Teacher Melanie Gillingham of Bethel School District shares how she assembled her distance learning toolkit and how she plans to use it into the Fall.
Hello, and welcome to our recap from last week’s Change Management Initiative webinar with EdSurge and Kiddom! Our very own Melissa Giroux, School Success Lead at Kiddom and contributor to our Change Management Guide, sat amongst the four panelists.
In this insightful discussion led by EdSurge CEO and Founder Betty Corcoran, you’ll hear from current and previous administrators who have been there and survived to tell the tale. Listen to hear their success stories, tips, and even a few educational failures encountered while rolling out new tech initiatives at the school and district level. Please watch the video here or view a partial transcription below.
Webinar Transcription start:
Betty Corcoran: [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to today’s webinar, which is about making edtech initiatives stick. My name is Betty Corcoran, and I’m the founder and CEO of EdSurge. We’re really, really pleased to be here with you today. Just a quick note before we get started; this webinar will be recorded and the recording made available to you and others via e-mail. After the live event, we also really encourage everyone to ask questions using the Q&A button in the Zoom webinar window, and we’ll answer those as we go along. So please feel free to jump in, join the conversation, and be a part of it.
I’d like to start by thanking our panelists for joining us today. We have four terrific people here: Kyle Pace, who is director of technology at the Grain Valley School District in Missouri. Kyle has led technology initiatives as an instructional IT coach, starting with implementing Smart Boards, to today when he’s rolling out 1,100 Chromebooks to middle school teachers. Melissa Giroux is the school success lead at Kiddom in New York City. She’s been a teacher in New York, she’s been a founding teacher of an alternative school, and now she works with Kiddom to support teachers. She is also an EdSurge columnist — I hope you read her stories, talking about a wide variety of schools implementing technology.
Mikkel Storaasli is the superintendent of the Grayslake High School District in Illinois. Mikkel got his start as a math teacher in Leyden High School and rose through the ranks serving as an assistant principal and now is obviously superintendent for the high school district which has two high schools and almost 3000 students. And Pam Moran, Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning, has really done it all. She’s been a teacher and one of the country’s top administrators serving at the Albemarle County Public School District in Virginia, and she’s the co-author of a new fantastic book called Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools. And I’m really pleased to say she’s also a featured speaker at our Fusion Conference, which is going to go on next week. Yay. Thank you all for joining us.
So, broadly speaking, you know what? Newton was right. It takes more energy to make a change than it does to keep things going as they are. And yet our world is continuing to change — that pace of change is accelerating — and that means that we have to figure out how to make change something that our communities; our staff, our students, our families, can embrace and welcome. We’re going to talk through ideas of what has worked with leading practitioners, and of course invite anyone who’s on this webinar to weigh in with questions and thoughts.
So a couple of things to start off: Studies do suggest that most educators feel overwhelmed by the number of new initiatives. They get ahead of a lot of them, but it is challenging. And let’s take a look at how technology reforms compare to other school reforms. 36% of teachers felt that technology reforms in the last two years had a pretty large impact on them. That’s a third of all of our teachers. And on the other side of the coin, only 59% of educators feel that they have the support that they need to implement reforms — that really should be 100%. So before we ask the panelists to weigh in and share some of their experience, we’d like to ask anybody who’s out there who is tuning into this webinar to answer a very short poll and give us some thoughts about your own experiences….
1. Has your school implemented a tech-based initiative in the last two years?
I’ll take a second for you to just click yes or no.
2. Do you feel that you have the support that you need to master the initiatives that are being implemented in your district or your school?
So just take a second and fill those out. We will come back to that poll in a couple of minutes and give you the results.
I’d like to start this conversation by asking each of you a question. Kyle, let’s talk about that Chromebook initiative; 1,100 Chromebooks! Take us through how you’re doing this rollout. So much of getting people to embrace change is building on trust. So what are you doing to get all of those middle school teachers who are saying “Oh my God, here comes 1,100 Chromebooks!” — How do you build trust with that community?
