Teachers Forecast 2020: Breaking the Mold

A school administrator on the theory versus practice of adopting technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Melissa Saunders

Manassas City Public Schools IMAGE.jpg

We educators are on the precipice of breaking the mold and doing things differently. Within just three years, I predict how we work with kids will look less industrialized and be more flexible.

All students come to school with different kinds of needs, and we educators continue to try to fit them into all into a box. But we have been trying to put round pegs into the squares. This is changing.

Maintaining high quality teachers over a long period of time is really important to us.

I hope that in 2020 we see more scenarios where students are getting some of their general information through teachers, and also having experiences. Students should have internships, externships and work opportunities to try some things out so that before they leave high school they have credentials and real experience.

I see fewer requirements around “clock hours” and “seat hours” and standards and assessments. That doesn’t lessen the high stakes accountability, but loosening the reins a little bit gives us an opportunity to break the mold.

I see our younger kids just getting much more comfortable with a world that is less about answers and more of them asking questions. We educators are very much used to just giving answers, and now we have students who can question and think critically much younger than (probably) we anticipated. It seems like that is the only way they will be set up to succeed in life.

Just think about the difference between someone who went to school in the early to late 2000s versus 2017, and that speaks to how fast things are evolving and how much teachers really need to approach their practice with flexibility and a mindset of lifelong learning.

Empowering teachers to drive student learning

Keeping up with these changes as an educator is hard. Sifting through new information and learning new technology can be overwhelming and time consuming. There are tools and resources that can help, but it’s difficult to make these changes without support at the school and district level.

At the district level, we’re constantly challenged to provide teachers with something that they feel they can take away from professional development and use every single day. We give surveys to capture information from our teachers and oftentimes they talk to us about the professional development – they say, “it isn’t relevant to me.”

At Manassas, we have about 700 teachers. About 50 percent of them are in their first three years of teaching. What we administrators struggle with is how to provide opportunities for teachers to get what they need in order to grow in their professional practice.

We see teachers as the key drivers of student learning. As a result, we need to make sure that we are investing in those teachers by personalizing their learning so they can then do the same for the students. As I look at how to provide students with the best instructional opportunities, the answer is through their teachers.

Being able to personalize learning for the teachers allows us to really enhance human capital in the schools. We are investing in our teachers to make sure that we retain them. Here in Manassas, we not only have a very young workforce, we have a challenging district in the sense that our work is hard. It’s rewarding but it’s difficult. For us, finding ways to maintain teacher engagement and teacher effectiveness comes through providing teachers with not only benefits that they see as monetary, but also that of independent professional growth.

The theory versus practice of adopting technology

Three years ago, Manassas City embarked on a one-to-one initiative—a state initiative that provided matching funding for us to offer laptops to every student in our high school. We started with our 9th and 10th grades, and then throughout the school for the next four years.

We had a lot of plans on paper about how we were going to do things and what we were going to do, but I knew that it didn’t really matter if I handed a teacher or a student a device. If the teachers didn’t know how to access and utilize the devices or change their practice, the experience was going to fail. That realization led me and our professional development coordinator to develop a series of what we call “certificates” for teachers to participate.

In theory and on paper it all looked great—as many things do—but what we found in practice is that our teachers didn’t have the right background. We didn’t have enough professional development to equip them to use the devices as effectively as intended. Essentially, we just gave kids devices that they were able to take home to access the Internet.

We didn’t create the capacity at the high school to turn around instruction. Where we did a good job was in coming up with the idea of what we wanted it to look like. Once we had that vision, we knew we truly did not have the capacity to carry it out. Our eyes were bigger than our proverbial stomach.

We realized we needed help. We wanted to maintain our goal of achieving this certificate because it really creates those ladders. It gives people something that they can work to. We knew we wanted to keep that. So we went looking for help and everyone we went to had a prescribed method for how they were going to provide this training before they even knew who we were.

We had a hard time finding someone who would partner with us that could see our vision of certification and who would really personalize professional development for us. We didn’t want an off-the-shelf solution. And so somewhere along the line, my Professional Development Coordinator ran into BetterLesson. What resonates with our teachers is the support they offer. It is a kind of independent support so teachers can really choose how they engage in this process.

Funding this type of initiative can be challenging, because it doesn’t fit neatly into a specific line of the budget. We’ve found success by embracing this ambiguity and matching funding to multiple elements of the district’s larger strategic plan. The funding is linked to HR development, student achievement and technology. We know that technology is an important part of what we do every day and our students need competence skills in that. But in order for them to do that, they need teachers who are able to utilize that and learn and grow within that technology. By placing this initiative at the crux of our vision, its value is undisputed.

