Is it too much or too little when it comes to school initiatives?

Educating students is a challenging experience in and of itself, so are we hampering the success of our schools by lumping too much on their plates or are we holding them back by not providing enough support?

If you are outside the educational field, it is still possible that you are familiar with the alphabet soup of initiatives and acronyms that surround and influence the daily lives of teachers and students.

While each of these concepts and initiatives has value individually, I recently reflected on the collective impact of compounded initiatives on the educational experience I am involved with and wanted to share what I unearthed when looking at different initiatives.

General Overview

The short answer to the question of, “do more initiatives impact my teaching” is a clear yes. The way in which they affect my teaching is a bit more of a convoluted response.

The general idea that initiatives move a school forward is effective only in concept. The ability of a new initiative should be tied to a goal which is inherently linked to the identity and mission of the school. It is through this connection that a new movement can anchor itself and remain relevant to all constituents, even as new ideas emerge.

It is through this linking process that I have found some objectives, such as Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) to be a strong addition to the school (and most schools’) experience, as it focuses on the health and wellbeing of our students, which should be present in all school missions.

On the contrary, some technology initiatives are sure to fall flat if they are not thoughtfully implemented in conjunction with a specific set of objectives. Technology for technologies’ sake is never a motto that will yield a positive experience for students and teachers, especially not learning outcomes.

The examples above take a rough view of just two initiatives, but in the following sections, I will shed light on how a few initiatives impacted the learning experience in my classroom.

This is just TOO MUCH!

I love technology. It is something I use in my daily life and also for the purpose of effective teaching. However, even with 1:1 device initiatives being close to two decades in the making; often they do little to affect learning, mostly due to the infrastructure and logistics of their implementation.

In my career, I have been affiliated with two separate technology initiatives that sought to bring technology to the forefront of learning and teaching. Each of these endeavors took on different forms in deployment, scale, support, and goals. Regardless of the differences between the two, the ultimate catch to their success was the willingness of teachers to get on board and the lack of PD to support all teachers, willing or skeptical.

Technology is a tool that allows teacher and students to overcome a logistical barrier that is holding back more effective learning. Often these initiatives are TOO MUCH as they focus on the technology, not how the technology can help students reach learning goals.

It is not that the concept of adding devices to classrooms is overall unproductive, but if there is not an established need for them to be present, they merely become a logistical hurdle.

The best way to move technology integration from the TOO MUCH category is to wait until the need arises and then be very thoughtful in which devices are purchased and how they are used, with the focus being to address the established need or learning target.

With this approach, you will have…

  • Teachers invested as they will see the value in how the devices will improve teaching and learning
  • Students taught how to specifically use the devices for learning, rather than presumed play.
  • Administration focused on providing feedback to assist with the fidelity of the implementation of the strategies and devices.

** Something to consider *** is that technology can sometimes swing too far and end up in the too little category. This can either happen after an initiative is introduced and left without PD or support, but also if the technology is not used when it would be most appropriate. Frankly, technology integration is a very difficult process, but when done well can have fantastic results for student empowerment, remediation, enrichment, and support.

This is just TOO LITTLE

When considering initiatives that fall into the “too little” category, I felt that many more would be appropriate here than in the “too much.” The reason I believe this is because it is very easy to start an initiative, but hard to actually implement it with purpose and intent to completion or success as this takes time, energy, feedback, and revision.

As mentioned above, there are many initiatives that I feel don’t get the support they need. Three I would like to focus on would be Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), Student Reflection in the form of portfolio creation, and digital citizenship.

Social and Emotional Learning has become a very in vogue title, but the main ideas are associated with developing social skills and emotional awareness. These elements are auxiliary to core academic content but are equally as important in the education of a well-rounded child. SEL initiatives, just like technology initiatives need to be thoughtfully implemented and properly supported for them to be effective. More often than not, these initiatives are not given the appropriate time and space to be appropriately integrated as academics monopolize the available time. Frankly, if the social and emotional well being of students is something that is deemed important and vital for student success, there must proper professional development, implementation accountability, and follow through in its application if success is to be found and students behaviors to be positively impacted.

Student Reflection was an identified goal of my former school and this is something I was very on board with supporting and facilitating. The main way we encouraged students to reflect was by utilizing a digital portfolio model that would help students reflect on valuable learning experiences and document their thoughts in a way that could be shared and celebrated. While we did not get the process exactly right, I felt our heart was in the right place and with a bit more care and attention to the articulation of expectations and follow through with feedback and shareout, the process will have a stronger anchor into other programs implemented at the school such as experience-centered learning opportunities and comfort zone expanding lessons.

If your school is seeking to expand opportunities for reflection or a digital portfolio program, the key element that is often shortchanged is time for students to document their reflections and opportunities for the teacher (ideally student advisor) to provide feedback for revision. As students are not normally coached in this type of metacognitive behavior, multiple iterations are often required in order to get the quality of the product that is desired.

Digital Citizenship is another new and constantly evolving content area that lives on the periphery of technology initiatives in school. As more centers of learning add “bring your own device (BYOD)” programs or 1:1 device initiatives to classrooms, often the behavior element of using those devices properly are not considered when deploying the technology.

With the emergence of a more “online” learning experience for product creation and collaboration, schools have an opportunity to introduce best practices for using technology in a way that is not easily replicable by parents at home when it comes to online interactions.

For instance, when communicating on the completion of a project, schools can coach students on effective and productive ways to use technology to communicate that focuses on productivity and celebrates best practices in a more controlled environment than on the open internet.

While there are bountiful opportunities to consider how to help students think about their digital footprints and online lives, the most simple way to begin, it is best to consider digital citizenship lessons and expectations BEFORE you deploy devices to students, not after. It is necessary to take the time to set expectations in an effort to mitigate liberties students will take if boundaries are not established previously.

Where do we go from here?

The goal of this article is to shed a little light on initiatives I have been affiliated with and my opinions on how to help the initiatives anchor in such a way that they achieve the desired outcome.

It is not my intent to claim to be an expert in the implementation of these types of ideas, but as one of the people (teachers) who was expected to be the primary point of delivery, these ideas would have helped me do a better job of ensuring the success and desired outcomes.

My name is Andrew Julian and I am a teacher of science, computer science, and technology. I have a passion for considering how technology can positively impact a classroom and the education of all students.

Check out my website at andrewjohnjulian.com for more information.

Educator, Blogger, and Aspiring Developer —Visit www.andrewjohnjulian.com for more about my teaching and personal pursuits.

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