Teach, Love, and Learn!

IN CLOSE WITH | Katie Gutowski

CREDIT Katie Gutowski.pngAn ELA/ELL Specialist for the Colonial School District in New Castle, Delaware, Katie Gutowski shares her personal insight about being an educational leader and the current and future state of education technology in the classroom.

GETTING STARTED How did you get started as an educator, and how has your job changed over the years?

I first started my career as a wide-eyed substitute throughout New Castle County in DE. After a year of getting my feet wet, substituting in various schools, I accepted a first-grade position in Colonial School District. As a first-grade teacher, I quickly learned the importance of reading. The primary years are instrumental in developing foundational reading skills. While my undergrad provided me with an excellent education, I felt like I needed to expand on my reading content knowledge and enrolled in Wilmington University’s Masters of Reading program. After a few years teaching first grade—which I loved!—and completing my Master’s program, I was transferred to a reading specialist position for the following school year. 

After a full year as a reading specialist, my role changed and I became a building-based literacy coach. During that time, my role shifted from working primarily with students, to working with fellow colleagues to support CORE instruction, facilitate and manage RTI, and present district professional development. During my time as a building coach, I was fortunate enough to work with exceptional leaders that took me under their wing and provided me an opportunity to grow as an educational leader in my building.

After serving as a building coach for five years, I moved up to district coach, where I supported all elementary schools in regards to English language arts. My role was similar to what I was doing in the building, except on a much larger scale. I was fortunate to work with all schools, not just one. I was a district coach for just 2 ½ years before I moved into my current role as ELA/ELL Specialist for the Colonial School District.

My teaching goals remain the same as they did on day one: teach children to read, fall in love with reading, and get them excited to learn. 

Whereas before I focused primarily on elementary, my role has extended into secondary and into a much more administrative fashion. The biggest change for me has been that secondary exposure as well as realizing all that happens behind the scenes. For example, the budgeting, the purchasing, the contracts, the plans, the meetings, contacting vendors, etc. It is pretty crazy to reflect back on day one in my educational career to now! How my job has changed, yet remained the same all at once. My teaching goals remain the same as they did on day one: teach children to read, fall in love with reading, and get them excited to learn. 

INSPIRATIONS What inspires you about teaching? Do you have a slogan or mantra that guides you? 

I am most inspired by the countless educators who sacrifice so much of themselves for others. Educators show up every day, put in hours well beyond the typical eight-hour work day, work weekends, nights, and vacations to prep, plan, and extend their own learning. While it can be mentally taxing and exhausting, and personal lives get put on hold at times, it is one of the most rewarding jobs! Not sure if my quote necessarily goes with what inspires me, but one that I often look to when I need a pick me up is, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We all have the ability to bring about change and impact society positively.

CREDIT Reading Horizons Discovery.jpgFAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why?

Currently we invest in Reading Horizons Discovery seats for some of our student in Colonial. The software allows the students to work at their pace, time, and path. It provides formative feedback on skills the student has been working on. It is reliable, engaging, and provides instructional tools to support our students. 

Ah-ha! MOMENT What was your greatest educational moment?

That is a tough one! One of my favorite educational moments was when a former student learned to read. She struggled to hear sounds, put sounds together, and even identify letters. We worked intensely in small group on those skills. One day, she picked up a leveled reader and just began reading. It was as if something clicked. I remember I grabbed her hand, squealed, and whispered, “You did it!” She flashed the biggest smile. After that, she took off. She no longer feared books!

PD FOR ME What makes for great tech-related professional development? 

I love anything that is engaging, hands-on, and something I can take back and use or implement immediately. 

CREDIT Google Cardboard.pngBRING IT ON! What’s the next technology you want to bring to your classroom/school/district and why? 

I think Google Cardboard would be amazing! It would allow students access to material and places they might not see otherwise. 

FUTURE LOOK What educational technology do you wish someone would invent and why? 

Possibly something in regards to helping me read and retain knowledge for all of the educational books I have purchased recently but have no time to read!

Connect With

Reach Katie at Katie.gutowski@colonial.k12.de.us or follow her @ktgutowski


Got a suggestion for a great person to get IN CLOSE WITH here?