We’ve put a couple of other metrics into place that help support funding for choice in professional learning. We give a division engagement survey that gets to how people could be more engaged, happier, and satisfied in their work. One of the key indicators that continues to come out of those surveys is the idea of professional development and it being personalized and having choice.

Retaining teachers through PD

Maintaining high quality teachers over a long period of time is really important to us. Once we invest in them and we train them, we want to be able to keep them. It’s important to have metrics that say on a large scale that you know your teachers really want this and this is how you might retain them. We live in an environment that is highly competitive. You can go ten miles down the road and be in a whole different school system and potentially have a higher salary, so this investment in the human capital side of thing helps us in more than just instruction.

Delivering professional development hasn’t changed much. Administrators say, “Here’s the professional development, here’s why you have to do it, here’s where you have to do it, here’s how you have to do it and here’s how I want to see it measured later on.” It is very prescriptive. Where I think teachers have been really positive about our work with our solution provider’s one-on-one coaching model is their feeling that it is improving their practice and at a great pace with ideas that they want to improve.

We are control freaks in education and we want to make sure it all goes the right way. So giving teachers a choice is huge. Just like our students, we have teachers that come from so many different walks of life. When they have this opportunity to have a choice, they are positive about it and I see them articulating that back in the classroom with their students.

Link to full interview: SoundCloud recording

Melissa Saunders, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of Student Achievement for the Manassas, Virginia Schools. She obtained her masters at Carnegie Mellon and her Ed.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She is known for her driving commitment to excellence and her quest for quality educational opportunities for young people.

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Everything is a Learning Opportunity

IN CLOSE WITH | Brenda Betancourt 

CREDIT Brenda Betancourt.pngPrincipal of Kenneth White Junior High in the Mission CISD in Mission, Texas, Brenda K. Betancourt is a dedicated and passionate educator who worked her way up the ranks but has been a successful educator all along the way.  

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

I started my career in education as a pre-K teacher in January of 2000 in La Joya ISD. La Joya ISD was the district where I had attended school all my life, and now my teachers were my colleagues. Since I was coming into teaching in the middle of the year, I had to learn the ins and outs quickly to not fall behind or make a mistake that would cause my students to fall behind. After all, I had 50 half-day pre-K students eager to learn and waiting for me to provide them with those learning experiences. As a first-year teacher, I watched other teachers and administrators closely to pick out those important traits that would make me a successful educator. Just like my pre-K students, I was eager to learn and everything was a learning opportunity.

I am able to put all my experiences, knowledge, imagination, and innovation into play to continue to foster that love for teaching and learning.

After my second year of teaching, I decided to continue my education and pursue a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. I believed I could make a bigger impact on student learning if I became a school administrator. My long-term career goal was to become a school principal.

After five years as an elementary and middle school teacher, I became an assistant principal of a middle school. My responsibilities now were to ensure the safety, security, and educational development of 800+ students and help lead 100 teachers and staff members. My primary focus was to work with teachers to strengthen core instruction and provide students with a quality education that incorporated student-centered, hands-on activities that promoted life-long learning. During my time as an assistant principal, I had the opportunity to work with experienced teachers and administrators who provided me with advice, mentored me, and allowed me to grow as an instructional leader.

CREDIT K. WHITE Jr  High School MCISD.pngAfter seven years as an assistant principal, I moved up to Principal of Kenneth White Junior High School in MCISD, where I am able to put all my experiences, knowledge, imagination, and innovation into play to continue to foster that love for teaching and learning. One of my first tasks as a principal was to provide the district with a restructuring plan. In collaboration with campus administrators and teachers, we decided to become a STEM campus. We felt that in order to provide more meaningful learning opportunities and prepare our students for the future, we had to incorporate STEM principles into our daily practices. This meant that we had to revamp the way our school and teachers operated. It started with upgrading the infrastructure and technology in the classrooms and many hours of professional development in STEM and project-based learning. Welcome to the STEM world, KWJH!

Even after deciding that STEM was the way to go, I never lost sight of the main goal. It was my responsibility to provide my students with learning opportunities that will strengthen core instruction and student success. Everything that we did revolved around the same question: How is this going to impact student success?

