On December 7 & 8, I was fortunate enough to be an invited and included participant in Tech & Learning’s 2017 Leadership Summit, held in Phoenix, Arizona. The experience was incredible. From the panels, to the discussions, to the resources, to the tools, to the vendors, to the meals, to the accommodations, the entire event was extremely well organized, planned, communicated, and successful. With that said, where #TLTechLive was most impactful was in creating the opportunity and space for thought-leaders from across the country to network, talk, and exchange ideas and experiences. I was extremely impressed with the list of participants and will draw on many of my newly formed connections as I continue the work of improving the access, opportunities, experiences, outcomes, and achievements for and of our students.
The theme at this Winter’s Tech & Learning Leadership Summit was, “Curriculum & Tech: Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Very superficially, the experience looked to stress the importance of curriculum and technology truly augmenting one another, as is it relates to engagement, instruction, and ultimately, student learning. Too often, as we learned and many of us can attest, these two departments operate in isolation of one another. One school district described it as operating in silos, while another cautioned against this and coined it “silo-thargy,” in which, our inability to collaborate and cohabitate the same teaching and learning space will result in our inability to move forward, be progressive, and really impact our systems.
As one of my colleagues stated, the problem and the solution both seem simple, but “simple is not easy.” This is so true. Ensuring that the tech and curriculum side of the house are on the same page appears to be a very simple solution. However, in reality, sometimes they are not even reading the same book. Rather, curriculum folk are often focused on standards, assessments, materials, teaching, learning, grades, scores, etc., while our tech brothers and sisters are often working around the clock to keep the district online, afloat, and functioning on whatever cylinders are available from a device, network, and bandwidth perspective.
What we sometimes fail to notice is that both of our standard ills can often be addressed, mended, aided, and cured with the help of each other. Given the ubiquitous nature of and access to technology, one participant suggested that it is time for us to do away with “tech initiatives” and start just talking about “learning initiatives.” Now I know not every school has access, nor does every student, and those are equity issues that absolutely must be considered and addressed. With that said, schools that are fortunate enough to enjoy tech access had better make sure that they are leveraging, including, and collaborating with their tech experts. When they are brought to the table, involved in curricular planning and decisions, and tasked to open up opportunities for students, there is no limit to the impact the collaboration or marriage can have. Learning becomes more authentic, real, engaging, accessible, differentiated, equitable, and achievable.
In the end, as presented by the leaders from Asbury Park, NJ, our job is not to make sure our students are just successful in our schools, it is about fundamentally ensuring they will be successful in what comes next. That will vary by student, but regardless of what that choice entails, they will be challenged to think critically, solve complex problems, communicate, collaborate, and be informed, responsible, and engaged citizens (in their community, digitally, and otherwise).
So, the marriage is important. Like any marriage, it takes work. We have to work together, realize the incredible potential of unleashing curricula that is closely aligned with, tied to, and augmented by technology, and find a way to systemically focus on what is most important, our collective students. Their experience is critical and their future is why we exist. By, as one colleague offered, “strategically abandoning” what does not matter or has less impact, we can find the time to ensure that our artificially created silos are interconnected and complimentary to one another.
One panelist very astutely pointed out, “in an organization for learning, we are all learners.” Regardless of education, title, or role, we need to afford both “voice and choice” to our teachers and, most importantly, our students when it comes to the coordinated leveling of technology on our curriculum and instruction. I am incredibly confident that the solutions, answers, and path forward will come from the ground up, not the top down. As we saw while visiting the Phoenix Coding Academy, students with access, opportunity, space, voice, and choice will engage, accomplish, and achieve at levels we do not even know exist.
I thank Tech & Learning for their incredible hospitality and for creating, supporting, and facilitating this opportunity. I want to thank my colleague, Ryan Miles (CHSD117 Tech Director) for the invite and my colleagues from around the country for the rich dialogue and incredible exchange of ideas. I hope we all stay in touch and keep one another honest in doing the work, even when it’s tough. Because, in the end, in the words of Adam Welcome, “#KidsDeserveIt.”
Brad Hubbard is the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in Community High School District 117. Read more.