Simply signing the Future Ready pledge doesn’t mean you’ve become a paragon of digital learning. It does mean that you have committed to this direction. That was the message Richard Culatta, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology, delivered during a session at ISTE 2015.
Culatta and others took the podium to discuss the Obama Administration’s Future Ready program, aimed at getting districts to recognize the importance of building human capacity along with digital connectivity within schools and districts to transform teaching and learning.
District leaders who take the pledge agree to move toward a shared vision of preparing students for success in college, careers and citizenship. So far, 2,000 superintendents have signed on.
In a nutshell, the program’s goal is to help schools and districts develop human capacity, digital materials and access to devices while establishing a framework for achieving those goals. Culatta’s office is providing implementation guidance, online resources and other support district leaders need to transition to effective digital learning and result in tangible outcomes for the students they serve.
In fact, the administration is so committed to this goal that teachers cannot attend its regional summits unless accompanied by their superintendent. And no, you can’t substitute the director of technology, Culatta told the audience.
“The superintendent’s head needs to be in the game,” he says. He holds the line because one-on-one discussions with teachers have a common theme: If you want to help us, get our leaders to support us.
And that’s just one of the ways Future Ready officials and other industry leaders are trying to keep districts on track. Here are six questions to ask yourself to avoid detours:
1. Do you have shared vision?
“This is not about Chromebooks and iPads. Culture will eat initiative for lunch every day of the week,” points out Tom Murray, the state and district digital learning policy and advocacy director at the Alliance for Excellent Education. “So we concentrate on culture and leadership, and once that’s in place, everything else can happen. Without that, they don’t happen well.” Make sure your commitment to digital learning is backed up with training.
2. Are you distracted by shiny things?
As the senior director at Common Sense Education, Jeff Mao knows how easy it is for a district to focus on the device rather than the learning goals. A charismatic leader, a respected teacher or an enthusiastic parent gets behind a product, and suddenly the bells and whistles are what everyone is talking about. Mao’s advice? “Ignore them.”
3. Is lack of money halting you in your tracks?
The financial pie isn’t going to get larger, says Katrina Stevens, a senior adviser in the Office of Educational Technology. That is why Future Ready is committed to helping districts rethink their budgets. She recommends looking for ways to save money to pay for digital projects, such as limiting printing, installing solar panels to sell electricity back to the grid and reducing warehouse space that is no longer needed in a digital environment.
4. Are you tire-kicking new technology?
Karen Cator, president and CEO of Digital Promise and former director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology, advises district leaders to ask if products are based on sound research, offer privacy safeguards and have a planned improvement cycle.
5. Are you differentiating teacher training?
Like our students, adult educators learn in different ways, but too often districts offer a one-size-fits-all approach. Some teachers can’t hear what you’re saying until someone sits down with them to learn the software, while others need the pedagogy without wasting time on instructions. Bottom line: Offer a variety of ways to learn the tools.
6. How’s your message?
If your constituents are resisting your digital initiatives because “it wasn’t that way when we were in school,” you aren’t effectively using storytelling to conveying the good, the challenges and the lessons so people can participate in your journey.
Engagement begins when educators show the glass half full without resorting to Pollyanna presentations. One great measure Cator offers: Can everyone in your sphere — teachers, students, staff, parents, business owners — restate your mission on Twitter? If not, make that a goal.
Need a little help getting started on your digital journey? ISTE’s Lead & Transform Diagnostic Tool will show you where you are and offer resources to get your school or district on track.