After four years as a STEAM campus (after our second year, we incorporated the fine arts as well), I am very happy to say that the culture of our school has changed. We embrace technology. Teachers who were reluctant to incorporate technology and move into PBL are now comfortable and willing to try new technologies that become available and allow students to become independent learners. But we never lose sight of those best instructional practices that will ensure student success.


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

I am most inspired by my teachers. I have worked on five different campuses in three different districts. Four out of the five campuses serviced students with low socio-economic status, high mobility rate, a 30-50 percent ELL population, and a high number of single-parent homes—all factors that can make teaching and learning a challenge. Despite all of these challenges, my teachers have shown that they have the heart and desire to help our students succeed in school and life. They dedicate countless hours to researching, collaborating, planning, and preparing meaningful lessons for our students. They give up their personal time and money to make sure that our students have everything they need to succeed. They become moms, dads, counselors, and coaches to those students who need them the most. Teaching is not a career we choose to become rich and famous. We become educators to mold and develop young minds.

I have one guiding question when making decisions that will impact our students: “Would I want this for my child?” If the answer is no, then it is not good for anyone else’s child and I have to find an alternative. I ask teachers to ask themselves the same question when making decisions.

My other principle is that change is good and necessary. My email signature includes a quote from Vicente Fox: “Only when we are fully immersed in change can we forget our weaknesses and fears and summon the courage, stamina, and strength to overcome all obstacles.” This quote reminds others and myself that we must not be afraid of change and we will overcome those obstacles if we embrace change.


FAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why? CREDIT myON img.png

myON has changed literacy on our campus. We have become a campus where ALL students read. Struggling readers are able to use the tools that myON provides to work on fluency and comprehension, and advanced readers have a plethora of titles to choose from. The 1:1 initiative we started when becoming a STEM campus has facilitated the use of software programs like myON.


RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?

CREDIT TCEA 2018.pngThe TCEA and STEM conferences are always my favorite. This is a way for us to stay current with new technologies. Also, our staff is now presenting at these conferences and sharing their knowledge and experiences with other educators.


MEMORABLE MOMENT What was your greatest educational moment?

There is not one moment that I can pick. Over my 17 years in education, there have been many. Definitely, my first year teaching was very rewarding. It was a year of discovery. As a principal, seeing my staff and students succeed in different areas is very fulfilling. It is also very rewarding when we see our students come back and thank us for helping them get through tough times or encouraging them to challenge themselves.


RED ED What was your most embarrassing educational moment?

That’s an easy question. Again, I go back to my first year teaching. I was preparing for my first formal observation and had been working with my four-year-olds to make sure everything went smoothly. During my observation, I asked the students why it was important to learn about primary and secondary colors and their answer in unison was “because they are coming to see us!” I think I turned all shades of red. Luckily, my supervisor thought it was cute and I was not penalized.


Any technology that is going to make an educator’s daily work easier and more manageable is always welcome.


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

I like professional development activities that are hands-on, relevant to our student population, engaging, and that can be integrated immediately.


BRING IT ON! What’s the next technology you want to bring to your classroom/school/district and why?

CREDIT myON.pngBeing a STEAM campus, our students and teachers have become comfortable and proficient with hardware and software. In order to challenge ourselves, I believe we need to focus on programing/coding. It is important for students to understand the why and how of applications and programs. It will develop their problem-solving skills and help them become visionaries and innovators.


NO THANKS What technology do you wish had never been invented and why?

I do not think there is anything out there that I would call bad technology. It all has to do with how we manage it and use it. As an educator, there is a struggle with the use of smartphones/cellphones. They are a great resource to everyone if used at the right time and for the right reasons. Where they become a nuance is when students use them during instruction and it becomes a distraction to them.


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

CREDIT myON teacher.pngAny technology that is going to make an educator’s daily work easier and more manageable is always welcome. Anything from taking roll to planning lessons. I would like to see educational technologies that assist students who have a profound learning disability due to developmental or medical issues. While there has been great improvements, there is a need for more assistive technologies.


Connect With

Reach Brenda through

School website: kwhite.mcisd.net

Email: bkbeta12@mcisd.org

Facebook: Kenneth White Junior High @K.WhiteJH2016

Twitter: @brendabk12


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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From Raleigh to Rochester

Everyday adventures of a PD coach using technology for improved literacy.

GUEST COLUMN | by Christina Magee

CREDIT Lightsail Christina Magee.jpgWhether it’s in Raleigh or Rochester, every new day brings an exciting adventure as an Instructional Coach. This is a day-in-the-life account from a professional development coach point of view. At the company I work for, we’re a tight-knit group of former classroom teachers and we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have the opportunity to meet teachers and students in schools all over the country (and beyond – Hola, Mexico!). While the names of the city and school have been anonymized, the day’s events can (and do) happen in our experience from coast to coast.

