Friday, August 28, 2015

Future Ready for Over 40 Years

I remember when being skilled with educational technology meant you could operate a film strip projector and thread a film into a 16mm movie projector.   I was one of those people.  As a young principal I video-taped my teachers using a monster reel-to-reel video tape deck that had to be rolled into the classroom on a cart.  That was cutting edge stuff - advanced technology in its day. 

My son’s first steps were recorded on 8mm sound movie film that had to be sent off to be developed. When my daughter came along, we splurged for a video cassette recorder.  As big as professional TV station cameras are today, it cost $1200 in 1985. 

In the school, the computers started to arrive in the early 80s (Atari and Commodore and Apple) and I jumped in, taking classes, learning programming, then teaching graduate classes to teachers on how to use computers in the classroom.

In the office I remember our first Desktop Publishing package complete with IBM computer, special software and a real laser printer.  I bought a Palm Pilot to keep my calendar and notes.  My first cell phone came in a bag and plugged into the dashboard of the car. 

Every school district worked hard to stay ahead of the curve but found technology changing so fast that you never really had the most current stuff.

Fast forward to today where Calvert County Public Schools has almost 11,000 computers in operation in schools and offices.  Our high schools are open to BYOD (bring your own device).  This year a couple of elementary schools are launching 1:1 programs – one for 4th grade and another for 5th.   Almost every student and every employee has hands on a computer every day to do real world work.  
The digital age is upon us.  There is no escape.  We recognize that we will never be all set with the use of technology in the classroom.  We need to keep moving, keep developing new methods and supporting our staff as they stretch their plans to stretch our students and light up a bright future.
Our Future Ready team has identified the following vision for Calvert County Public Schools:
  •  Teachers will use digital learning tools and resources and serve as facilitators of student learning.
  • Students will have access to meaningful, engaging and individualized learning environments and opportunities 24 hours a day/7days a week.
  • Students will achieve their fullest potential through access to a robust wireless network, use of a variety of digital learning mediums and devices, rich instructional experiences driven by their skills and interest and support for learning that extends beyond the classroom.

This vision depends not only upon CCPS, it depends upon a community that finds ways to embrace it as well.  We may be able to put a device in the hands of every student, but if they can’t use it to access their work in the evenings and the weekends, it might as well be a spiral notebook.  We’ll need to find ways to help low income families access internet services for their children.  We’ll need local internet providers to extend their cable systems down every rural road and lane.  We’ll need more businesses to provide access to free wifi and perhaps even expanded free public wifi in more densely populated communities. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

New Teachers

When I was an elementary principal in a small rural county in West Virginia, my employment term was 5 days before the teachers arrived and 5 days after they left.  Of course new teacher hiring most often took place in the summer outside of my contract, so it was not unusual for me to have to come down off the ladder from painting or roofing or other odd jobs, get cleaned up and go to the district office to interview and select new teachers.

In those days, virtually every hire was a truly “new teacher” – wet behind the ears, just birthed from one of our state colleges or universities, ink still wet on the diploma. Rarely did we get teachers with experience. Being an elementary principal, the applicants were usually female and most often they made the long drive into Pocahontas County accompanied by their fathers.  Often after the interview, I would escort the candidate outside to her car, whereupon I would meet daddy and could expect to be interviewed by him.  

“What is this community like?” “Is it safe?” “Where do single women generally find lodging?”  “What is there to do around here where young adults might meet others?”

It was all an expected part of the interview process, because just as we were checking them out, they were checking us out. They had to feel comfortable living in a small town where a drive to the movies or shopping for clothes was more than an hour away. Given that the small town was partly bordered by the Monongahela National Forest, it helped if they were comfortable with hiking and biking and camping and wild animals and country boys with pick-up trucks. 

This week, we held our new teacher induction here in Calvert County and when I gave the welcome to the 40 or so newbies, I asked how many were fresh from college here for their first teaching job. Only 2 raised their hands. 

Wow, that’s amazing. I’m trying to figure out.  In making my rounds, I found some who were residents but who had been teaching in neighboring counties. Others with experience in other locations had relocated to Calvert County due to a spouse’s assignment and had been subbing for us for a while. I found others who had taught before, but left the profession and were transitioning back after some time in the private sector.  

In the end, I have to conclude that the maturity of our new teacher work force is a benefit to the students. Many new teachers are outstanding right out of the box, but experience is a great teacher. If you are good when you are in year one, you benefit from experience and post-employment training that new folks don’t have. 

Being new to Calvert County means there is still much to learn for our new hires, no matter how many years of experience they bring. Our procedures, our local initiatives, our assessments, our means of evaluating performance all are important to their success.

One thing I hope they all have is a Growth Mindset. That is, for the teacher and his/her students as well, they all are willing to work hard, stretch themselves to the point of making the occasional mistakes, accept constructive criticism and learn from those mistakes. That’s what brings about true growth and true excellence. 

Welcome to the new school year.