It’s About School Culture, Not Devices

In the process of wrapping up another school year and preparing for my ISTE 2015 presentation with Lyn Hilt on Designing and Sustaining Digital Environments on Monday, I am drawn into reflecting on my work with technology integration over the past decade. What I continually discover in my reflections is that my work and my job are not about any device or app at all. In fact, my work is about people and how they think, interact, and create. In essence, every technology leader should be an expert in human learning, sociability, and inquiry.

This point goes back to when I first experienced technology in education at Springfield Township High School in 2007. And, this was were I first discovered that devices, apps, and peripheral hardware were simply power tools in a classroom full of hammers and screwdrivers that educators had been employing for years. However, many of those power tools have simply been used without purpose or meaning beyond simply using them to digitize the past.

Before devices even enter the conversation, school leaders must begin to address their school culture. What is it? How does it embrace change? What is the collective vision? Does it include calculated risk taking? And is risk taking supported? And I could go on with questions. But this is the key and the first process in transforming your school or district with technology and digital tools.

Additionally, there is not one single formula or blueprint for developing progressive school culture. Much like technology integration, one size does not fit all. But, schools leaders must be aware of what staff need to create and develop engaging, creative learning spaces. Similarly, he or she must develop a clear vision that includes all stakeholders’ voices. On a smaller scale, educators must develop and foster classroom culture that includes all student voices. While technology hardware coupled with social media can inevitably amplify student voice, educators must guide the digital decision making and help students find their digital voice in a world of constant digital shouting.

Once the school culture is defined and accepted, schools must focus their technology integration and understand that while a device may possess infinite avenues and apps to incorporate, these elements need to be planned and introduced effectively. When considering professional learning models schools should explore their capacity to integrate self-paced, blended learning opportunities for all staff. This allows staff to engage with applications at their own pace or in the confines of their team or department. Educators don’t need to app smash or jump on board with the next new app developed, rather, they need time to select core applications that will elevate their lessons and engage their students. Technology in schools without purpose or not being driven by dynamic teachers and curriculum is simply an advanced shiny object.

When considering technology integration plans and visions, school leaders must focus on the human element before even breaching the conversation of Chromebook vs. iPad. It doesn’t matter what device you select if you don’t have educators who are comfortable, empowered, and encouraged to take risks when using technology. Similarly, school leaders must develop, model, and drive school culture before considering any device. Educators must also build this culture into their classrooms and foster strong relationships with students in order to drive student inquiry and exploration. If you see Lyn or I at #ISTE2015, don’t ask us about devices, rather, ask us about how our school culture has embraced a movement to impact learning.