6:00 – Wake up, hit the hotel gym for a quick run on the treadmill, coffee in my room, shower and go!

7:30 – Grab another cup of coffee to go (traveling takes its toll!) and hop in my rental. I check the GPS one last time to make sure I know where I’m going. It’s my first time in AnyTown, Minnesota, so I need to be sure that I can navigate from Point A to Point B. Also, there is So. Much. Snow.

We’re a tight-knit group of former classroom teachers and we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have the opportunity to meet teachers and students in schools all over the country.

8:15 – Arrive a bit early at the school and check in with Mr. P, ELA Coach and my main point of contact. My first teacher meeting isn’t for another 30 minutes, so I have plenty of time to set up, connect to Wi-Fi and find a good place to display the pen/styluses that I’ll be giving as a door prize. I prep my materials one last time, excited to share the “LightSail for Shared Reading” presentation with this group. I see the Minnesota Vikings banner on the wall and make a mental note not to mention the fact that I’m a Chicago Bears fan. This is the kind of thing I’ve learned the hard way, and a more valuable tip than you could imagine.

8:45 – It’s go time. The audience is a team of returning teachers, who previously used our platform only for independent reading. Now they’re looking to expand usage further into their literacy block, and want to try the technology for guided reading groups and, eventually, whole class novel. My objective for the workshop will be to highlight the features that support shared reading; annotating the text, assigning texts to groups of students and using in-app data to form groups. I’ll also spend time highlighting the MUPO titles (this means that they can be accessed by an unlimited number of users at one time) in our digital library.

9:45 – Planning time for teachers. I always give teachers enough time to write lessons and scope out the upcoming weeks. I know from my own experience that a teacher’s schedule is jam-packed, and if there isn’t time to apply what you learn right away, there’s a good chance that a lot of it will go in one ear and out the other.

10:30 – Head to Mrs. M’s 4th grade class to teach a model lesson on annotations. Getting back into the classroom is the highlight of most of my days. Twenty sets of bright eyes are glued to me, and their eagerness to hear what I’m about to say brings me right back to my happy teacher place. I teach the lesson to the group, then send them off with a prompt from the Annotation Brainstarters resource on main idea. Mrs. M has told me that’s the standard they’re currently working on, so I’m trying to provide students with some extra practice time during independent reading. That is, after we had gotten a bit side-tracked talking about our favorite places to run.

11:15 – Meet with teachers who are using the platform for the first time. It’s always important to find time to work with the newbies in the group to make sure they feel supported and ready to roll! We walk through the technology features, discuss implementation needs, and of course, leave time to plan.

12:45pm – I am starving. I remember seeing a Panera Bread down the road, so after a quick midday debrief with Mr. P, I scurry out to grab a smoothie and a sandwich.

1:15pm – Back in the classroom. This time, I’m leading a guided reading group in Ms. B’s 3rd grade classroom. One focus of this morning’s workshop was on shared reading, and I want to show Ms. B what this looks like in her classroom immediately. Ms. B and I worked together during the morning planning time to identify five kiddos (we sorted students’ by Lexile measure and then made groups) that I’d work with. Like Mrs. M’s class, they’re in the middle of a non-fiction unit, so I found a current News for Kids article (who knew sharks were invading the California coast?!) and used the annotation feature to drop in a question on main idea. This will help Ms. B gage comprehension and mastery of both the text and the skill. Win, win!

CREDIT Lightsail Christina Magee w student.png1:45 – Round two of guiding reading groups – this time with a group of Ms. B’s struggling readers. (Note: There’s a girl at my table wearing a Bears t-shirt. Apparently displaying your football allegiance in this class is NBD!) I’ve prepped the same text and will still hit on the main idea, but now I’m using the beginner version of the article (watch out surfers, sharks are still-a-coming!) so that it’s accessible for this group. Ms. B was especially psyched to see how little extra prep time this took. In fact, I’ve been watching her scroll through the library already, on the hunt for another article to use tomorrow!

2:30 – Debrief time! I catch up with Mr. P for a moment, just long enough to gush about how welcoming and lovely his team has been to work with. He’s arranged for subs for the last hour of the day, and the whole team has assembled to powwow about the day. What was helpful about this morning’s workshop? What did you learn during the classroom modeling sessions? Most importantly, I want to know – How can I continue to support you as you incorporate our solutions into your teaching and make sure it’s done in a sustainable way (isn’t that what it’s all about?).

