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How school leaders can empower the digital transition

Administrators are crucial to helping teachers implement digital curriculum

digital-transitionTransitioning to a digital curriculum has been met with a mixture of enthusiasm and concern. While digital resources align with students’ learning preferences and will enable them to leave school ready for college and the workforce, education leaders know that the digital shift requires planning, professional development, and support for teachers.

As school administrators determine which digital curriculum solution–including packaged solutions with built-in assessments to state-created resources–will best suit their needs, they must ensure that teachers have enough administrator support and professional development to correctly implement truly beneficial digital curriculum resources.

A large piece of the puzzle is “finding a way to get teachers comfortable with rethinking what they’re doing,” said Jeremy Macdonald, integrated technology systems coordinator with Bend-La Pine Schools in Bend, Ore., during an Alliance for Excellent Education Project 24 Google+ Hangout.

(Next page: How administrators are approaching the digital transition)

Teachers in Macdonald’s district are already becoming familiar with implementing the Common Core State Standards and working with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and the district is using the SAMR model to help identify how technology can impact teaching and learning alongside a transition to one-to-one in eight district schools.

“We’re trying to get teachers to rethink some of those ground-level things they’re doing, to get them comfortable and get them engaged with students,” Macdonald said. “Now we’re focusing on how we really begin to change what we’re doing in the classroom, as opposed to just substituting.”

Part of Bend-La Pine’s strategy lies in giving teachers a chance to reflect on what they’re learning and engage with fellow teachers as they try to create more open and self-directed learning opportunities, Macdonald said.

In moving to a digital curriculum, it’s important that administrators make sure teacher still adhere to that curriculum as they’re finding digital resources to use in the classroom.

“Be sure that in the process…they don’t derail the coherence to the curriculum,” said Peg Cagle, an interim faculty member at Vanderbilt University. “One of the big reasons for Common Core was coherence—people sometimes are doing this piecemeal and aren’t adhering to the learning trajectories.”

“How do we make sure that our teachers aren’t having to spend a lot of time looking and looking [for digital resources]—time that perhaps they could spend in better ways?” asked Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia.

Important questions to ask in a digital transition, Moran said, include: “How do we find resources to support teachers in great face-to-face instruction, as well as giving kids great virtual resources? What makes a great curriculum come alive for teachers, so that kids are getting real authentic experiences?”

Cagle and Moran both specifically mentioned digital math resources as a potentially problematic area.

“We find that when our teachers go out to find resources to support the full curriculum, there are a lot of virtual worksheet-oriented, passive resources, but finding really good resources to support kids as they develop conceptual math understanding, as well as develop authentic and real problem-solving, is sometimes more of a challenge,” Moran said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the really visible math resources that are ubiquitous right now on the web aren’t promoting kids’ thinking—in a way, it’s using 21st century technology to do 18th century work. That’s not progress,” Cagle said.

“The curriculum is a really critical starting point, and then realizing that there is no one-size-fits-all resource that’s going to help a teacher teach mathematics well,” Moran said. Virginia has not adopted the Common Core, but does have math standards at every grade level. “Focus on learning resources, not textbook resources. How do we make sure that the resources we’re bringing into a classroom challenge children to think deeply and in real and meaningful ways? I would say the first thing you want to do is really know and use the resources.”

Teachers need support and professional development as they begin to embrace a digital curriculum.

Part of that support is time, Macdonald said. Bend-La Pine teachers meet in small groups to review digital tools and resources or pedagogical ideas, and then discuss those new tools or ideas with fellow teachers and district administrators.

“We just respect the fact that they need time—that’s often the biggest ‘ask’ that we get,” Macdonald said. “A big part of it is giving teachers a chance to reflect and talk together, and we give them time to do that.”

Making connections between digital resources and their impact on students is another component.

“Teachers have to see how they can help kids be purposeful consumers of technology,” Moran said. “What makes sense about the technology they’re using?”

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