A Technology Manifesto for our School District

I wrote a few weeks ago about a meeting that some of us had in our school district around angling technology towards the center of the identity of our school district. I kept thinking about it and worried that if no one followed up on the meeting, the whole idea would just sputter out to nothing. There is still that possibilities, but I wrote down my own ideas for the school district administration and shared them this week on an Etherpad document, urging the principals and superintendents to collaborate on it (nothing yet).

Here were some of my main points of my manifesto:

Goals: How we do make our use of technology in the Hampshire Regional Schools more visible to the public (inside and outside of Hampshire Regional) and continue to integrate meaningful technology into the classrooms?

Rationale: We have invested, and continue to invest, significant funds into technology purchases in our school district. We “earn” significant money from School of Choice students electing to come here but we also lose significant funds from our students going elsewhere, too. By branding our district as one that is infused with technology and innovation, we have the opportunity to create an identity as a district that is preparing students for the world of the future. Beyond the marketing concept, the creation of this identity might help more teachers take the first steps into using technology in meaningful ways because they want to identify with the goals of the district. Finally, this shift might open the door for more grant opportunities for our district, as most organizations want to see the groundwork already in place before handing out money.

Audience: the public

  • Better public relations: Contact newspapers about technology-infused projects that showcase student engagement. Don’t be afraid of the press. Reporters love an easy story, and technology is still flashy for the newspapers. And if they can see kids doing something, creating something — that is even better. Make the reporter’s life easier by getting everything set up and ready for them, and positive stories will get written.
  • School websites — There should not be a single empty webpage on any of our sites. At the very least, every teacher should have a headshot and a welcome message. An overview of their curriculum would be helpful, too. And any sample projects gives more content to a site. An empty page sends a message that the school is not yet made its way into the 21st Century. Remember: for some teachers, even this step is difficult, but we need to create the illusion at least that we are all tech-savvy.
  • A unified technology mission statement: It would be nice to have some district-wide mission statement around our views of technology. In my view, the statement needs to be student-centered (remember, our audience is parents here) and engagement with technology for meaningful reasons that enhance our curriculum and prepare students for a world that does not yet exist. The tools are not nearly as important as the students.
  • I suggest we also create a short, five-minute video documentary of technology in our district that could be placed front and center at our district website and perhaps even on our individual school websites. It could showcase some student projects, some teachers talking about technology integration and give a flavor of some of the work going on. Quality will be the key here.
  • What about an App? I know this is a stretch, but some schools are starting to develop an App for iTunes that provides a feed of news from a school district. (see this article: http://www.billingsmiddleschool.org/beta/2010/01/20/billings-middle-school-iphone-app-released/) Even if the response is not overwhelming, a Hampshire Regional School District App puts the notion out there that our district is leap-years ahead of other school districts. Of course, then there is the issue of who would be responsible for putting news out there. We don’t want a dead App like we have dead Webpages.
  • Family Technology Night: Given the rise emerging technologies, it might make sense to have a night for families to come in to our schools and use the technology themselves. We could have parents and students work on a digital story together, for example. It would also provide yet another opportunity to talk about the pros and cons of kids and technology — a realistic view that technology is not the answer, but another tool for engagement.

Audience: the staff

  • Create a database/collection of successful technology: We know colleagues are using technology but we never get a chance to share or learn from each other. Why not find a simple (ease of use is key here) to collect ideas, lesson plan ideas, websites and contacts from within our district where folks are doing these ideas. We make our teachers the leaders.
  • Sharing tools/resources: This is similar to the last item. If there are resources out there that are useful, let’s share them with each other. What have my colleagues used that has been successful?
  • Technology coach/partner: This is a critical piece of the puzzle here. In my experience, there is a group of teachers who may never see the value of technology, and there is a group of teachers who are doing all they can to use technology. It’s the middle group that we want to make the shift — they see the value, but are not ready to do it on their own. We need to find a way to create partnerships or have technology coaches (like a literacy coach) to work with teachers in their classrooms for an extended period of time to plan and implement technology integration into the curriculum.
  • Technology Across the Curriculum — Teachers need to know that technology is a tool for any curriculum area. It is not a drop-off class, or some enrichment activity for high-achieving students. Technology can have a place in science, in social studies, in math and more. And this technology across the curriculum might lead to more collaboration among teachers, too.
  • Grade-level Teacher Collaborations — Perhaps the easiest way to begin is to have teachers at a common grade level work together on some unified tech-related project that starts first with collaboration among the teachers, and then extends out to the classroom. For example, students could do a community-based action project that involves some research of the place where they live that has a community service component to the project, and then use a blog or wiki site to post writing, podcasts, video tours, etc, for students in other towns. We could open it up for peer feedback across the schools. (note: this would also be good public relations moment)
  • Technology as part of any curriculum initiative — Instead of treating technology as an add-on, let’s make it a central part of any curriculum initiative that we do — even if it is as simple as sharing reflections through a collaborative site after a workshop session. I always want to know what my colleagues have taken away from a session. For example, our Literacy Initiative should have a technology component built right into the planning and into any offerings for our teachers.
  • Professional Reading Groups: It would be helpful if teachers could be encouraged to come together to read articles, books and websites in the form of a reading group/circle. This would allow for more connections among teachers as well as expose more teachers to the developments around technology in education. Ideally, a small stipend would be available for teachers, who would be expected to share out what they learning with colleagues in some fashion. Some recommended books might include: The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks; The Socially Networked Classroom by William Kist; or Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom by Will Richardson. These groups could be a hybrid of face-to-face meetings and using online sites for discussions. A potential bonus: most of these writers will agree to Skype into reading groups to talk about their books with teachers reading and using them.

Ideas to keep in mind:

  • Equity and access issues for all of our students, not just those with financial means;
  • Recognize that students communicate/write/read in ways outside of our schools that don’t always translate to learning we do inside of our schools — that is what we want to tap into;
  • Sharing among colleagues is a critical way to learn and implement new ideas;
  • Maintenance and upgrades of existing equipment must be worked into any long-range planning. It does us no good to push with technology on machines that are broken or antiquated.
  • Administrators need to utilize technology to reach parents and community members (I know this is another equity issue, re:hilltowns)

What am I missing here? Is there something your district does that makes a difference in creating a sense of technology integration?

Peace (in the sharing),

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