3:30 – After one last round of questions and a quick scavenger hunt through our online learning community (got to make sure everyone knows where to find what they need before I go!), I say my goodbyes. I shake hands with the new friends I’ve made and encourage teachers to reach out in the weeks to come. Part of the beauty of my job is the relationships that are built after a day like the one I’ve had today. In fact, I’ve already made a mental note to follow up with my new running buddy, Mrs. M., during my upcoming marathon training. Now, off to catch my flight!

Christina Magee is Managing Director of Academics for Lightsail, an adaptive literacy solution. She has been involved in education in New York City for the past seven years. She began her career as a special education teacher working with kindergarten, third, and fourth grade students at a Harlem charter school, where she served on school curriculum development teams and as an after-school tutor. After seeing firsthand the dramatic impact that teachers can have on at-risk students, she became an instructional coach focused on increasing academic rigor and building strong classroom systems to foster learning. Christina has a BA from USC and an MS in Special Education/Inclusive Elementary Education from Hofstra University. Connect with her here

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A Calling, A Mission, An Honor

IN CLOSE WITH | Susan Grigsby

Grigsby_headshotA Media Specialist in Forsyth County Schools; curious and creative teacher librarian, and on top of all that a singer, actress, mom, horsewoman, writer, wanderer, seeker and storyteller — Susan Grigsby and her love for learning never ends. 

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

I was working in the Sports & Entertainment Marketing field as a producer/AV technician which required lots of long days and evening hours. When my daughter was born in 1994, I knew I needed a change so I could spend more time with her. I read an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the need for Media Specialists in the state. I didn’t know what a “media specialist” was but it sounded like something that was right up my professional alley! I started investigating and realized it required a Master’s Degree; however, when I found out it was a school position it just seemed like the right thing to do for my children. As luck would have it, as soon as I made that decision a friend told me about an opening for a library clerk in a nearby private school. I enrolled in school, got the job, and have been loving this profession ever since!

I think we are beyond the ‘great new tech tool’. The important thing about edtech right now is that it is being integrated in a way that makes sense.


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

I am insatiably curious and teaching gives me the opportunity to learn something new all the time. I really enjoy being around children of all ages and I’ve always been an instigator, a community builder, and I’ve always enjoyed teaching others. There’s nothing more magical than that moment when a child gets a concept for the first time or when the lightbulb goes on and they can read on their own. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of that. I have a Maya Angelou quote that has been stuck on my computer no matter where I’ve gone: “Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.” I want my students to thrive and I want them to know that!


CREDIT Aurasma augmented reality.pngFAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why?

That’s an interesting question because I think we are beyond the ‘great new tech tool’. The important thing about edtech right now is that it is being integrated in a way that makes sense. It always drove me a little crazy when someone would wax poetic about a new tool or program that was really, upon deep inspection, an electronic worksheet. A pencil is a tech tool so it’s not about the tool. It’s about how you use it. That said, I am having a lot of fun with Aurasma and experimenting with augmented reality. I don’t want to use it just to make pictures come alive but I’m exploring how to take a current reality and dive a little deeper into it. For example, wouldn’t it be great if we could point our device at a historical site and instantly see it the way it was at the time of its significance or see a reenactment of the event(s) that happened there? What a great way to help students visualize history and make it more real, more relevant, more immediate! I’m also excited about PebbleGo but, frankly, I don’t see it as a “tech tool.” Yes, it’s a digital product but more importantly it is a digital resource for the K-5 student. In our district, we’ve integrated PebbleGo in a way that makes it super easy for students to not only access the program but do so after logging in to their workstations/devices. The “tech tool” part (to me) is creating the ease of access to the digital resources we want our students to use but then the resource itself becomes integrated into the curriculum.


RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?

I always get a lot out of the ISTE National Conference. I’m seeing a shift there, too, about integration over “bells and whistles.” Speakers are sharing ways to immerse students in days filled with creativity, knowledge creation as well as consumption, and making new connections rather that reporting on ones that have already been made. It’s great when you find tools that can make all of that more exciting but it’s the teaching that really matters. I also get a lot from American Library Association and American Association of School Librarians. I think both of those groups got the pedagogy over tools idea a while ago.


That’s when I realized that being a librarian is a calling and a mission. It’s an honor. It is the embodiment of social justice. 


MEMORABLE MOMENT What was your greatest educational moment?

