Out of Crisis, an Opportunity

Sam Podbelski, Interim Principal at the Henderson Inclusion School

Sam Podbelski, Interim Principal at the Henderson Inclusion School

I graduated from a high-performing public school in 2007. Equipped with the ability to write expansively, deliver five-minute PowerPoint presentations, and to utilize qualitative data to prove or disprove a scientific hypothesis, many, including myself saw the education I had received as top-notch for the time period. Fifteen years later as a school leader in Boston Public Schools, I find it hard to believe how antiquated my schooling now feels. In 2022, school districts of all sizes and demographics are feeling the growing pains of understanding the possibilities that today’s technology-based learning presents and their impact on student learning outcomes. Complicating matters further, the need for high school graduates be technologically literate exist in addition to, and not instead of the traditional state-mandated expectations for proficiency in language arts and mathematics. In my opinion, the solution does not lie in the creation of new courses or departments, but rather in the marrying of the new with the old. With most of the schooling population havingparticipated in remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic over the past two years, imbedding technology within the traditional core work in courses of our schools has never felt more pertinent.

A common mistake made in adopting new technology or programming at a school level is the lack of a thoughtful school-based selection criteria. My school gets flooded with calls on a weekly basis from sales representatives who eagerly market new and exciting e-learning platforms that will transform our student experience. As an administrative staff at an innovation school with slightly more autonomy, we always look at what the program offers in terms of supplementing, not replacing, the crucial, in-person teaching that is done in the classroom. Rather than looking at how we would make our instructional focus fit the platform or software, it is important to conceptualize the inverse. Which content areas or grade levels would benefit from this technology? What would it look like from a teacher’s perspective? A student’s perspective? Most importantly, how would we be able to know whether this technology is impacting student learning? Using this line of questioning when looking at educational technology has allowed us to filter the tools we are asking teachers, students, and families to learn and use in their classroom; a key when thinking about properly embedding technology literacy learning in all content areas.

“A common mistake made in adopting new technology or programming at a school level is the lack of a thoughtful school-based selection criteria.”

Too often, school leaders and districts inundate teachers and classrooms with expensive learning software that comes with little direction or stated vision on how to best utilize it. The result is patchwork application which rarely gets beyond the surface of what technology-based learning can really do for students. In my experience, finding platforms, software, or hardware to supplement learning has not been the challenge; a quick Google search will return tens of hits fordigital learning programs for any content area. Instead, finding the necessary time for high quality adult-learning that enables teachers to master and implement the technology has been the biggest issue. Grants and awards have endowed schools with massive boosts in e-learning software and hardware only to see limited returns. This, in my opinion, is due to a “plug and play” approach many districtsadopt to due to the lack of awareness in how much time is actually required for adults, most of whom were educated themselves before a term like “a 1:1 school” was commonplace nomenclature, to fully understand the capabilities of the digital tools now at their disposal.

With virtual learning now taking place all over the world and at all levels, we have a unique opportunity as educators to spend time fully understanding the digital tools educators can use to better teach our students. As a school leader, I am using this time to hear from students, families, and teachers about their experiences with virtual learning in hopes of designing future adult learning for using the swath of digital resources available in all classrooms, not just some. For schools and districts who have infused the learning of technology with the learning of content and supported students and families with how to access it, this shift has not been as disruptive. For others, including myself, it has been a startling wake up call for just how far we have to go to get school stakeholders proper access and familiarity with using all the resources now available at our fingertips. The COVID-19 pandemic has unearthed many obstacles that stand in the way of creating true, “21st century” learning communities; most apparent being the glaring lack of high-speed internet for low income families. While difficult to think about currently, I foresee a silver lining to this crisis being a new awareness from state and federal leaders of the urgency for how important virtual learning and the accompanied requisite tools for doing it right is for our students, their families, and educators. As a whole, the U.S. education system has always had the resources, now we have the time and the conditions to figure out just how far we need to go to make the proper learning and use of technology part of every child’s education experience.

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