Technology Enabled Learning
Over my 25 year career with the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS), much has changed. Our school system has doubled in size to nearly 16,000 students. We now welcome students from 114 different countries, support 119 native languages and provide free and reduced meals to 61 percent of our student population. But, I dare say, nothing has evolved more than technology in the classroom. When I began my career as an elementary school teacher, my school was one of the first four in the Division to be connected to the Internet. Each teacher was provided a desktop computer and a laptop but technology was not yet a part of the conversation and certainly not as holistically from Kindergarten to graduation as it is today.
Thankfully the ubiquitous nature of technology did not happen overnight which is why our ACPS’s Technology Plan has progressed through the years
As most teachers know, a classroom is truly a two-way street for learning. As we began to see small-scale technology integration, it was these moments that allowed me to glimpse the possibilities and see the opportunity technology could unlock. M y p assion f or t his w as i gnited w hen I w as a graduate student working with fourth graders to develop autobiographies. I gave my students the opportunity to use multimedia software, MicroWorlds, to publish their work. It was amazing to see how the non-textual tools of multimedia enabled students to incorporate their own cultural, social or personal relevance in their work. This platform had created a level playing field and opened up a creative channel we had not otherwise tapped into.
When I moved out of the classroom and into positions that supported teachers’ use of technology, I decided to pursue my PhD and ultimately completed my dissertation on teachers’ use of technology for their own professional learning. I am so thankful for the support I have received throughout my career but certainly in my early years, when I had many supportive mentors and superintendents who provided me opportunities to follow my passion and trusted me to help our school division chart the u nknown d igital w aters. I h ave been willing to play the long-game. I realize revolutionizing a school system would not happen overnight but when I became CTO, I made it my mission to deliver this full potential to our students.
As I look back at the Division’s successes—from providing high school students laptops with home dial-up access in 2003 to providing one-to-one Chromebook access to every student from 3rd to 12th or ensuring our technology department is a trusted and available resource for anyone who needs support (student, teacher or administrator) - I recognize three principle concepts have truly mattered and have helped ensure my success.
First, relationships matter. I started this journey because of my love and passion for the students. Today, they are critical consumers with incredibly tech savvy preferences. My relationship with our students, especially through our internship program and student-supported helpdesk, has helped inform our roadmap and has provided me with feedback and an “on-the-ground” perspective. Ultimately, it is our students who become o ur a mbassadors. I h ave also worked closely to develop a trusted partnership with our staff. Our teacher focus groups are another valuable tool in our growth evolution. I want our teachers to be able to focus on their students and trust my team will be there to support their tech challenges and dreams. I have also worked to develop strong relationships with our parents. As technology evolves, having parent advisory committees, pilot groups and technical support has been critical to my success and the success of our programs.
As a CTO, I know relationships build trust and that trust leads to patience when the unanticipated occurs. As anyone in the tech sector will tell you, in the world of change, we expect the unexpected!
Secondly, plans matter. Thankfully the ubiquitous nature of technology did not happen overnight which is why our ACPS’s Technology Plan has progressed through the years. Our first Technology Plan was written for the purpose of meeting a state requirement. It seemed like a necessity for compliance rather than an authentic guide to our work. However, over the years, we have approached our planning as the foundation for our work. I believe our current Technology Plan not only communicates our goals but inspires us and provides an opportunity to communicate with our community and highlight the work we do in the classroom. While I am extremely proud of our current plan, I believe it is a work that will constantly grow and evolve. But, having a plan that my team and I believe in and can clearly articulate, has kept our work aligned and has allowed us to align all of our work with the mission of our Division.
Finally, reflection m atters. Working in technology means that no year is the same. There are constant challenges with new tools, policies and security each year. Reflecting on what went well is as important as identifying the problems. This allows staff opportunities for celebration, recognition and revitalization. We all need staff that feels ready to block and tackle both the expected and unexpected on the horizon.
I’m grateful to have a career I love in a school division that has provided me opportunities to professionally grow, take risks, and witness innovations in teaching and learning. I believe that relationships, planning and reflection are tenants of good teaching and also essential for successful CTOs.