I would love to say I had some dramatic moment of standing on desks and students chanting, “Captain, O Captain!” — but my moment was a little quieter and more private. I was the librarian in a urban/suburban elementary school and I was always running one reading promotion or another. There was a young man who won my latest prize competition and he came in to the library to collect his prize: a book. I always kept a shelf of clean paperback and hardcover books to give away so I invited the boy into my office to pick out the book he wanted. He looked over the shelf for what seemed like an hour and finally made a choice – a gently used hardcover. He asked me when he was supposed to return it and I told him he didn’t have to return it – it was his to keep. He clutched that book to his chest and looked at me with the most honest and vulnerable face I’ve ever seen and quietly said, “I ain’t never had a book of my own before.” I couldn’t speak for a moment or two but finally managed to say something like, “You do now and I hope you love it.” I’ll never forget that moment for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it made me face my own privilege and see that in this great country of ours there are still families that have no room in their budgets for anything above food and rent. It’s not that I was naïve enough to not know that before; just that I’d never been so close to it. That’s when I realized that being a librarian is a calling and a mission. It’s an honor. It is the embodiment of social justice.


CREDIT PebbleGo.pngPD FOR ME What makes for great tech-related professional development?

It’s great when your participants leave with something tangible in their hands that they can immediately implement in the classroom. PD should be just as engaging and meaningful as the lessons we work so hard on for children. The sessions should be set up to allow “play time” if you’re teaching a new tool or a new way to use that tool. There’s nothing more frustrating than going to PD where you get a quick overview with no time to explore and no time spent on the “why” of that tool or program. If teachers are only getting the “how” then it isn’t transformative – it’s just one more think. Again, I’m going to go back and reference our district’s decision to purchase PebbleGo here. When you provide a resource that makes sense, that supports curriculum, and is easily accessed then teachers will use it once you show them where it is and how it fits into their teaching schema. When that resource is also easily grasped by their students then you’ve got a win-win.


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

I would love to build a seamless, cohesive partnership between our schools and the public library. For example, see the Limitless Library in Nashville. I think if we can get the technology framework in place to protect privacy but allow “dual citizenship” we could partner to maximize resources in a way that benefits students. I believe if the school system has verified that a student lives within district then the public library should automatically accept that verification and create a public library account. I would love to see it set up so that the username/password process at school could be replicated at the library for seamless access. It would boost school library collections for both print and digital and open up the world of books and information to families that may not otherwise have access.


NO THANKS What educational technology do you wish had never been invented and why?

I can’t think of a thing. Spam, maybe? But that’s not educational unless teachers use it as part of the process for information literacy instruction. I’m not a fan of anonymous-post websites because there I don’t think there are enough adults teaching children about the power of the send button. Sticks and stone may break bones but words can create permanent damage. I used to think – years ago – that the invention of the video phone would be horrible because I wouldn’t want to have to answer the phone with my hair in curlers and my face covered in green mud—but that’s not really how it played out.


Star Trek transporter Abe Lincoln.pngFUTURE LOOK What educational technology do you wish someone would invent and why?

The Star Trek Transporter. Think of the implications with commuting! Plus, I’d never be late again! 


Connect With

Reach Susan through http://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us

 


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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What is Unlearning

Being willing to examine something before you know it, is a 21st-century skill.  

ROUNDTABLE INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Beaver Country Day School image.pngWhat we already know may be what prevents us from knowing more. In our current age of learning, and in our current era of smart everything — emerges a panel of leaders willing to examine practical ideas about learning. Peter Hutton is the Head of School at Beaver Country Day School, an independent school located in Chestnut Hill for grades 6-12. Beaver was among the very first schools to integrate coding into its core curriculum and presented on this curriculum at SXSWedu in past years. At a recent SxSWedu, his panel focused on ‘unlearning’ and how faculty and staff can implement it as a strategy to combat existing ways of thinking that may impede one’s problem-solving abilities. The school’s emphasis on unlearning is a continuation of their revolutionary teaching style.

Teachers typically assume that their primary role is to provide students with knowledge via presentation, that when asked a question they should provide an answer, and that students who score high on multiple choice tests have mastered the material. All of these assumptions are questionable in preparing students for life in a global, knowledge-based, innovation-centered civilization.

By understanding the effect old habits and previous experiences have on decision making, unlearning addresses a crucial difference between knowing and understanding—and allows for a deeper level of learning, by both teacher and student. Panelists consisted of Peter Hutton (Head of School, Beaver), Chris Dede (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Jayne Everson (Upper School Math, Beaver) and Marga Biller (Project Director, Harvard Learning Innovations Laboratory). In this EdTech Digest roundtable interview, these four educators share their thoughts.