Write to: edtechdigest@gmail.com

Use IN CLOSE WITH in the subject line, and in the body of your email include their name, title, email, phone if available – and yours, too. 

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How Video-Driven PD Favors Growth over ‘Gotcha!’

Instead of having teachers ‘put on a show’ during classroom visits, this principal implemented a collaborative feedback system that truly improves practice.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kathryn Procope

CREDIT Howard University Middle School

After 12 years of working in school administration, one aspect of the job that I have learned to dread is the teacher-evaluation process. In the past, it worked like this:

1) I would inform a teacher that it was evaluation time.

2) We would have a pre-meeting.

3) I would sit in on a class, and they would put on a show for me.

4) I would take notes on the show.

5) We would talk about the show that I saw, which in no way represented what they did every day.

6) I would give them an evaluation.

The whole procedure was ridiculous. I wanted observation at Howard University Middle School (HUMS) to be a way for teachers to become better teachers, so for the 2016–2017 school year, we started asking them to capture videos of their lessons.

An added bonus of having video from classrooms is that when I see a teacher doing something well, I can take that snippet and show it to other teachers.

The idea was that I could look at a video the way I wanted to: see a piece, stop, go back and look at it again, and then provide feedback that the teacher could use to improve their practice.

Growth Comes First

We started with the math department, because I was a math teacher before I became Head of School, and because HUMS has a focus on STEM and careers. Using the Insight ADVANCE platform ADVANCEfeedback, all the math teachers took a video of one class, and I used our instructional rubric to discuss different points that I saw in the classroom.

With a video as a common frame of reference, I didn’t have to comment on a show that they put on for me. Instead I said, “This is what I saw,” then they provided their feedback, and we agreed on what they needed to improve. Some teachers were surprised by what they saw themselves doing. I remember one saying, “I really messed that part up. This is how I usually do it, and this is how I am going to do it differently.” To help guide the conversations in a positive direction, I used some of the techniques in the book Teach Like a Champion, and we talked about how they were going to implement the changes we discussed.

For this year, we are using video observation to focus only on growth. I have been asking the math teachers to capture videos twice a month—not necessarily of entire lessons but of aspects of their practice that they wanted work on. Most recently, I asked them to isolate two parts of a lesson that they wanted to improve. They took short videos aimed at helping us reexamine skills like questioning or transitioning. One teacher wanted to make sure that students were following the systems that she had implemented in class: put your pencils here, put your device here. Video showed us clearly where this was and wasn’t working.

An added bonus of having video from classrooms is that when I see a teacher doing something well, I can take that snippet and show it to other teachers. I have internal PD going on in the building without having to schedule a meeting.

Evaluation Focuses on Gradual Improvement

Next year, we are rolling out the video observation system to the whole school, and we will expand our focus to include both growth and evaluation. I have made it clear that I am looking for gradual improvement. I don’t expect that teachers will go from “needs improvement” to “highly effective” in one jump. Based on our experience this year, we’re talking about how often we will ask teachers to capture video next year.

When I’m not working, I love to cook, and right now I am trying to perfect a cheese soufflé recipe. For me, rolling out an initiative like this is like trying to get a recipe just right. We’ll try it, we’ll see how it tastes, and then we’ll adjust it to make it better next time.

To prepare for the 2017-2018 school year, I am asking teachers to pick a lesson that they’re going to teach in the first week or two school, and tape 10 or 15 minutes without the children. I want them to get used to seeing themselves—get comfortable with being on video. Once school starts, I’ll have them tape a full class and I’ll meet with them in the third of fourth week of September, again using our instructional rubric to evaluate. Most importantly, I’ll be able to ask each teacher, “What did you see that would you like to work on for this quarter or this half of the year?”

Our teachers are excited about using video, because more than anything, it removes the “gotcha” piece of evaluation. I don’t like that kind of atmosphere. I want to create an atmosphere where teachers want to get better at teaching, and where I can be there to help them do their best. One way I can do that is by creating a resource library of videos to showcase our teachers who are doing something really creative. Those videos also serve as a digital portfolio for the teacher. I hope that all of my teachers stay with me for their whole career, but realistically, they won’t, and having an objective example of their work in the classroom is going to set them apart from any other teacher, wherever they’re going.

