved.

For instance, one pilot used netbooks that had a long start-up and shut-down time, and which didn’t hold a charge for a full school day.

“That was problematic for us, and also an awesome opportunity for us,” Schuler said. “We didn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying netbooks for everybody–small pilots yielded data to inform larger decisions.”

Focus on system-wide professional learning to build mobile learning capacity and transform classrooms.

The district’s professional learning is student-centered and focuses on transforming classroom practice and individualizing learning.

It also is job-embedded, using district educators as best practice models and offering just-in-time support.

Finally, it is multi-layered and is available in individual, small-group, and large-group formats. Blended learning is another professional development format and option.

Teachers are aware of what their pilots will require, are involved in digital content creation, and know that they can turn to their peers and communities of practice to support their mobile pilots’ success.

Creating communities of practice has been key for district educators to truly innovate through their pilots and with their devices.

“We’ve had educational technology as long as we’ve had education,” Schuler said. “The question is, what are you doing with it?”

Allow for freedom to fail.

The district is “fully committed to ‘failing really well,'” Kellner said. “We should have failures from time to time that can guide us to improving instruction.”

District leaders take strides to make sure teachers know about this freedom.

“Creating an environment in which it’s OK if everything doesn’t work is a really safe way to encourage innovation,” Kellner said. “You don’t want to make a massive mistake on a large-scale project, but having the opportunity to learn from failures on a small scale has proven beneficial.”

At the end of the first pilot year, the district held a meeting and invited teachers to share their thoughts or concerns about their pilots and mobile devices.

“We listened to teachers say that certain things did or did not work, and that really says a lot for the district–that teachers came with no fear saying that certain things didn’t work. That’s very critical and very important,” said William Dussling, president of the board of education. “We as a board treasure innovation; we do not punish failure.”

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