Thursday, August 7, 2014

Focusing on the right ONE in 1:1; the STUDENT!

Last week, I had an amazing 3 days of learning at the 1:1 Summer Symposium.  Leyden High School is doing some wonderful things with teaching and learning in a 1:1 Chromebook environment.  I appreciate their willingness to share what they have learned, both successes and challenges, and desire to continually improve.  Whenever I attend a conference, I compare what others are doing to what we are doing in Grand Forks Public Schools.  After attending the conference, I can say we are doing some good things as student learn with technology in a blended environment, but acknowledge we are still “work in progress” and have much to learn and improve upon. There were several quotes and themes that resonated with me which led to my takeaways, reminders, and questions to consider based on the following 3 themes.

The key component in creating an innovative and engaging learning environment is leadership with leaders needing to be “all in.”  The conference opened with an overview of Leyden’s 1:1 journey.  I recall Bryan Weinert’s recap of the board president’s thoughts on 1:1 after visiting Mooresville, NC: "How can we afford NOT to go 1:1.”  It was obvious that the administrative team is on the same page.  Additional leadership perspectives were provided by Jimmy Casas who asked the question; “What are you doing right now in your building to disrupt your routine?”  Some additional insights from Jimmy were to surround yourself with excellent people who inspire you in order to achieve excellence and don’t make decisions based on the small percentage of “what ifs.”  The theme of better also resonated with me.  Jimmy stated; leaders must continue to challenge the status quo and never use the word CAN’T.  Always believe that our school/district is the best of the best while always striving for better.  Jason Markey reinforced the never-ending quest for better with the reminder that “we are still in beta, we haven’t got there yet, which gives us permission to struggle.”  Jason focuses on the teacher and student experience while using Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” What-How-Why model.  Mikkel Storaasli’s session highlighted the importance of keeping the mission and vision at the forefront of all decisions, including 1:1.  He also noted the important role principals play in the success of going 1:1.  Finally, Jason Markey asked the question; “Who is telling your story?” and the importance of using social media to allow our community to know the positive things happening in our school/districts.  As leaders, do we have a laser-like focus on our mission and vision in all the decisions we make, including 1:1?  Are we telling our story and highlighting the positive things happening in our district or are we allowing the media to do so?

The classroom teacher plays such an important role in creating engaging learning opportunities in a 1:1 environment.  Dean Shareski opened the conference with the question; Are our schools places of joy?  “Schools need to be places of wonder. Teachers have a responsibility to awe and ensure an interesting learning experience.”  "What if each day your students left school with a great question?”  Excellent thoughts and more importantly, a call to action.  As teachers learn more about the nuances of a 1:1 environment, Jennie Magiera reminded us that “compliance does not equal engagement.”  Jennie also stressed that “creation apps are better than content apps” and the importance of trying new things.  After all, “we all fail, but what do we do after we fail?”  Ideally, we all learn and get better.  Finally, with or without technology, the classroom teacher (i.e. pedagogy) is instrumental in student learning.  Bryan Weinert provided a hint; “...those teachers that say 1:1 is a distraction, consider their lesson plans” (i.e. are students engaged?).  How do we ensure all teachers continue to strive for a more student-centered and engaging learning environment?  We can all get better and our students deserve it.

The importance of a student centered culture was certainly a theme of the conference or as Jason Markey put it; be sure to focus on the right ONE in 1:1; the STUDENT!  I admire the way Jason (et al.) has established a "student first" culture at Leyden (i.e. Student Agency) in a connected and innovative environment.  When students have a voice, they become part of Innovation. Jason reminded everyone, “’s not about 1:1 devices, it is more about empowering students and teachers.”   Jennie Magiera agrees; “We don't ask our students enough how they learn and for their opinion.  We need to allow students to have an authentic audience and a powerful voice."  Finally, the “student first” theme was further enhanced through Angela Maiers’s keynote.  Do we provide reasons for our students, teachers, and staff to RUN to school everyday?  Our students and staff are geniuses and the world needs their contribution.  Listening to the student panel at the end of the conference provided affirmation for me that 1:1 learning with Chromebooks, in concert with a student-centered culture, has been implemented extremely well at Leyden.  One student reminded teachers to “...take risks and be open minded.”  What a great message.  All educators need to continually ask; Do we honestly make all decisions based on our most important clients, our students?  Do we take the time to listen and engage our students with important decisions?

My takeaways and questions will be embedded in my goals and in my work as the district technology director throughout this school year and beyond.  I am sincerely grateful for all the work Leyden dedicates to make the 1:1 Summer Symposium a success and I certainly left with some #leydenpride.

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