Building a Global PD Community

This fall, our video initiative will expand not only to every classroom in the school, but across the ocean to South Africa as well. HUMS is on the campus of Howard University, which is where Nelson Mandela got his law degree. Last year, one of Mandela’s fellow freedom fighters in the Soweto uprising, Dr. Jacob Ngakane, came to visit our school. Dr. Ngakane is now the head of a nonprofit that supports education in South Africa.

Like some of our students at HUMS, many students in South Africa have difficulty with mathematics. They get to 10th grade and switch to general math, so when they finish high school they can’t get into college, and very few jobs are available to them. During his visit, Dr. Ngakane and I talked, determined to come up with a way that our children and our teachers could collaborate.

At Dr. Ngakane’s invitation, I went to visit South Africa and talked to teachers, children, and principals. I told a principal about how we do observations with video, and we realized that we can collaborate without traveling. Starting this fall, we plan to share video snippets of good math teaching with each other. As a former math teacher, I am thrilled at the prospect of working with other math teachers around the world. We are a global community, united in our goal of giving students the opportunity to excel and making sure they are ready for the jobs that the 21st century will provide.

Kathryn Procope is the Head of School at Howard University Middle School in Washington, DC.

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A Quiet Revolution

Why learning analytics are exactly what’s needed to improve university graduation rates.

GUEST COLUMN | by Viswanath Subramaniam and Sanjay Mohan

CREDIT Happiest Minds Technologies.pngOne of the most important goals for universities in North America is to significantly drive up their graduation rates by charting an intuitive and responsive course for students to get across the finish line. However, the reality across several campuses throughout the country paints a very different picture. As per a Social Market Foundation report, six percent of university students drop out after their first year, so retention is a huge concern for universities.

Several students typically enroll in a university and take up a course of their choice but a few months into their journey they are left very confused. Their academic performance takes a severe plunge and this often has a detrimental effect on the university brand while leading to huge opportunity costs as well.

Students believe better use of learning analytics could be key to tackling drop-out rates, reducing time to obtaining a degree, and helping them achieve better grades.  

Is there anything universities can do to prevent such a scenario from occurring? Is there a way to track student learning behavior to understand where the students are failing and intervene to help them complete the course with the intended success? Learning analytics can go a long way in solving these problems by providing timely insights to academic decision makers. In fact, according to recent research by ITProportal, 76 percent of students believe better use of learning analytics could be key to tackling drop-out rates, reducing time to obtaining a degree, and helping them achieve better grades.

Students leave footprints along a digital path as they use a library or engage in a virtual learning environment or interact with other e-learning applications. Learning analytics is quite simply the process of tapping into this data to improve the learning and teaching experience.

It is important to clearly distinguish it from a Learning Management System (LMS), which typically only records learning events that happen within that system and a Learning Record Store (LRS) as a learning analytics platform typically contains a LRS, but adds significant reporting and analytics capabilities not typically found in it.

Traditionally, higher educational institutions have been plagued with problems like low course completion rates and finding actionable insights on student success indicators. Institutions have a lot of data from student information systems, declared data and VLE’s that can be used for learning analytics.

Based on pre-defined KPI’s, a Learning Analytics platform churns out actionable insights, which enables the decision makers to take actions resulting in much higher course completion rates for the students and overall in a higher student success rate, among other benefits. Additionally, institutions can draw a lot of customized insights pertaining to various aspects of course delivery based on relevant KPI’s.

Data from sources like the VLE, the SIS, library systems and students own declared data feed into the learning analytics warehouse. At the heart of the architecture is the learning analytics engine where predictive analytics are processed and lead to action coordinated by the alert and intervention system. Visualizations of the analytics for decision makers are available in dashboards and a student app allows students to view their own data and compare it with others.

Key beneficiaries of Learning Analytics at a University

If implemented correctly, these are the key beneficiaries of Learning Analytics within Universities:

  • University administrators taking decisions on matters such as marketing and recruitment or efficiency and effectiveness measures.
  • Students/learners to reflect on their achievements and patterns of behaviour in relation to others
  • Instructors and support teams that plan supporting interventions with individuals and groups
  • Groups such as course teams trying to enhance the current courses or develop new curriculum offerings.

