Implementing an AI Roadmap Framework: Preparing Staff & Students

PowerSchool webinar on AI
(Image credit: Future)

The rapid growth of AI in schools has caused both excitement and concern from school district communities. In Part 2 of this two-part series, Tech & Learning, in partnership with PowerSchool, brought together school district experts to share advice about how they trained their staff to be comfortable with the integration of AI tools, as well as support students with using the AI tools that can help with their success.

Hosted by Christine Weiser, the discussion featured: Alana Winnick, Educational Technology Director and Data Protection Officer, Pocantico Hills Central School District; Greg Bagby,

Coordinator of Instructional Technology, Hamilton County Schools; and Joel Lathrop,

Director, Education Strategy, PowerSchool.

Key Takeaways

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How Has The Use of AI Already Impacted Learning?

“One of my 8-year-old students said, ‘We are the future. We need to learn how to do this or we will not be prepared when we have jobs,’” said Winnick.

Winnick pointed out that what doesn’t work is blocking AI, or just assuming that students understand what AI is and how to use it. “Our job as education leaders is to educate our staff, who then can educate our students on what AI is and how to use it the right way,” she said.

Winnick gives AI users two jobs: 1. To be a detective, and be on the lookout for bad use/content. 2. Be an AI “DJ” to remix the content and add their own thoughts and ideas.

Winnick also encourages introducing students to AI as soon as possible. “My third graders are doing absolutely insane things that I don’t see elementary students in other places doing.” She stressed that the focus should be on encouraging students to want to learn with AI and use it to reach those higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, not just use it as “an easy way out.”

In that vein, Bagby mentioned the futility of banning AI, comparing it to infamous bank robber Willie Sutton. “After he was caught by the FBI, the FBI asked, ‘Why do you rob banks?’ And Sutton said, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ And well, AI is where the kids are going to be.”

Consequently, educators need to embrace it as well. Bagby discussed using AI as a guide on the side, citing an example of an AI math tutor chatbot being used with a small group of students to provide support in the learning process rather than just answers.

What doesn’t work, however, is just giving AI to students without any sort of plan. “If you don’t have a plan, or if you don’t have a guide, things will get a little hairy for you,” Bagby said. “And it’s harder to rein them back in if you don’t have that guide.”

One of the biggest challenges for districts that want to embrace AI is that they’re busy dealing with many other issues, and don’t always have the resources to dedicate specifically to AI, said Lathrop, who cited a national survey that showed 70% of district leaders could see the potential benefit of AI.

“Using technology tools to promote more positive student behaviors and getting students motivated is really one of the most common challenges we’re seeing,” Lathrop said.

Lathrop added that we’ve gone from “This is what AI could do in our district” to “This is what AI is actually doing in our district.”

How Can AI Work With PD?

From having been a principal for a decade, Bagby noted when it comes to professional learning that teachers are a lot like the students in the sense that you want to engage them in the same ways, and that there are going to be high flyers and early adopters. “However, there are going to be folks who aren’t as quick to adopt tech tools, and you have to find their entry points,” he said.

Bagby recommended that, like students, it can be effective to show teachers what tools there are, and then give them time to play and explore. It’s also critical to give them tools and/or skills they can use the next day so they can immediately bring it into the classroom and find success, which can build confidence and competency. He also added that any PD should be a continuous process that requires follow up and further support.

Winnick reminded everyone that when it comes to PD, that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. “I think it’s really important, just like we say in the classroom, ‘voice and choice,’ she said. Teachers should have agency in how they learn, be that synchronously or asynchronously, as well as opportunities to learn in many different ways. “You get to choose how you want to learn it, but it’s not a choice whether you want to learn it or not,” she said.

Lathrop suggested that having “superheroes” like Winnick and Bagby in your district to lead PD efforts is the best way to make PD effective. If those leaders are not available, PowerSchool has plenty of resources to provide support, such as training, best practices, and more. It also helps to have a platform such as PowerSchool that also has AI already seamlessly integrated.

One Piece of AI Advice for First Step of AI PD

“If you’re not using AI to connect data across your systems, your results will be limited,” said Lathrop. “And working within platforms that you’re already familiar with can reduce the learning/training curve for your staff.”

“It’s really important that as a school leader, there can’t be a disconnect between how teachers are trained and how they’re expected to work,” said Winnick, adding that any PD has to be aligned with performance expectations.

Bagby stressed that any PD has to be directly related to the work the teachers are doing, regardless of curriculum. “Make sure that you’re training them on something that’s going to be relevant,” he said.

Part 1: Designing an AI Roadmap Framework: Creating and Communicating AI Guidelines and Policies

Ray Bendici is the Managing Editor of Tech & Learning and Tech & Learning University. He is an award-winning journalist/editor, with more than 20 years of experience, including a specific focus on education.