Kyle Pace: [00:05:10] Yeah absolutely, that’s a great question. Literally a month ago we brought one-to-one to all of our middle schools and gave every student a device. So that was a huge initiative just right here at the start of the school year that we added on to all of the devices that we already had in our district. So it takes a lot of planning and preparation and an outstanding team to build that trust for sure. We didn’t just drop in 1,100 devices and say “OK, teachers: here you go.” You know, we had already been introducing the devices for a good two years prior to this moment to get teachers comfortable with, “What does this look like with my teaching, and what does it look like for student learning? And how does this enhance teaching and learning?” And that all came through our two instructional technology coaches that worked a lot with all of the teachers at these schools to build that trust; to build that system of support, to show them what’s possible, to help them when things don’t work, to be there and celebrate the things that went awesome with them as well. And so our district’s commitment to that looked like… you know, we started out with just one instructional technology coach. Then we got two instructional technology coaches, and created a concrete plan of not only how we’re gonna support teachers and how we’re going to continually work with teachers, but also how we’re going to work with and support our administrators in all of this “new” that’s coming along, as well.
Betty Corcoran: [00:06:56] So before we let go of this, maybe just take us through those numbers and that timeline, because you said that you were working on it for two years, you now have two IT coaches. Remind us, how many teachers and administrators are these folks supporting and can you give us a couple of milestones on that ramp up?
Kyle Pace: [00:07:15] Yeah, absolutely. So this began at… we started with our high school actually, so our high school is in the third year of being one-to-one. So we started there and we started very small, created some pilot groups…
Betty Corcoran: [00:07:33] So that’s one teacher? Two teachers?
Kyle Pace: [00:07:34] Yes, so it was about half a dozen or so teachers.
Betty Corcoran: [00:07:38] Okay, So start with about a half-dozen teachers, that’s great. And they did it for a semester or a full year?
Kyle Pace: [00:07:44] They did it for the entire second semester of the year prior of what this would look like with the students fully supported.
Betty Corcoran: [00:07:54] How did that how did that ramp go?
Kyle Pace: [00:07:57] So then we ramped up to giving all of our high school students the device the following year, so that was approximately 1,300 devices that we rolled out three years ago to our high school students. Lots and lots of communication and resources and support had to come out ahead of that; we wanted to keep our parents in the know. Parents were also being asked to pay a Chromebook insurance fee for the first time, so that was something new that parents weren’t used to. So we had to make sure we were communicating the why behind this very regularly and very carefully. We wanted that to be very purposeful.
Betty Corcoran: [00:08:42] So now you’ve got the 1,300 high school kids using it, and as you said you started to get the middle school kids, so overall then what’s what’s the ratio? You’ve got two IT folks and they’re serving how many?
Kyle Pace: [00:08:54] Yes so we’ve got two Instructional Technology coaches that are supporting approximately 200 teachers, maybe just shy of that, that are teaching with a 1-to-1 environment.
Betty Corcoran: [00:09:10] Terrific. Well we’ll come back to those stories, but that’s a great start. Melissa, you’ve seen initiatives go well, and you’ve seen them stall. Tell us a little bit about a time when you started to see those early signs of “Oh my God… we’ve had enough initiatives!” And then, what did you do when you addressed that?
Melissa Giroux: [00:09:29] Yeah, absolutely. One of the key signs for me, from both an administrator perspective and a teacher one, is around that Why? and that trust that Kyle was speaking about. When I go into a school for the first time, one of the things that I’ll ask both the admin and the teachers, whether or not they’re in the same room, is “Why are you using our platform? Why are you using technology in the classroom?” That Why question and the variance of answers that it generates is often a really big warning sign. And for people focusing often on the products and the solution instead of the Whyand goals for the solutions —
Betty Corcoran: [00:10:04] Instead of the pedagogical reasons.
