Bailey Mitchell, Chief Academic Officer, itslearning

Bailey Mitchell, well known for his work in Forsyth (GA) County Schools where he served as chief technology and information officer for the past 16 years, was recently named Chief Academic Officer of itslearning, a K-12 digital learning management platform. Mitchell took the time to answer a few questions from Tech & Learning about this transition.

TL: Forsyth County Schools has gained national recognition as a leading EdTech district, largely under your leadership as CTO. What programs are you most proud of leaving behind?

BM: Our success in Forsyth over the years can be attributed to two initiatives: the work of the school-based Instructional Technology Staff (ITS) and our Bring Your Own Technology program.

We were fortunate as a district to support these ITS positions back in 1996 when the district's strategic plan outlined a roadmap for classroom technology integration that allowed our county to undertake this incredible journey. Since that time, Forsyth has opened 25 schools and has enjoyed continuous growth in instructional technology adoption through the effective modeling and limitless coaching of the ITS staff. The ITS positions were also instrumental in preparing and conducting methodical technology-related professional learning classes. The staff who serve as ITS specialists have truly served as the conduit for planning, communicating, and achieving district-wide initiatives.

As a national and international leader in the effective practice of Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), Forsyth County Schools has encouraged students to bring their personal technology tools to school to facilitate their learning. The initiative is having a profound impact in helping students experience a customized education to meet their needs and interests. As students continue to utilize their personal devices, they are experiencing new ways to use them for learning purposes as they collaborate and interact with their teachers and each other to do research, solve complex problems, create original products, and publish their work. This BYOT implementation should be named “Be Your Own Teacher,” as it’s really about student-centric learning with teachers in support of their educational journey. It’s an important program in Forsyth that will continue to evolve for years to come.

TL: What made you decide to leave Forsyth County Schools and join itslearning?

BM: For the past 11 months I have witnessed first-hand the transformational nature of the itslearning solution—it maintains an outstanding reputation in the European education market; many of the company’s employees share extensive backgrounds in and a passion for education; and most importantly, the itslearning team displayed the characteristics of a ‘partner’ instead of a learning management system provider. The opportunity to join this internationally recognized organization and its team of professionals is a career highlight for me.

TL: Your career change comes at a time of enormous change for K12 education. How do you hope to support these changes through your work at itslearning?

BM: I am fortunate to have a new occupation that will enable me to lead and facilitate idea generation initiated from emerging trends, best practices, and customer insights. My “institutional knowledge” of how school districts approach technology acquisitions and integrations—understanding the challenges and opportunities—puts me in a distinctive position to help districts flourish.

I have vast experience with the inner workings of a district; I understand their curriculum and instructional goals. I know how to assess technology support strategies, oversee budget development, design technology plans, implement information and instructional support systems, create interoperability among content and assessment systems, initiate a BYOT program and support a digital learning continuum that leads to personalized learning environments for all schools. Essentially, I have walked the walk, and can talk the talk.

But I also fully appreciate that no matter what, it’s always about the pedagogy, not the technology. Technology should always be at the service of pedagogy. The power of integrating technology into the classroom is the power it has to redefine the relationships in the classroom and reorient them toward a more student-centric approach to learning. I believe that itslearning is the transformational system that eclipses the current paradigm, which consists of silos of data, replacing it with a “one-stop shop” that integrates standards-based learner plans complete with activities and resources that are matched to each students’ current performance level and individual learner characteristics.

TL: What advice would you offer school leaders to help them navigate the transition to new programs like Common Core and PARCC/Smarter Balance assessments?

BM: Consider these two questions: “As educators, are you comfortable with student choice?” Students should have a choice in how they experience their learning or how they demonstrate learning to show mastery. The second question is: “Are you willing to enable a culture of student voice?” Students should have the ability to influence learning in some way and become a part of the decision-making process in the classroom.

The challenge today in school districts is for district and school leaders—superintendents, curriculum directors, principals and technology leaders—to work collaboratively to shift the focus from textbooks, traditional schedule models, and one-size-fits-all expectations for student performance to a rich, robust blended learning environment. That new learning ecosystem must track student progress digitally and differentiate assignments accordingly. To achieve this target, educators must be willing to make themselves vulnerable, letting go of the lock-step processes prevalent in schools today and instead proceed as a learning collaborator, a partner rather than an expert leader.

Engineering a next-generation learning platform to adequately address the rigor of Common Core and new, online assessments will require leaders to establish different relationships, avoid detours, and break through barriers to change the learning landscape.