Challenges in adopting Learning Analytics at Universities

While Learning Analytics looks like an indispensable tool for the Universities, there are some challenges in its deployment. If we take a close look at University data, they are mostly in silos and there is a need to first integrate these disparate systems to get the unified flow of data required for analytics. As a result, learning analytics companies with system integration capabilities are a great fit for smooth deployment of a learning analytics platform.

Bridging the learning gap between campuses to corporate houses

The application of learning analytics isn’t just restricted to universities but also has great applicability in the corporate world. As employees in most businesses are expected to rapidly skill and re-skill to meet the demands of an evolving workplace, the importance of corporate learning programs cannot be understated. Learning analytics are incredibly important as they bring in the ability to accurately predict learning behavior of employees and appropriately create customized learning plans.

In sum, learning analytics are here and they are quietly revolutionizing the learning experience in classrooms and cubicles across the world. It would be a timely and worthwhile investment for any university or corporate entity alike as it not only helps learners excel like never before, but also ensures compliance with rapidly emerging new compliance frameworks.

Viswanath Subramaniam is Director and Head of Enterprise Platforms, and Sanjay Mohan is Senior Manager, IP Led Solutions, Product Engineering Services at Happiest Minds Technologies.

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Very Social Studies

A Texas teacher’s perspective on her unique students and their shift to digital textbooks.

GUEST COLUMN | by Stacy Brown

CREDIT Discovery Education Social Studies Techbook.pngI am a sixth grade Social Studies teacher for Burkburnett Independent School District in Burkburnett, Texas. My district is blessed, and all of our students have an iPad. The iPads are essential for my classroom as we regularly use rich online content in my class and have recently shifted to digital textbooks. As do most teachers, I too have students with different learning needs and abilities. The Social Studies “Techbook” we use has allowed me to connect with my students like never before. I received permission from three of my students’ parents to include them here. I wanted to pick a blend of students to share our experiences with you.

As any good teacher would do, we pull our lessons together from a variety of resources. The digital resource is our primary guide and where we always begin our planning.

Let me introduce three students with different learning abilities: vision impaired, dyslexic, and general education. I think it is unfair to single them out due to their disability, so they are just my students from here on out.

CREDIT Stacy Brown student1.pngKylie is a very bright child who enjoys learning. The digital textbook will read everything to her. She can and does use a text-to-speech feature to complete some of her assignments. She enjoys typing, but there are some days where that is not desired. She has the ability to toggle back and forth from typing or text-to-speech to record her answers. Kylie is able to adjust her learning in a personalized way which allows her to keep up with her classmates.

CREDIT Stacy Brown student2.pngMy second student I would like to talk about is Brandon. He is a studious young man who learns by doing. He has learned to work around any limitations by using the tools provided in the digital resource. He consistently uses the feature to have the text read to him while he follows along. Just like Kylie, he toggles back and forth using the keyboard and the text-to-speech component to record his responses.

CREDIT Stacy Brown student3.pngMy third student is Brealie. She has an active mind and enjoys learning at her own pace. She prefers to be in control and is very inquisitive when something grabs her attention.

We do a lot of projects that involve collaboration and sharing ideas in my classroom. The Techbook’s text-to-speech continually enhances the literacy process for all of my students. The resource has built a bridge for many students with special literacy needs.

Throughout the year, I have modeled how to use the features in the digital textbook many times. I wanted everyone in the class the features, if they chose to. That alone has been the biggest blessing for all of my students who have different learning needs. Now, they all fit in because they can make adjustments for their learning needs and preferences.

Let’s face it, Social Studies has not always been an interesting topic for a lot of students. The online resource is uniquely designed, so there are continuous comparisons for history past and present. The students are more engaged when it has relevance to them.

This is my first year teaching with the Techbook. I am not going to lie; I was very overwhelmed with the wealth of information at my fingertips. Initially, I questioned why some topics were briefly mentioned in one chapter versus another, but I have learned the resource continually spirals with the majority of concepts. Every concept gets covered, but they are spread out through the school year. I firmly believe this has helped my students achieve mastery with different concepts because a concept does not “go away” when I am done teaching that chapter.

