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Creating a Culture of Innovation

Sprout_Lightbulb.jpgI work with 29 schools with over 1,000 educators and 17,000 students. As such, there is an incredible variance in our teachers' comfort level and experience with digital learning tools. Additionally, it makes it quite difficult to get to every building and meet individually with each teacher. So how do we support teacher growth and thus student growth when it comes to technology? How do we create and sustain a culture of innovation? While there isn't a single answer to any of these questions, here are six strategies I've found successful so far.

Start with a Problem of Practice

Teachers have much more than can fit on one plate... and oftentimes adding a cart of 1:1 devices to that load can be the tipping point. However, there are a myriad of issues - or problems of practice - that we all wish could magically go away. Too many students in a classroom, too little time to teach a subject, not enough supplies or resources... and many of these issues can be alleviated with digital strategies. For example, too many students usually equates to difficulty differentiating. Flipping your classroom during classtime and creating individualized screencasts or tutorials for students can "clone the teacher" and effectively bring down the student:teacher ratio. As such, the problem of too many students isn't solved, but the issue is reduced. Once we show teachers that technology can actually clear your plate rather than add to it, they are usually much more receptive to trying new things.

An IEP for Teachers (IIP)

After identifying problems of practice, we use these to to create concrete goals. Then we chunk them out over the course of the next few months, pacing ourselves so as not to do too much too quickly. Thus, instead of an Individual Education Plan as one would for a student, we create an Individual Innovation Plan. I create these action plans with our new 1:1 teachers before they really dig into the devices. Of course, the plan can change as they learn more about the tools, themselves and their students, but it's a great way to scaffold learning and set goals along the way.

Find the bright spots

Throughout our rollouts, we try to find the bright spots. This could be a classroom that's truly rocking and transforming teaching and learning, or a specific lesson, moment or success. Then we do two things. First, we ask that teacher to share with his or her colleagues - via classroom walkthroughs, share outs during professional meetings or a school blog. Second, we examine these spots and try to figure out what happened situationally and motivationally to allow this to happen. Is it just a gung-ho teacher? Was it the support? Was it the specific lesson or content? Our goal is to find a way to recreate this situation and motivation to allow more teachers to experience this success.

Continuous Support

A PD workshop or training at the beginning of the roll out isn't enough. Teachers also need ongoing coaching, troubleshooting and support. When I first got my 1:1 iPad cart, I had monthly support from experts, both in trainings and "house calls" where someone came to my classroom. This was invaluable as it not only kept me on track with my goals but also allowed me a place to ask for help when frustrated. Likewise, we provide ongoing support for teachers - checking in on their IIP/action plans and offering afterschool and weekend workshops for more growth opportunities.

Virtual Professional Learning Communities

However, having one person coming in to coach also isn't enough. Creating a professional learning community (PLC) around tech use is also key. While afterschool programs, grade level meetings and day-to-day duties of a classroom teacher often prevent regular face-to-face meetings, we leverage online spaces to make these PLCs. One example is using Google Groups to create an email listserv where teachers can email questions, ideas, or challenges to all of their 1:1 colleagues. Another successful space has been using a shared blog to journal the experience. In one school we made it mandatory for teachers to blog once a week about their practice. It could be as short as a link to student work, or a useful article or as long as a full explanation of a lesson, how it was planned and its outcome. Enabling comments on this blog added another layer as teachers asked questions, pushed each other's practice and rallied to support struggling colleagues. No matter the platform used, creating and nurturing this collaborative space is a vital piece of our EdTech implementation.

Remember to ask "Why Tech?"

When using technology, no matter the situtation or your role, it is important to be asking yourself why. Why use this tool? Why use it this way? Why at this time? Understand that not all things can be solved with tech and don't try to push a square block into a round hole - instead try to look at the puzzle from all angles and see how combining several simple tools might lead to greater ultimate transformation of the practice. If the use of technology doesn't truly improve the task or routine, then don't use it. Dr. Ruben Puentedura's SAMR model is a great resource that we use daily to remember that we aren't just trying to substitute old tools for new ones... but rather aiming to redefine our practice to redefine student learning for the better.

[Image credit: http://www.sproutecourse.org/]

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