Last year, Hattiesburg Public School District (HPSD) in Mississippi embarked on its 1:1 digital journey, dubbed the “Individualized Interactive Instructional Technology Initiative.” The goal was to provide individualized, personalized, and more interactive instruction.
This year, I am leading and managing the initiative at Hattiesburg High School. And while I won’t profess to know all of the answers when going 1:1, I’ve amassed several tips that have helped us to create a culture of learning at our high school while giving teachers agency over technology practices. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too.
1. Cultivate Teacher Vision on Campus
No teacher should ever feel like they are forced to use technology against their will. With those large technology purchases that take place when going 1:1, there is the temptation to set up a strict mandate policy to use the technology—but I caution schools from doing so.
Communicating with teachers about the district’s or school’s vision for going 1:1 is critical in earning teacher buy-in. There is often pushback, with teachers being concerned that they are being replaced by a computer. There is also pushback from teachers wanting to know why the technology is relevant to what they are doing in their classrooms.
In our experience, the best communication with teachers centers on allowing them the time and space to voice their opinions in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.
What this looks like in practice: At the high school, I meet with teachers every other week to discuss what went well and which things could be better. They are encouraged to discover their why, how and when a tool should be implemented, and at the end of every meeting with teachers, I open the floor to any teachers who want to share their successes.
2. Build a Community of Learning and Collaboration Online
Teacher isolation is a common occurrence in many school districts, and many teachers turn to Twitter to connect with their peers across the globe. But community can also be built within a school.
Many teachers turn to Twitter to connect with their peers across the globe. But community can also be built within a school.
With Schoology, a learning management system used throughout our district, I use the “Groups” features to create a communication and resource hub. At my high school, I created a group specifically for the 9th grade teachers to connect and share ideas and best practices.
What this looks like in practice: While I leave announcements and reminders within the group, I don’t dictate what will and will not be shared within the group. It is a space where teachers control the tenor and direction of the conversations—teachers have complete agency over the group. In one example, Ms. Walker, a ninth-grade biology and Lead ninth-grade academy teacher, offers a resource on how teachers can use social media for exit tickets. It is this kind of community building that leads to greater connection and collaboration among the teachers.
Through the Groups or Collections features in Schoology, teachers can also collaborate with others to build and design course materials. At the high school, teachers from every core subject area team are co-designing their courses. For example, Ms. Bell, a ninth-grade English teacher, has created a folder in Collections where she shares the assignments, tests, quizzes and discussions she creates with the other 9th grade English teachers.
Aside from Groups that districts, schools, and teachers can create, Schoology itself has created several Groups within the platform where teachers from different schools, districts, regions, and countries can connect. Each has a different focus; the groups are communities centered around topics such as blended learning, Common Core, flipped classrooms, and more. At any given moment, teachers post questions, lesson plans, and/or links to resources they have created. It is this kind of engagement and support that makes teachers comfortable in a digital environment.
3. Let Teachers Drive Professional Development
Our district is also moving towards a system where teachers can “order” professional development. We’re letting them drive their professional learning, because no longer are teachers’ options for professional development relegated to what the district or school administrator wants. Teachers have the opportunity to receive as much or little training they desire. Even more importantly, teachers get the training they need based upon their interests, student needs, subject areas, grades and skill levels.
What this looks like in practice: Our district uses SimplyBook.me to offer individualized or team technology training to teachers by allowing them to book appointments with the district technologists on the topic of their choice. This idea was the brainchild of Albert Galeas, an Instructional Technologist who leads 1:1 at N. R. Burger Middle School.
On our appointments website, teachers are able to select from a number of sessions listed. In addition, they can choose which and when to meet personally with an instructional technologist. Teachers can also request a custom session on any tool or technology-focused instructional practice they want.
Last year, Ms. Palmer, a then sixth-grade teacher, ordered a training on Google Classroom. A few weeks later, I received this message in an email from Ms. Palmer:
“Wow! Students have been super active online [on Google Classroom] tonight! I changed the Doc file, and they have posted phenomenal work beyond my expectation. I posted a motivational/extra credit thread for tonight’s National College Football game because one of our students is a diehard Ducks fan and set a competition thread as well! It just makes me smile and warms my heart as an educator!”
Receiving this email and others from teachers who are excited about using technology to reimagine the learning experiences of students is the most fulfilling part of my job.
This new way of connecting, collaborating, and choosing professional learning has brought on a new spirit of community among the teachers. They are communicating with each more, they are excited to share what they find from other sites, and they are posting pictures of projects their students have completed.
Teachers have taken ownership of their part in leading the digital change occurring at Hattiesburg Public School District—and trust me. Yours can, too.