Melissa Giroux: [00:10:05] Exactly, the objective for implementing anything new, whether it’s technology or not. And so seeing teachers’ blank stares at that question, confusion, looking around at each other, or immediately kind of disengaging is a pretty scary sign. And from the administrator point of view, one warning sign I’ve seen is that fatigue. I think most admin have really good intentions, but they hold so tightly to initiatives. The freedom that tech specialists in these pilot teams that Kyle’s describing had to kind of play around in a low-risk way… this kind of takes the pressure off that head admin who’s leading the charge. It’s exhausting to try to be the sole driver of a new change, and so when I see an admin who already looks fatigued at the idea of pushing a new initiative, that makes me a little nervous, that they’re holding out a little too tightly, instead of building that trust and a little bit of experimental freedom.
Betty Corcoran: [00:10:59] Cool. Is there anything that you’ve done that actually is just kind of a great, sort of, almost a warm-up exercise or a scaffolding to try to deal with that kind of fatigue?
Melissa Giroux: [00:11:14] Yeah, absolutely. I think breaking people into smaller groups, where they have the chance to talk amongst each other, if they don’t have an answer to that “Why a new piece of tech?” question, whether breaking them into their department teams or their grade teams. Letting them sort of grapple with that in an open-ended way before I jump into anything technical has been a great way for me to be able to on-the-spot tailor materials as I hear things bubbling up in conversation. Teachers don’t get an awful lot of time just to talk to each other about the work and take a step back. So often those 37-and-a-half minutes of PD time are go-go-go, and then everyone leaves, and we don’t know what happened. So investing that time, and pushing my partners at schools to invest that time, into just a little bit of discussion to give me a fertile idea bank of ways that I might support them moving forward helps.
Betty Corcoran: [00:12:08] Mikkel, I’m sure that what Melissa said really resonates with you, because as a district leader you have had to kind of coordinate and connect all of the various pilots and initiatives and really try to help people answer that “Why.” How have you tried to do that? How do you make people see things as a unified whole, not “just another initiative.”
Mikkel Storaasli: [00:12:34] Yeah I mean as a district administrator I think a lot of times we’re the ones maybe at fault you know, for initiative fatigue. You know, we’re the ones that are seen as…
Betty Corcoran: [00:12:43] Thank you for saying that! I’m sure your teachers appreciate that.
Mikkel Storaasli: [00:12:47] Yeah, hey I’ll cop to it, absolutely. You know, what I think we have to do is exactly as Kyle said and exactly as Melissa said, you start with the “Why.” You have got to use that Simon Cynic idea of “This is why we’re doing this.” I don’t have a great answer. You know, it’s difficult to communicate why we’re doing all these things or how they all fit together. What I would say is we just have to be relentless about communicating why we’re doing it. Having some sort of framework, whether that’s a mission statement or a strategic plan, or a well-articulated set of goals, and communicate to people this is why we’re doing it. We may be doing all of these different initiatives, whether it’s a tech initiative or reading, or math, or PBL, or blended, or what have you. But they’re all pushing in the same direction. And again, just being relentless about communicating that “this is why we’re doing it, this is how it fits into the grand scheme of things, and this is why overall this is the direction we’re going and how it’s going to benefit our students.”
Betty Corcoran: [00:13:47] And just out of curiosity. In, say the last initiative that you’ve really started to rollout, maybe something that you’ve started to do this September, how have you framed that “Why” for your community?
Mikkel Storaasli: [00:14:02] Well you know like I mentioned we just rolled out a new strategic plan and a new mission statement — that’s why it’s on my mind, I guess. One key line, so to speak, of our mission statement is “relevant, engaging, authentic learning” and really pushing that — and it’s part of our goals. It’s really something that we’re trying to make sure teachers understand, no matter what you’re teaching, that’s what we need to be pushing toward. So we’ve got a couple of blended learning pilots, for example, where students are maybe in C in class three days a week and somewhere else in the building. Two days or a week, or what have you. And really communicating why that’s that’s important for students why we think allowing them or helping them learn how to manage their own time is important, and they gets into like technological issues and things like that. But it really gets to, again the relevant, engaging, authentic learning. Not just the use of their time but if and when they decide to go to college, they’re probably gonna be taking a blended course and are gonna have to learn how to manage their time regardless. So again, trying to to communicate how it fits into the grand whole.
