What’s Different This Time?

what's different this timeAll 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. It's ok to be where you are, it's not ok to stay there.

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!


3 thoughts on “What’s Different This Time?

  1. I love your implementation list – it clearly describes what I need to do better along with succinct ways to do it. I realize you didn’t exactly plan it that way, but see that in hindsight it made your way forward successful. It works perfectly as an outline plan for me, that will, no doubt, change as I try to implement elements of it. You are wise to reflect and share.

    Also I want to comment on the quote you shared. I agree wholeheartedly that educators – well actually everyone – needs to grow. But it seems that in this time of exponential technological growth, that mindset needs to include a rider about balance and efficiency. As you suggest in your last implementation statement about spreading yourself too thin – it is incredibly easy to lose depth when you have to learn a hundred new things in a short span. I would love to see more in our community about effective growth, reflective growth and sustainable growth, but without having to give up being able to sit back and enjoy some of our growth.

    How many website articles have you bookmarked and never read? How many pictures have you taken and never view or edited or shared. How many cool Twitter feeds have you followed but never actually read? NoVA Edchats – on my calendar but so rarely even get to lurk, much less participate. How many books do you have piled by your bedside and never picked up? (FCPS, alone, has provided me with 4 since school started that I have online or on the table and I cannot get a moment to even crack open.) Every single day I am afforded a list of Google+ notifications that are chocked full of ideas, Apps and worthwhile comments that I am always giddy to read, but hardly ever can. There’s strategic planning, community involvement, PBL, SIP, PBIS, RI, Data mining, Media Liaison, Ignite, innovate, new SIS…. we know the list is endless and I swear every single one is interesting and fun for me – I am a starving fat woman with a diner menu. Frankly, growth or willingness to grow is not a problem for most of us – teacher or SBTS. Time and priorities are the addendum I want to connect to your quote.

    Sorry Margaret, for rambling about on your awesome insights – and thank you!


    1. I think in all things – especially education and certainly not limited to edtech – we have to be able to prioritize and evaluate what is worth our time and what is not. AND knowing those that are non-negotiable and those that are is even more important to be able to prioritize. Setting a focus, a strategic goal and a theme for your school year that aligns with your school’s mission and values statements is how it works for us. We finally feel like those things are all aligning instead of being in competition. It’s like a puzzle, the four pieces we are seeing this year are FCPSon, IGNITE & POG, our HS’s values and the new teaching model. If something doesn’t align with that…it doesn’t get much of my attention.

      Thanks for making me think!!


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