Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I like making people mad.

"You pissed me off last night."

"Why is that?"

"Because I actually went home and tried Twitter."

Right now, as the Principal at my school, I spend a great deal of thinking about the use of technology and web tools in education.  I have a great support mechanism in my outstanding School Improvement Leader, Blake Buemann.  At least three or four times a week, we bounce ideas off each other around web tools, applying them to our school, devising methods to demonstrate them to our staff, and finding ways to have these tools help us engage kids or involve parents.  Really and truly, it often devolves into us shaking our heads at the amazing and limitless tools that are available and ways that they can be applied to the classroom.

Tonight I read an outstanding Blog Post on Connected Principals by Eric Juli called "I'm No Good at Technology", and it made me think about how we are trying to implement technology and the use of Web Tools at South Kamloops Secondary.  We have moved a long way in the past few months, and I think it is boiling down to a couple of elements--role modeling and persistence.

Five years ago when I came to South Kam, the technology that was available to our teachers was sorely lacking.  We had antiquated computer labs populated by throwback "Computers for Schools" donated from local businesses who no longer wanted them.  We had no common email system, and most teachers did not use email at school.  Some teachers had electronic grading programs, others used pencil and paper and then entered them into our student management system.  That was just five years ago.  And it made me mad.

So every time there was a pilot project around technology in our district, I volunteered our school.  Thin client, linux-based computers with open source software?  Count us in.  Wouldn't mind a school piloting Zimbra (open source email), how about South Kam.  Thinking about wireless in the district, sign us up, we'll pilot it.  Want to set up a learning lab in the library, my librarian is all over it.  We are now completely wireless at our school, with a fiber backbone and separate ports for our staff, for our students, and for the public.  We are linux-based, and run on open source software, including our central email system.  We have 42 digital projectors in our school.  We have a learning lab with Smart Technology in it, and a couple of classrooms that have Smartboards as well.  And we will get more.  Our PAC is right on board with us.  We have been persistent.

But getting technology into the building is just the start, isn't it?  I have heard of schools and districts that "buy all of their kids laptops" or "get all of their teachers tablets or iPads".  My question always is, "Why?".  Just getting people technology does not help people use technology to improve instruction or engage students.  It needs to be role-modeled. 

After going to the 21st Century Learning Conference in Chicago in October, my School Improvement Leader and I decided to go for it.  We got Twitter Accounts. We downloaded Tweetdeck.  We began working in Google Docs.  Diigo toolbars adorned our browsers. We converted our school improvement plan from paper to web using Blogger, and so was born our School Improvement Plan Blog.  We began planning every staff meeting with the idea of engaging our staff with strategies that they could use in their classrooms to engage kids, and not just with technology  At our staff meeting in November, I spent a large portion of the meeting showing examples of the power of social media.  In December,we had our entire high school staff work on a blog, and collaborate on a school improvement topic using Google Docs.  We developed a communications protocol for our community using Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, Tumblr, and other tools. At our staff meeting last night, I gave a demonstration of Tweetdeck, and how it can be an unbelievable stream of resources for teachers.  And I was lucky enough to be asked to do a Webcast describing our school improvement blog last night for Parents as Partners.  We are role modeling.  We are being persistent.  And it is making a difference. 

We have a number of our staff members using blogs for their courses, and putting their courses on Moodle.  We have our math teachers using tablets so they can upload lessons to the internet. My Foods teacher asked if I knew any hashtags for Home Economics.  I found our art teacher signing up for a tumblr account during lunch.  And the engagement that we have had around our school improvement plan has been unbelievable--staff, students and parents are in!

But best of all, one of my most veteran teachers came into my office this morning after the staff meeting last night and said:

"You pissed me off last night."

"Why is that?", I asked.

"Because I actually went home and tried Twitter."

Role-modeling and persistence.  They are making difference.


Cool.

3 comments:

  1. I heard it again today from a very good teacher in front of a room full of administrators and excellent teachers - "I don't do technology".

    If you work with digital natives, which we all do, you ned to at least make an effort to understand their culture and use their tools.

    Good for you Cale, for pushing the envelope and maintaining high expectations of the "adult learners" in your building. I'm trying to keep up. First up - staff meetings though Google docs.

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