What is ‘unlearning’?

CREDIT Chris Deded img unlearning.pngChris Dede: Professional development for transformative change is very challenging because participants not only must learn new skills, but also must “unlearn” almost unconscious beliefs, assumptions, practices, and values about the nature of teaching, learning, and schooling. For example, teachers typically assume that their primary role is to provide students with knowledge via presentation, that when asked a question they should provide an answer, and that students who score high on multiple choice tests have mastered the material. All of these assumptions are questionable in preparing students for life in a global, knowledge-based, innovation-centered civilization. 


UNLEARNING. Professional development for transformative change is very challenging because participants not only must learn new skills, but also must “unlearn” almost unconscious beliefs, assumptions, practices, and values about the nature of teaching, learning, and schooling.


Marga Biller: Unlearning is learning to think, behave, or perceive differently, when there are already beliefs, behaviors, or assumptions in place (that get in the way), at either the individual or the organizational level. It becomes important when individuals, groups, and whole organizations have to find ways to effectively support change, overwrite old habits, surface and supplant entrenched ways of thinking, and develop new ways of working together.

What are the challenges associated with unlearning? 

Chris: How important is emotional and social support for unlearning? In losing weight (which also involves changing deeply rooted behaviors), affective reinforcement is extremely important – and purely cognitive supports often fail. In effective tutoring, about half the prompts a mentor provides are encouragement rather than intellectual advice. For students being asked to tackle a new type of activity, self-efficacy and tenacity are vital attitudes, and these are built in part through emotional and social interventions. Parallel to these examples of comparable situations, substantial affective/communal support is vital to the success of professional development that requires unlearning.

CREDIT Marga Biller unlearn.pngMarga: We tackle unlearning in three contexts: mindsets, habits, and systems. Changing mindsets involves altering conceptions or mental models. Resistance to changing mindsets emerges as defensive patterns fortifying self-interest, personal identities, traditions, and long-standing assumptions. Changing habits involves shifting individual or group behaviors, once people have “signed on” to any new concepts involved. Resistance to changing habits arises in part from old cues in the environment that retrigger old behaviors, and is reinforced by stress and time pressure. Sometimes even with alterations in mindset and habit, not much really changes, because the larger system discourages the new ways of thinking and acting. Resistance to change arises in systems through policies, routines, organizational structures, and even shared values and identities that interlock to block unlearning and change.

How do students and teachers benefit from unlearning?

CREDIT Peter Hutton img unlearning.pngPeter Hutton: Students benefit from unlearning by developing a flexibility in mindset that’s critical in today’s world. This type of creative thinking is crucial to finding the best and most efficient solutions to the constantly changing world. Many industries are constantly trying to adapt to today’s changing world and developing an adaptive mindset will help students better transition into the real world after graduation. Standardized tests teach that there’s only one right answer, but in the real world, there is not only more than one right answer – there are also different ways of getting to that answer. With unlearning, students are encouraged to make mistakes because that’s part of the process of problem solving. If you got it right on the first try, then you probably didn’t get it right.

Jayne Everson: My identity as a teacher has transitioned. It is not good for me to be the expert all the time. I want students to realize they can figure out a solution to any question they have. Since the work is often emergent, meaning student curiosity is a driving force behind how we will cover a topic, I am often not sure where the line of inquiry will lead.  This means that I am always learning. It is a joyful experience. At first, it felt a little weird to not know all the answers to the questions students were asking. Now, I am much more comfortable not knowing an answer. I do know that we will work together to figure out a way to answer it. Students walk away with strategies and the ability to create and pursue their own knowledge. They are empowered and they walk away as creative problem solvers.

How can an educator prepare himself or herself to help their students understand and overcome an unlearning challenge?

Peter: It’s hard to lay out a simple road map to overcoming and understanding an unlearning challenge because there is no one way of doing it. Teachers will have a flexible and open-ended approach to their lessons. In their classes, kids will learn concepts by being asked to solve real world problems. Unlearning isn’t about the subject itself, it is about the certain skills being exercised in each class to help students be successful beyond college.

