Apologies up front if this turns out to be a jumble of disjointed thoughts. There’s a connection in my head.
To begin with, I am relatively new to the “connected educator” experience. My identity as an instructional tech champion/leader in my school system was not one that I sought. It began to develop when I filled a void as AP at the high school without any grand designs beyond solving problems for teachers. As the shoe began to fit more comfortably, I have come to embrace the role and now see local advocacy as an important part of what I do.
As a school leader it seems very important to me to model a process of accurately assessing needs and then identifying the right tool to accomplish the task. I am referring specifically to selecting, purchasing, and using educational technologies, but the principle applies to all phases of the school. Unfortunately, in my opinion, schools have a habit of being attracted by shiny objects and skillfully touted elixirs and silver bullets. Instead of saying “we have problem A (very narrowly defined); where is the best solution to this problem?” we say “OMG, the label says ‘proven to solve problems A-W’ this will be perfect”. Then six months later the equipment and/or scantrons we spent a fortune on are gathering dust in a storage room far, far away.
Instead of engaging in hand-wringing about this state of affairs, I have established a different set of procedures since I have become principal – at least within the building. We think, then we act. Want to buy an iPad to use in your classroom? Awesome! Make the case for how it will make a difference. We have a 7th grade student who can’t read. Okay, what specific scaffolding do we put in place for him? Don’t get me wrong, we haven’t tossed all programming out the window and we don’t turn our nose up at free resources. For example, when we had the opportunity to get interactive white boards for our classrooms, we did not say no. But we did do our homework in regards to which product(s) would do what we need in our classrooms. Incidentally, when I say “we” here, I mean all teachers were involved in evaluating the products available. They each also had the autonomy to select between the two products that had passed our collective evaluation.
One more example of how I am putting this into practice. I was offered the opportunity to participate in helping to start a school in Lagos, Nigeria a few months back. Having grown up in Nigeria (among other reasons), I jumped at the chance. It soon became clear that my work would involve visits to Lagos. One of my immediate thoughts was to begin contemplating how I could take advantage of these trips to benefit my students here in Tuscaloosa. In order to make a direct connection with them while I am there, I began looking for a way to do the morning announcements live from six time zones away. The solution I kept coming back to was to stream video announcements live. We were doing our announcements the good, old-fashioned way (via intercom) at the time … i.e. last month. After researching a couple of options, I settled on a free, archive-able solution. Instead of waiting for the trip, though, I began streaming the morning announcements live from my iPad. After the first week, I moved out of the office and have been streaming from a different classroom every morning since. The story’s not over, but this illustrates the point I am trying to make. Instead of saying “hmm, free streaming video. How could we use that?” I identified a “problem”, found a solution, and then found ways to amplify the effects of the implementation.
By the way, I also plan to take a flip camera to record short answers to questions about Nigeria that students are emailing me. Watch this space for the results!