Betty Corcoran: [00:15:12] Yeah. And Pam, in your book you have a really big important observation, (a lot of big important observations), but one of the ones that I really liked is that we have to realize that teachers themselves are at very different developmental stages, and you summed up with an idea you call squash, which I really like. Take us through an example of what these stages mean and what squash has to do with it.
Pam Moran: [00:15:39] Well I think that I’ve learned as an elementary principal for 10 years, which was part of a journey to being a superintendent for 13 years, that we live in a world where change is coming at us all the time in schools, for a variety of reasons. It was true in the 80s, it was true in the 90s, and it’s true today. What I think was absolutely critical for me, as an elementary principal, is that we were going through a process of trying to reinvision what we wanted curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment to look like, just for a principal. The teachers worked really hard on it. I was really working on it, and we had some support from the University of Virginia, in an educator who was in the Curry School of Education. And what we were trying to do was to build the integrated model around in firing the arts and writing as a set of pathways to getting at what we didn’t call at that point time, “deeper learning”. But I think we call it deeper learning today. Sometime right before the Thanksgiving holidays, teachers came and sat down with me and said “Gosh, we’re feeling really squashed here.” There was so much coming at us from so many different places. And what really emerged from that, is that they were overwhelmed even though they embraced the world and they wanted to be doing the work, but when you were trying to balance teaching kids, trying to invest in professional learning at the same time, and doing all the things that the division also expected us to do, that sense of being overwhelmed cause them to feel like they were squashed.
What we did, and I came back to the idea that sometimes you have to relieves the pressure and take a break. Let’s step back and take a break. And the way we got to the take a break conversation was interestingly by having a parent at school who worked at a local restaurant and worked with us to prepare a menu that was served on a day right before the Thanksgiving holidays, that was a professional development day, and the theme was squash. Literally that day had every single part of the meal was made from some version of squash, including the bread pudding. But what it did was it just caused everybody to sit back and say, “You know, what we’ve got to be able to do is to take small bites of this work, versus taking big bites, to use the food metaphor. And we need to maybe be more invested in doing a slow meal versus a fast meal.”
Betty Corcoran: [00:18:40] I love that point.
Pam Moran: [00:18:41] And it was interesting because, one of the things that caused us to think about that metaphor more is that one of the teachers said, “You know schools should be run like a great restaurant. Where you have really good service, where the food is then really cooked to perfection, where you take your time and you enjoy your meal and before everybody gets up, that you realize that you had a really fun evening. And if our work isn’t like that, if we can’t run like a great restaurant, then one of the things that we have to do is to ask ourselves the question, “What are the barriers to doing that?”
The other thing that I learned as the superintendent was that change can come from a lot of different places, it can come from the grassroots, it can come top down. But the reality is, when you embark on change, if you don’t have a process to do what I call somewhat of an aim small, miss small model, where you actually are not trying to create change that’s going to cut across the full organization, but rather to start with almost a prototyping space, so that you know you can always make mistakes. And we see it rolled out in the front of EdWeek every time there’s some big division that’s had a national fail in terms of rolling out an initiative, that if you aim small, miss small, and you really think about how can you test out this, then you get some people who know that they’re in it to help you figure out what the barrier’s going to be, where the mistakes are going to happen, and how to fix those before you take it out to the bigger audience of the entire staff, so I think that would be the two things I would offer up.
Betty Corcoran: [00:20:30] Those are some amazing points. I’d love to come back to this aim small, miss small point again. But we do have that poll ready, so just going to pause for one tenth of a second to show the polls. So of the people who are currently on this webinar… Yes, 81% have had some kind of tech initiative. And we’re kind of running neck-and-neck here about whether they feel that they have the support. So that makes this conversation incredibly timely.
To hear the rest of the webinar, please watch the full video on our YouTube channel here, and we also encourage you to check out our free guide on Change Management to learn more about successful edtech implementation for your school or district.