First breathe. If I can give any school one piece of advice when thinking of implementing a 1:1 program or any 21st century shift that integrates technology the advice would be to just breath. Whether you are looking to integrate online learning, iPads or web 2.0 tool, just breathe. Too many Jewish day schools around the country are frantically trying to “keep up” with what they think is the current model of education without spending enough time, or any time for that matter, doing their research, creating a vision for a critical and long-term plan and designing an implementation process that meets the needs of their staff while taking into consideration the current culture of their institution.
Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I am a jump into the deep end of the pool and see if I can swim type. However, I do not recommend that for an entire staff. And I will let you in on a little secret. I know that I can swim, even if it is unchartered waters. If I didn’t I would be scared to get out of the kiddy pool and would not consider it without a life vest, floaties and a lifeguard or two on duty. So, before you throw your entire staff into the deep end of 21st century learning, why not teach them to swim first? This may take some time that you think you do not have, but I assure you it will take you much longer if you move forward without a thought out plan that is personalized for your teachers, students, parents and community.
The schools that don’t take the time to vision out and plan this transition, but implement relatively blindly often look amazing on the surface. The videos and the pictures on their website look like every class has integrated 21st century skills, educational technology and innovative methods of teaching and learning that would ensure each student is bound for greatness. However, the video resembles the truth like Michael Moore documentaries present the facts.
The question every school must ask themselves is whether they are trying to implement 21st century learning because it is what is best for the teaching and learning of their students or because it looks good at open house presentations. If it is about teaching and learning then there is a process that you must embark on that requires planning, implementation, evaluation and constant improvement that conservatively could take three years to get you to a point of confidence.
I get the privilege, although not as often as I would like, to visit schools. I am either visiting at the request of the school or I strategically choose a school to learn from. At the start of this school year, I was invited to sit in on a professional development day at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles. This was a welcome invitation as I very much wanted to see how they, and other schools, are implementing iPads into their classrooms and professional development is a critical component of the process. The program was run very smoothly, was clearly strategically planned (i.e. a specific set of apps were taught) and the interactive learning that occurred was palpable. However, I was not really there to learn about educational apps, I was there to see how much planning has gone into their decision to go 1:1.
When I attended this day Shalhevet was at the starting point of a three year plan to implement a 1:1 iPad program. While Shalhevet is not alone in being educationally responsible in this process, too many schools over the last couple of years have chosen to go 1:1 and the next day deliver 500 ipads into the hands of every teacher and student. Shalhevet is not one of these schools. They chose to breathe.
They thoughtfully planned the next three years together with teachers, administrators as well as lay leaders. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Shalhevet’s Jason Ablin, Director of Professional and Faculty Development as well as Yossie Frankel, Director – Consortium for Academic and Informational Technologies, who were responsible for this day of learning as well as the process on which they have embarked. They gave me great detail and insight into the reasons and thoughtfulness placed on how they are moving forward and it was clear to me that teaching and learning was leading their decisions. According to them, and me for that matter, the technology is and will always be a tool to advance teaching and learning and that is what has framed their plan. Of course, innovation and growth does not occur in a vacuum and much credit should be given to the visionary leadership of their head of school, Rabbi Ari Segal, as well as all of their amazing administration and faculty with whom I was highly impressed with. Their positive approach, willingness and enthusiasm to adopt these new tools and skills was the type of teaching staff needed for smooth adoption.
The first year they strategically decided would be dedicated to professional development, with only the teachers having the iPad to use in the classroom. In year two, the students will be given iPads and by then the teachers will be experts in the educational use of the tool ensuring ease of integration into the lessons. Professional development will continue, evaluation of implementation will be ongoing and changes made to meet the needs of the students will follow so that by year three iPad integration can run as smoothly as technologically able. Of course, the school will constantly reflect and evaluate and, like with every great plan, make necessary changes to it when appropriate.
Now what I described above is truly a summary of their plan. A plan, like theirs, is detailed, has many steps and requires much thought and planning. Yes, the plan requires planning. It requires research, organizing the right people and preparation before you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard (or stylus to touch pad….). Sounds daunting? Just breath. Below I have provided you will a sample checklist and additional resources for a potential 1:1 iPad teaching and learning initiative as well as some sample plans to start your own planning to begin your journey to being a 21st century school.
While it can be done sooner, if you are commitment to supporting the necessary shift, you should plan for roughly a three year journey. You will see the fruits of your plan within the first year and continued growth throughout. However, make sure you take the time to do it right the first time around and always be driven by teaching and learning. The school across the street might already have students with iPads in every class, but if you look closely you might find that all they are doing is playing angry birds because the teachers and students were never trained and supported on how to use it as an educational tool.
Enjoy the journey!
Examples of 21st Century Learning planning documents:
Document I put together on a 1:1 implementation process with additional resources: