Hawaii Brings Teacher Voice into Edtech Integration

Opinion |

Hawaii Brings Teacher Voice into Edtech Integration

Three go-to guidelines for boosting teacher engagement from the Aloha state

By Mark Adato     May 15, 2014

Hawaii Brings Teacher Voice into Edtech Integration

This article is part of the guide: From School to Shining School: 52 Stories from Educators Across the U.S.

According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “There are two kinds of educators: teachers, and people who support teachers. Everyone else should get out of the way.”

Wise point, and with the amazing technology and hardware that has been popping up from the heads of innovators and entrepreneurs, it is only natural that teachers should have the strongest voice in how technology should be rolled out and integrated into the classroom--right?

Sadly, that doesn’t always happen in district practice. There are a few reasons why teachers aren’t always a part of the conversation around trying out new ideas:

  1. The voice of teachers in the public arena often comes from the teachers' unions, and that voice is stereotyped as negative and idea-killing.
  2. For many teachers, their classroom is their castle, and they have painstakingly set up their successful class systems. Changes can feel like intrusions, so new ideas may be rejected quickly before their potential is considered.
  3. Many teachers feel disenfranchised with the system. While teachers control what happens within their classrooms' four walls, it seems the most one can hope for is to do right by students and pray that leadership makes good decisions.

The central question, then, is this: How do we bring teachers in, and channel their opinions to differentiate the best edtech rollout ideas from the worst?

What Hawaii has done differently with 1:1

Currently, the governor of Hawaii is talking about putting a device in every child’s hand to make us into the next 1:1 district. (And yes, the whole state is one district). While we have seen the benefits this kind of initiative can bring, we have also seen the potential catastrophic results.

Thankfully, the project is starting out small with eight pilot schools, and Governor Abercrombie has made it clear that the $600,000 supplemental budget he requested from the legislature will be used to ensure that the teachers at those schools have access to quality professional development around integrating the devices.

From a teacher’s perspective, this plan is much smarter and smoother than other transitions made in Hawaii's education system.

Why? Two words: educator voice.

Numerous people involved at different levels of the implementation (all the way from the Department of Education to classroom teachers) helped me to discover how Hawaiian educators on the ground are staying involved with the decisions.

1. Option to Adopt

In Jason Orbaugh’s brilliant EdSurge analysis of the fall of the interactive whiteboard, one of the big takeaways is that one key to successful technology integration is to “feed the hungry.” If schools aren’t asking for technology and teachers aren’t willing to try it out, they shouldn’t be forced to use the products. It takes communicative leadership at the school and people who are in touch with teachers every day to truly determine whether or not a staff is ready to try out a bold new technology strategy.

In Hawaii, Stephanie Shipton at the Office of Strategic Reform in the Hawaii Department of Education explained that: “Complex Area Superintendents and principals in those areas (with the internet infrastructure to support 1:1) were invited to apply to be a part of the pilot," and "Each CAS and principal went through their own process to determine whether or not to apply.”

2. Structured Feedback Pipelines

Big decision makers in education are usually in offices far removed from classrooms. It is easy to become caught in a cloud of false security when you only see the merits of a new initiative. When that happens, issues arise. Thankfully, the communication pipeline in the Hawaii 1:1 rollout has identified a lot of these issues, allowing the decision makers to make better decisions.

After the pilot schools were self-selected, the Hawaii DOE then worked with each school to fit their needs. Dale Castro, the principal of Mililani Waena Elementary School and one of the principals who chose to make his school a part of the pilot, observed: “The response of the various DOE offices working in harmony with our school is greatly appreciated, as it provides us with support, yet allows us to maintain ownership of our own professional craft.”

Cheryl Burghardt, a teacher at Mililani Mauka Elementary School (also a pilot school), explained how trainers from outside of the school were brought in to train the faculty how to use the new software. She felt like it was a waste of money because it covered the “how” of using the programs, but not the “why.” Fortunately, Burghardt adds that “the teachers at our school have a lot of input and continue to do so.” The school was able to identify the need to create more space for teachers to explore how to integrate their new tools. Which brings me to my last point:

3. Time for Teachers to Absorb and Explore

There is a big difference between having technical skills and knowing how to use those skills to increase student achievement. As a STEM Resource Teacher working with twenty K-12 schools, I can’t tell you how many teachers I have come across who know how to create a Google doc but need to be trained on how to use them to create an interactive classroom. Since 1:1 is such a transformational tool, there should be designated time and resources dedicated to letting teachers play with the devices and construct their own integration strategies.

At Mililani Waena Elementary, teachers were given an entire day to sit in their grade level groups and discuss how their new digital curricula fit in with their standards and strategies. The principal Dale Castro wrote that “as teachers go through the professional development courses, there is also a renewed sense of innovation.”

Close-by, at Mililani Mauka Elementary, Burghardt writes, “As in everything with teaching, we just need more time to collaborate and try out what we have been given. Just like the children, we all learn in different ways and at different paces.” The resulting feeling at her school is that she “truly believes that we are implementing with fidelity and giving it our best even with some big challenges.”

Stephanie Shipton at the Office of Strategic Reform acknowledged this, and said: “We have learned that one semester is not enough time for professional development. Ideally, we would give a whole school year for professional development before releasing devices to students.”

NOTE: This article is part of EdSurge's Fifty States Initiative.

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