CREDIT Jayne Everson unlearning.jpgJayne: The role of identity in this process cannot be underexamined. We are in a culture where teachers are established as the authority figure, the disciplinarian, the leader, the content expert, and the grader in the classroom. These roles or identities are often incongruous with the identities required for successful unlearning.  I’ve found it useful to consciously examine which roles I’m playing when. I’ve found success in establishing an environment where students are self-regulating and leading the discussions, the explorations, and the content conclusions. Giving up control feels really scary—but the rewards are well worth it.

Are their any educational or business institutions that are currently using unlearning to tackle problems in unique new ways?

Peter: Unlearning is a tactic not only used in schools but also in workplaces. One of the primary resources Beaver Country Day School uses is the Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — particularly research by senior project manager Marga Biller. She has studied the use of unlearning in schools and in the private sector. Unlearning is about being a creative-thinker and finding new, innovative solutions to existing problems. Those are skills that any business could use right now at a time when many industries are rapidly changing.

Marga: Many change efforts in organizations fail because they focus on selling the new way without providing opportunities to unlearn. When a large company started to rely more and more on technology to drive its business analytics, it had to change the way IT thought about their role and provided services. These individuals had to think about how to drive strategy rather than respond to requests from users. This meant unlearning a habit that was entrenched deeply in the organization.

If the state of education is to truly change and favor the student, public schools need to be allowed the freedom to design curriculum that addresses the essential skills needed for the twenty-first century and design nuanced metrics to measure student success in those skills.

How does the concept and implementation of unlearning fit in with Beaver’s overall mission?

Peter: Beaver Country Day School has always been an innovator when it comes to education. Whether it’s leading the way in integrating coding into its core curriculum or implementing the New Basics to further emphasize collaboration and creative problem solving, Beaver is known for thinking outside the box. Our emphasis on unlearning is a continuation of our goal to prepare our students for life after Beaver. By understanding the effect old habits and previous experiences have on our decision making, unlearning addresses the crucial difference between knowing and understanding, allowing for a deeper level of learning.CREDIT Beaver Country Day School.png

What other educational methods / curriculum has Beaver used to prepare their students for the real world? 

Peter: Through our multidimensional approach to teaching, Beaver empowers students to succeed in today’s constantly-changing world. We offer a number of different educational methods and curriculum to ensure our students graduate ready to face any challenge the real world might throw at them. In addition to unlearning, Beaver employs a coded curriculum across all subjects to ensure all students have a firm understanding of coding upon graduation, a skill that is becoming increasingly important in the professional world. Beaver also sends 20 students each term to their off-site partner school, NuVu Studio. A full time innovation studio, NuVu Studio gives high school students the unique opportunity to spend a full trimester working with design, computer science, artists and engineering experts to solve real-world challenges in a collaborative, hands-on environment.

What are your thoughts on the state of education these days?

Peter: The U.S. and Massachusetts public schools, and even charter and independent schools, continue to focus on poorly designed high stakes tests. That includes the SAT and AP tests. If the state of education is to truly change and favor the student, public schools need to be allowed the freedom to design curriculum that addresses the essential skills needed for the twenty-first century and design nuanced metrics to measure student success in those skills. Education in the United States needs to  recognize the importance of essential (21st century) skills and redesign curriculum and assessments to reflect that emphasis. Independent schools, like Beaver, have not just the opportunity, but the responsibility to lead the way.  Sadly, not enough schools are embracing that responsibility.

The goal of teaching students to code and the goal of using technology is to help students become the most empowered problem solvers who can think flexibly and critically examine the world around them.

Jayne: I’m very hopeful that we are about to turn a corner in education. I believe that the goal of education is to help students become the best people. As a country we’ve become heavily dependent on metrics. Sometimes these metrics hide the truth and the messiness of real learning and of real people. All learning is not measurable through a test. I’m hopeful that we’ll work through this soon.

What are your thoughts on technology’s role in education?

Peter: Technology should play a large role in a student’s education. At Beaver, our focus is to graduate tech savvy students who are prepared to face any challenge the real world gives them, and there is no denying that technology is an ever growing component and necessity in the professional world. Whether it’s becoming the first school in the U.S. to implement computer programming into its core curriculum or integrating the latest learning technologies into the classroom, we are committed at Beaver to embrace new technologies that spur the type of creative problem solving that is necessary for post graduation success.

Jayne: Technology is an essential tool in our world. If students are not taught to use tools well, [those tools] are wasted. The point of teaching students to code or to use technology is not produce more employees for the STEM workforce (though that may very well be a byproduct). The goal of teaching students to code and the goal of using technology is to help students become the most empowered problem solvers who can think flexibly and critically examine the world around them.

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

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