David Schuler, superintendent of Township High School District 214 in Illinois and the 2018 Superintendent of the Year, joined Chris Gaines, Mehlville (Mo.) School District superintendent and president of the School Superintendents Association, in a discussion on how best to drive digital transformation in schools, hosted by edWeb and the Consortium for School Networking.
Schuler and Gaines shared five imperatives for technology leadership in K–12 schools in the first installment of CoSN’s webinar series, “The Empowered Superintendent,” which seeks to guide district leaders and encourage teachers, students and parents to embrace and support new technology initiatives.
1. Communicate Clear Intentions Behind Technology Integrations
School leaders need to explain clearly to staff, teachers, parents and students why the technology they are adopting is important and how it is going to improve learning.
Once everyone is on board, school leaders can work to mitigate any fears teachers may have about integrating new technology or changing traditional teaching practices, said Schuler.
2. Create Compelling Learning Environments
Modern K–12 pedagogies demand a learning environment that fits students’ needs, starting by breaking away from the rows of desks typically found in most classrooms.
When designing these environments, superintendents should start by envisioning how students may want to use their classrooms. After mapping out how these spaces will be used, leaders can incorporate technology, organize seating and restructure classes accordingly.
After adding functional, technology-enabled learning environments, District 214 saw “higher attendance, lower discipline and much more engagement,” Schuler said. Student achievement scores in the district have increased as well.
3. Make Professional Development a Priority
Technology adoption does not end when tools are installed — it must be an ongoing priority. Creating dedicated time for professional development is essential, said Schuler.
“We have 45 minutes every Thursday morning for sacred, professional learning community time,” he said.
District 214 has also moved to a later start time, giving teachers an additional 45 minutes every morning to work on PD.
“Our teachers will tell you that is the best thing we ever did,” Schuler said. “Their opportunity to work together has been really, really powerful.”
4. Raise the Bar with Innovative Learning and Skills
Gaines and Schuler explained the importance of leveraging technology to support real-world applications to contextualize lessons in the classroom.
Gaines described how Mehlville School District students use robotics to solve problems. Through cross-curricular programs, they also use technology to collaborate in building, marketing and selling original creations. For example, one class created a medical device, then worked on bookkeeping and sales with the school’s business and marketing departments.
“We can use technology and move from consumers of education to creators,” said Gaines. “Let teachers take risks and let them work together, bring those classes together and work on those projects. The more relevant our learning is for the kids, I think they are just going to soak it up and love it.”
5. Create Balanced Academic Assessments
Superintendents need to give teachers permission to do more than teach for a test, said Schuler.
“While a score on a standardized test can provide some access for students from a post-secondary perspective, it cannot be the only thing that defines a school and a school district,” said Schuler.
Schuler and Gaines agreed that assessments need to reflect where students are and where they are going.
“I would argue that balanced assessments come down to preparing our kids for what comes next,” said Schuler. “Think about the fact that every kid that is going to a two- or four-year college, a whole lot of them are taking an online class.”
For superintendents and IT leaders seeking advice and guidance to support digital transformation, Schuler said CoSN's Empowered Superintendent Toolkit is a great place to start.