There are two teachers who teach sixth grade social studies at my school. We serve approximately 230 students. Between the two of us, we have approximately 16 years in social studies. I am technology driven, and she has used traditional textbooks in the past. This has been an interesting journey bringing in both of our teaching styles. Together, we are embracing the online capabilities more each day. As any good teacher would do, we pull our lessons together from a variety of resources. The digital resource is our primary guide and where we always begin our planning.

Our Techbook includes a Global News Wrap each week, based on current events. We watch the three to four minute video as a class first. Students are allowed to watch it a second time on their own before they pick one topic to take a position on. Then they complete a writing prompt in their Assignment Builder. Some students type; while others use text-to-speech. I always remind them to speak into the microphone like it should be written for an English teacher. I believe this will help them in other classes as well.

CREDIT Discovery Education global wrap.pngHere is an example of how well our digital textbook spirals around events. The Global News Wrap for 02/01/17 discussed the wall that President Trump wants to build between Mexico and the United States. We had an depth class discussion about this event.

A few days later, we were continuing our unit on Europe. The topic for the day was, Overcoming the Berlin Wall, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism. In our digital textbook, snippets of video and text made the subject really come alive for the students.

Brealie was immediately intrigued. Her hand went up promptly, and she asked for me to pause for a moment. She wanted to know more about the wall President Trump wants to build compared to that of the Berlin Wall, which came down with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I told her that was a great question, and we would be looking at similarities and differences about both the following week. She asked if she could go ahead and start doing research on her own. As if I would tell her no! I was thrilled by her interest in both and her desire to learn more about them.

Previous generations used traditional textbooks and atlases that could not be updated until the next adoption and publication. It was impossible for them to stay up-to-date with current events and they were not designed to be interactive, either.

We live in a world where technology has provided instant access at our fingertips. I want my students to know how to take charge of their own learning in ways generations before them were not able to. Previous generations used traditional textbooks and atlases that could not be updated until the next adoption and publication. It was impossible for them to stay up-to-date with current events and they were not designed to be interactive, either.

Our digital textbook is a living document which updates as world events do. It is also a safe environment for students to explore and do research in. We always begin class research in it. I will be the first to admit, there are times when I feel my students are teaching me something new about their digital textbook. I love and welcome these moments. They allow me to demonstrate my eagerness to learn while collaborating with my students. I hope this type of learning will continue being used in my district for many years to come.

Stacy Brown is a teacher at Burkburnett ISD in Burkburnett, Texas. She graduated from Midwestern State University with a BS in Social Studies 4-8 and from University of Texas at Arlington with a Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. She has been teaching for 10 years, married for 27 years, and is as excited as ever about the upcoming school year. Write to: stacy.brown@burkburnettisd.org

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The Helping Kind

A dedicated educator brings a big heart, meaning, and joy to learning.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero


Title: Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership; Facilitator, C.A.M.P. Osprey – connecting students with athletes, mentors.

Org: Taylor Leadership Institute, University of North Florida – Jacksonville

Reach: High school students, teachers, education leadership.

Fame: 2017 EdTech Awards honoree

Quote: “To overcome geographic and financial barriers faced by our high-poverty, urban/rural partners throughout the nation, we harness the use of ‘virtual leadership mentoring’ and videoconferencing technology.”

Looking ahead: “Hopefully, this is just the beginning of an educational mentoring network that will connect university faculty and students with K-12 teachers and students to positively impact learning and leadership development.”

Write to: matthew.ohlson@unf.edu 

If you look closely, you’ll see them everywhere: dedicated, passionate people who take immense pleasure in helping others. A 2017 EdTech Award honoree, Matthew Ohlson is a great example of such a person. Through his work with CAMP Osprey, Matthew (pictured above holding his 2017 EdTech Award with ardent supporter UNF Dean of the College of Education and Human Services Diane Yendol-Hoppey) has demonstrated his commitment to using whatever tools he can, applying those to bring others around him up. CAMP (Collegiate Achievement Mentoring Program) Osprey is a leadership-mentoring program in which collegiate student leaders serve as mentors to at-risk K-12 students. To overcome geographic and financial barriers faced by their high-poverty, urban/rural partners throughout the nation, “we harness the use of ‘virtual leadership mentoring’ and videoconferencing technology available on the UNF campus,” says Matthew, who works with a local school district to effect change. “The district is far from the resources of a major university, but through the virtual mentoring program, students are able to meet weekly with their collegiate mentors.”

