All week, teachers have been coming by, asking questions, trying new things and celebrating their successes in the classrooms. There were a lot of them that made me very happy, but one of the most incredible was that a teacher of a very special group of students with a host of challenges to being successful in school came to me and shared that his students were all bringing their laptops, that they were all doing their work. He was ecstatic and wanted to know how he could do even more! What made this even more special to me was that this particular teacher has had struggles with tech during the first two weeks – lots of learned lessons, like if you don’t check the box to collect the username on forms or put in a question for their names, you have answers with no names AND no handwriting to help you sort it out. Yet, he didn’t give up or throw in the towel or revert to what was easy and what he’s always done.
So what is making the difference? After lots of conversation with teachers, folks at other schools making these shifts and lots of thinking time… I think I have a theory.
We have been preparing for this – not overtly for FCPSon, but in our culture and the work we’ve been doing for the last few years. Some of the things we’ve implemented are
- Google Certification support – teachers last year were given the opportunity to earn their Google Certified Educator status. This meant that by the start of this year I had about 30 folks in the building who were certified and are resources for their colleagues. I’ve put badges outside their doors and we’ve celebrated with them! We plan to continue to support teachers who take on this professional learning on their own again this year.
- Learning Walks – the English department started this last year, at first, they visited within their department. Then they visited their colleagues in other departments. The emphasis was on what we can learn from each other, across departments.
- Relationship building – for the last two years our focus has been on relationships. We’ve been working building relationships teacher to teacher, teacher to family, teacher to student and helping students build relationships with each other.
- Encouraging innovation and recognizing the work – our administration has been encouraging teachers to try new things, evaluate and reflect on it and share with their colleagues. For the last couple of years we had pockets of great things happening and these teachers have been sharing by leading professional learning opportunities on our staff development days.
- Tech coaching – over the last year we set up structures to encourage teachers to plan and work together individually or in small groups. I saw the number of teachers I was working with regularly increase drastically. One of the struggles with one tech coach (SBTS in our district) and 300 staff members is spreading yourself too thin and not doing enough with any of the teachers.
The leadership of our principal and our admin team have set a culture where it’s safe to take a calculated risk and try something new while feeling supported and assisted. We shared the video below during our culture conversations in our opening professional learning sessions – with the message that change is hard. We are undoing something that our brain has known how to do one way for many years. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. I think this has helped to remove some of the fear of failing that is only natural when we are changing so much.
Finally we have shared the messaging we learned from our colleagues in Baltimore County Public Schools. SEVERAL times, teachers have quoted this back to me as they are struggling with something new. They remind me that they are growing! I love this mindset with our faculty.
I know many districts aren’t able to go 1:1 financially. Even in our district, we have many schools that are not yet making this leap. Redesigning student learning by starting these culture changes is something that schools can do even before they have the tools in hand. It’s a great place to get started…growth started before we were chosen as a pilot school for our district’s 1:1 program. It’s really taken off and is growing exponentially since then!