As an assistant principal charged with introducing teachers to new technology, I continually ask myself how we can advance student engagement and implement strategies via technology that invoke teacher and student creativity, while maintaining the rigor and integrity of the curriculum. These concerns drive me every day in normal times, but with the rise of hybrid and remote learning, they are at once heftier and more urgent.
At the start of distance learning, I emailed the staff resources such as videos and demonstrations for particular tools; but while my intention was to offer support, the emails were largely unread by an already overwhelmed staff working on the front lines with their students. Missed opportunities were sitting in those in-boxes, and even if teachers did explore resources I shared, they often wound up feeling uncertain about how to proceed. Fresh ideas lay dormant, with little reprieve in sight.
I went back to my fundamentals and immediately knew that answers could be found among the teacher leaders right in front of me.
CONCEIVING A DIGITAL LEARNING TEAM
I decided that we needed a team that would function much like a professional learning community (PLC) and that I would call it a Digital Learning Team (DLT); the way I envisioned it, through this team, colleagues could connect to support each other, share ideas, and build student engagement.
At my high school, the DLT is composed of five innovative and tech-savvy teachers from various content areas including chemistry, Spanish, and social studies, as well as our media specialist. Each one has unique skills and experience, so they are equipped to meet the diverse needs of the student body. The DLT gets together every other week to continually assess and develop new ideas and techniques that meet the needs of our teachers and students.
STARTING WITH GROUNDING QUESTIONS AND FEEDBACK FROM TEACHERS
The DLT immediately asked critical questions to frame their work:
- How can we continue to promote authentic learning?
- How can we implement platforms/websites that teachers can use indefinitely, even after the pandemic?
- How can we use platforms as replacements for techniques that teachers used previously in in-person classrooms?
- How can we re-create formative assessments for students in the virtual classroom?
- What can we do to effectively assist teachers and directly connect with them?
Our goal was to help teachers navigate today’s circumstances and build student engagement in a way that was easy for teachers to understand. But it was quickly clear that the questions weren’t enough to guide us; we also needed feedback from teachers with detail about their needs that could keep us on track. We developed a comprehensive survey for teachers, and the data from it demonstrated that they wanted short professional development sessions from their peers to help connect content to technology. Data from the surveys also helped us to understand which platforms teachers implemented most and therefore which ones we should focus on.