I’ve made it an extremely effective practice to surround myself with those who challenge, inspire, and make me a better leader. 

The United Way and Jefferson Foundation featured this model as an exemplar for technology integration and community impact. In addition, the data from the pilot program has been presented at SITE, AACE, AERA and UCEA as well as numerous journals. Participants in the pilot program experienced increased GPA’s, increased attendance and decreased school suspensions as well as research presentations at AERA, SITE and UCEA.

Matthew has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy with a specialization in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida. He also received comprehensive leadership training from the New York City Leadership Academy and the Schlechty / Hohmann Principals Academy. His K-12 experience includes roles as a 15-year teacher and school leader in the Boston Public Schools and the Florida Global School. In higher education, Matthew served as a clinical instructor at the University of Florida, Director of the nationally recognized C.A.M.P. mentoring program and leadership facilitator at the Lastinger Center for Learning. Matthew has also conducted comprehensive program evaluation for state agencies and helped to develop the new Florida Education Leadership Exam (FELE). Most recently, he served as an educational consultant with the Florida Department of Education, training educators and leaders throughout the state as they transition to the new curriculum standards.

In this exclusive EdTech Digest interview, he talks about the programs that matter to him, how they help others, who has helped him in his life, the power of technology in learning, and where he thinks it’s all heading.

What prompted to you to found CAMP Osprey?

Matthew: The Collegiate Achievement Mentoring Program (CAMP) idea was developed to create an intergenerational leadership mentoring partnership between collegiate student leaders and K12 students. The CAMP was based on an “apprenticeship” model where college students refined their own leadership abilities while teaching these same college and career ready skills to students in schools throughout the region. The CAMP program, now called CAMP Osprey at the University of North Florida,  has seen significant success in only the first two years of implementation including increases in program participants, increased student achievement and external funding to support on campus experiences for our mentees in grades 4-8. One major barrier we saw during our program expansion was reaching high-needs students who were restricted by time (scheduling) and geography (distance away from campus). The innovative use of virtual mentoring has helped us to expand our impact to mentor students in high-needs rural communities and schools as far away as Miami and Raleigh. http://jacksonville.com/news/2016-04-09/story/more-degrees-and-training-preventing-young-people-finding-keeping-jobs

What does this mean for the students to connect with athletes, mentors? 

credit-matthew-olson-phd-putnam-county-fl-with-unf.pngMatthew: Our hands-on activities and leadership curriculum developed through my role at the Taylor Leadership Institute help to ensure that mentoring goes beyond just making friends but rather, towards a more significant, outcome-based experience. We expected the K-12 to change in a positive way and this has proven true with increased achievement, attendance and decreased behavioral issues. Yet, we never expected the positive outcomes experienced by the collegiate mentors including increased confidence, time management, ability to work with others and empathy.

This mentoring experience also helps to instill a fervent belief that college is attainable thanks to our face-to-face campus trips and our virtual field trips: https://indd.adobe.com/view/1bd595b6-c18a-4b4d-b1be-e914a90c0f6f

Who in your own life has been a mentor or inspiration? how/why?

Matthew: My parents, both urban teachers, served as my early mentors and inspired me to become an educator in the Boston Public Schools where I served proudly for more than 10 years. Recently, I’ve had the honor of being mentored by Ms. Muriel Summers of AB Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary (Raleigh, NC). I first met Muriel when she took a chance on a fledgling CAMP (Gator at UF) mentoring program http://webarchive.wcpss.net/blog/2011/03/university-of-florida-gators-help-combs-magnet-elementary-gators/ and created our first multi-state mentoring partnership. From there, I have been able to learn from and with her unwavering support for doing what is best for students. Ironically, another leader who has served an inspiration was someone I am actually mentoring. I have been mentoring Dr. Earl Johnson of Matanzas High School each month and in that time, I’ve learned so much from him about being a humble, determined and servant leader. There are countless others and I’ve made it an extremely effective practice to surround myself with those who challenge, inspire, and make me a better leader.

When we look at ways to create opportunities to make education meaningful and make education joyful, where teacher strengths are touted and student passions are ignited—that’s where education is headed, those are the brights spots ahead.

What is the power of technology in learning?  

Matthew: As a former Principal with the amazing Florida Virtual School, I will never forget our foundational phrase: Any time, any place, any path, any pace. Technology can truly be a catalyst for change and a tool that can overcome barriers. First as a tool to bring the world to students – I’ve witnessed firsthand students from other cultures across the globe learning together in a virtual classroom, college professors from Research 1 Universities  teaching groundbreaking ideas to students in migrant faming communities and urban school students participating in virtual field trips in national parks and landmarks throughout the country. Technology also brings voice to students where regardless of learning strengths or styles, students can learn, share and collaborate in a way that gives every student the opportunity to be engaged and demonstrate deeper knowledge. Moving beyond traditional call and response and fear-inducing public presentations using a script or notecards, students can now use text to speech, animated videos, presentation software and variety if other tools to access, manipulate and present knowledge in a form that is engaging to each student.

Where is education heading? any bright spots ahead?

Matthew: When we look at ways to create opportunities to make education meaningful and make education joyful, where teacher strengths are touted and student passions are ignited—that’s where education is headed, those are the brights spots ahead. Rather than focusing solely on the gaps and weaknesses, we can start to look at the gifts and talents of our students and educators and expand upon them. I believe choice should also be at the heart of the direction we are headed. Are we offering students choice in the learning path, their potential career path, etc.? For example, look at the ways that Flagler County Schools, a small rural district in Florida, has been creating dynamic “Flagship programs” where students can learn specialize in tracts in fields such as Aerospace and robotics to financial literacy and even a firefighting academy. Phase 2 of the UNF CAMP Osprey model will be harnessing this idea with leaders in career fields serving as mentors to aspiring scientists, engineers, artists, educators and executives. The face-to-face and virtual mentoring process and resources are universal and are being piloted in schools where experienced teachers and principals are mentoring beginners in the field to offer support, guidance and the sharing of best practices.

What purposes did you begin with getting into the education field that are now being fulfilled?

Matthew: I wanted to make a difference in the community where I grew up, Boston. As my role expanded and I saw so many needs in the field of education, I felt that pursuing my Ph.D. from a place like the University of Florida would allow me to implement policies and practices that I know would eventually help students and teachers. These dreams have become a reality where I have been able to create a mentoring program at three major universities (UF, UNF and NC State), help leaders in districts throughout the nation to develop a school culture that leads to significant and lasting change and to use technology to bring equity and resources to those students often bypassed in our current system.

Any words of wisdom to other educators out there regarding their impact on students? 

Matthew: With many of the schools I work with, I use a performance framework focused on consistent monitoring of the ways each educator is making a difference in the life of a child. Not vision statements that collect dust or overwhelming evaluation models, a simple process where every week, every staff member in the school takes 5 minutes to document the impact they made: in the life of a child, with a colleague, with a parent/guardian/community member. Each week the theme changes between student, colleague and greater school community member. This simple process serves numerous functions- it build s a strong school community focused on collective impact, it allows for a clear opportunity for positive reflection to show that you are making a difference and can show opportunities for growth when the evidence is not present. My advice always remains grounded in the positive impact you are making as an educator, a school leader and as a policy maker.

Anything else you care to add or emphasize about CAMP Osprey, your work, edtech, anything? 

Matthew: The collaboration between the UNF College of Education and Human Services, The Taylor Leadership Institute, UNF Admissions and our community partners has been instrumental in our implementation, expansion and success. In addition, throughout the semester we embed the themes of leadership, happiness, success and service from  the following videos and empower our participants to demonstrate how they:

Through the power of edtech, we would love to see the EdTech Digest “family” look at ways to expand this replicable model/network of “virtual” leaders.

Excellent! Let’s do that. Alright well thank you, Matthew, and again congratulations on your continued success.

Matthew: Thank you!

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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