Monday, May 30, 2011

Dare to Dream

A colleague recently wrote about the state of technology in our school district, particularly the encouragement to BYOD (bring your own device). She "dared to dream" about a transformative classroom practice, supported by a school district plan that showed understanding of emerging technology needs and how to say yes to teacher innovation. One of her main points was that:
We, teachers, should not be expected to "lay out" and purchase things for our classrooms (although many of us do)...
I think that was the unspoken, perhaps unintentional savings in the computer platform consolidation that occurred in our district a year ago -- pass the cost of innovation (anything beyond the standard pc image) on to teachers. Unfortunately the result will be inequality of experience -- pockets of self-funded innovation, an emphasis on things you can do for free, and virtually no on-going district-level support structures to guide/plan/train/develop -- this loss of capacity was calculated cost of "right-sizing."

She went on to suggest that:
something is missing - the educational component. No one seems to be advocating that point... well a few others have been trying, but it seems to fall on deaf ears... I continue to believe it shouldn't be the technology that drives the teaching. The teaching should drive the technology. Our district has this backwards. Until our district does want to focus on the educational aspect, I am officially done with trying to help move this district forward. I look forward to next year teaching in my classroom and focusing on my students. The utter silence from our 'leaders' in this department speaks volumes.
My response:
If the School Board Office wanted to turn this around, I would suggest three starting points:

1. Answer some of the questions and address some of the descriptive feedback that have been posed of the SBO by teachers regarding technology-related policy, communication, leadership & training, decision-making, finances, direction, and pedagogy.
These topics have been dodged for long enough that it is very hard to find teachers who are not cynical about the state of technology at the district level. Virtually all of these questions come from respected past and present technology leaders in at least six district high schools and many elementary schools. The common themes in these questions have been consistent for about ten years (and are a sign of healthy discourse among educators), although the tone of the questions has changed in the last five as the dialogue on technology has gone from functional to dysfunctional.

2. Conduct a qualitative analysis of the comments left in the District Technology Feedback forum as part of ongoing needs assessment.
The SBO should maintain an active public database of the state of technology -- both the needs of educators and a sense of what they use technology for. If the SBO is not in tune with the dynamic narrative of student digital literacy and the work teachers do to harness technology for learning, it will relegate itself to a place of continual derision and suspicion. The goals of regular input, feedback cycles, and needs assessments should include (but not be limited to) a robust inclusive technology plan that teachers and the wider community can be proud of and take seriously. Other goals of the data-gathering (or story-gathering) should include training/inservice, professional development, collaboration & shared leadership, assessment & invitation for critique, and celebration.

3. Do some basic identity-defining work on what kind of place the district wants to be from the point of view of educators looking to find support or inspiration for their practice with technology.
Does the SBO actually want to encourage collaborative culture? Is it legitimate for educational decisions to be made without the affected educators present, especially when they are easily located and have consistently and dramatically volunteered their expertise in the past? What was wrong with the DTT that led to its demise? What could fix that, or replace what the DTT was meant to offer (e.g. collaboration and inclusive decision-making)? If the SBO can't keep up with the expectations placed on it by educators, or can't envision the capacity required to have a high-functioning district-level set of supports and pedagogies, what needs to change with the way service is provided, standards are created, and decisions are made?